“I told you when I came I was a stranger”


Leonard Cohen – “The Stranger Song” from Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

Songs of Leonard Cohen is Cohen’s first album.  Before recording music, he found success as a poet and novelist (the novel Beautiful Losers is his literary magnum opus…read it!).  Songs was released on December 27, 1967, which is the same day Bob Dylan’s return from oblivion, John Wesley Harding, was released.  I don’t know if album release dates were as big a deal in 1967 as they are now, but what a day for album releases that was.

I always have to stop whatever I am doing and listen when this song starts.  L. Cohen’s lyrics offer extraordinarily intricate ruminations on human relationships, and this song is a stellar example.  It’s about the uncertainty that is a part of every relationship, and how people are, simply put, strangers to one another, and there’s really nothing we can do about it.

This song is used to great effect in Robert Altman’s superb anti-Western film McCabe & Mrs. Miller.  The film’s soundtrack consists entirely of songs from this album.  The Stranger Song serves as McCabe’s theme, with Warren Beatty as the consummate stranger.  The songs seem to fit perfectly within the framework of the film, despite the album being four years older than the movie.  In fact, Cohen disliked the film after having first seen it, but later saw it again and liked it.  Altman’s films often warrant repeated viewings in order to fully understand them, and McCabe is no exception.

Another note which has nothing to do with this song; he visuals in McCabe remind me very much of those in There Will Be Blood.  This is not terribly surprising, given that PT Anderson was Altman’s protege for a while.  Also, both films take place around the turn of the 20th Century.  McCabe is set in the Pacific Northwest, and Blood is set in California.  When watching one film, I find it interesting to think of the events of the other film happening at the same time in a different part of the country.  I may very well be the only person who finds that interesting, but I’m OK with that.

Don’t be a stranger to Leonard Cohen

or to Robert Altman, for that matter

Posted by Adam


Filed under 1960s, 1970s, Acoustic, Folk, Singer-Songwriter, Soundtrack

4 responses to ““I told you when I came I was a stranger”

  1. Uh, is it just me, or is Warren Beatty dressed EXACTLY like Dylan on the cover of Desire?

  2. uwe

    I think the “stranger”-version (with a guitar solo part) in the movie isn’t quite the same as on the lp.

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