Passing Through: On Leonard Cohen

Andrew Martin at The Paris Review:

When Leonard Cohen starts singing “Passing Through” on his 1973 Live Songs album, he sounds tentative, like a child who’s been asked to sing a song he learned at school in front of a party of adults. “I saw Jesus on the cross, on a hill called calvary … ” On the record his voice is faint—I’ve spent twenty years turning up the volume—and he sings so casually that it sounds like he really might have seen the crucified Christ, and asked him, deadpan and impertinent, “Do you hate mankind, for what he’s done to you?” Jesus has a pretty mellow, Jesus-like response, delivered in Cohen’s increasingly confident baritone: “He said ‘Talk of love not hate—things to do, it’s getting late.’” He is, like the rest of the Biblical and historical characters Cohen will encounter throughout the song, only passing through. Compare Cohen’s line readings to the declamatory, bugged-out delivery that Dylan gives to the opening lines of his bible pastiche “Highway 61 Revisited.” Cohen is calm, weary, a little resigned; Dylan is providing color commentary at the Belmont Stakes.

more here.