When I am on a pedestal,
You did not raise me there.
Your laws do not compel me
To kneel grotesque and bare.
I myself am the pedestal
For this ugly hump at which you stare.
If you have to ask why Leonard Cohen should be on any chilling songs playlist, you probably need to listen to a lot more Leonard Cohen. Beyond Hallelujah, certainly. In fact, let’s call a moratorium on cover versions of Hallelujah, and Radiohead’s Creep while we’re at it.
Anyway, let’s just skip ahead to our feature today, the 1971 classic Avalanche, the opening track from his seminal 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate — if you’re looking to get into Cohen, listen to that album. Just be ready for the emotional devastation it leaves in its wake. Like Sherman marching through Georgia.
Scorched Soul, man.
Avalanche is emblematic of everything wrong with boneheaded do-gooder’ism. Empty platitudes, condescension, pity, charity on the left-behinds in our world. Not because those offering want to actually help, mind you. Only that they want to feel better about themselves.
That’s how the hunchback in Avalanche certainly feels. He’s an ugly cripple, pitied by everyone, fed and clothed by those around him… but when he returns to his home, a gold mine situated underneath a hill, he is whole. His deformity no longer exists. He is no longer meek, subservient, or humbled.
He is the Pedestal. And the sickness and greed of those who come into his universe, what was their charity becomes something else entirely.
This is one truly haunting tune, with waves of orchestrations woven throughout its verses, Cohen’s continuous classical guitar strumming underscoring the driving anger (or is it now pity?) of the narrator.
We’re all monstrously deformed. Just depends on where you stand.
You who wish to conquer pain,
You must learn what makes me kind;
The crumbs of love that you offer me,
They’re the crumbs I’ve left behind.
Your pain is no credential here,
It’s just the shadow, shadow of my wound.