By Hans Ebert
In the space of two short days, we lost Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell. The curse of 2016 struck again robbing the world of two more extraordinary creative talents just like it’s taken Prince and Bowie and Glenn Frey and so many others from us, and replacing all that wonderful music about life, love and peace and, sure, sex, with a bitter, angry, divisive world hell bent on tearing down all the goodness and innocent forays into the dark that had been built up only to have all this replaced by downright ugliness- ugly politics, where everybody is wrong when nobody’s right, attractive women ugly on the inside in and out of “love” for financial security, and old fashioned ideals handed to us by our parents wiped out forever.
My marriage was like every beautiful Leon Russell song- the big hurt and loneliness of “A Song For You”, all the love and escapism of “Lady Blue”, “Bluebird” and “Back To The Island” whereas “Tightrope” was a mirror image of trying to secretly fight and exorcise the demons that were breaking down the walls and succeeding in changing me. We should have talked it out. But words never come easy when you’re lying to yourself.
Leon Russell was a real Rock Star- fiercely charismatic, hugely versatile, and just meant to work with other personal heroes like George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. They were the unholy holy musical trinity.
Somewhere along his incredible musical journey, he wrote the string arrangement for Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night”, became part of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, whereas before turning into this Rock and Roll Wizard who looked like Roy Woods’ twin, he was the leader of the resident band on that very American television pop show called “Shindig” which capitalised on the British Beat Boom.
Thinking back- and it’s been said here often enough- music is the soundtrack to our lives. And along with the songs of Lennon and Don Henley, the Leon Russell catalogue was very much part of mine.
Yes, there was all his great music starting with buying his Asylum Choir recordings with Marc Benno under Denny Cordell’s Shelter label, it was also wanting to learn everything about him- his side projects, copying his entire Mad Hatter ‘look’, watching him steal the rolling thunder from fragile Cocker Power in the very revealing “Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs And Englishmen” rockumentary, his unforgettable appearance in “The Concert For Bangladesh”, and then meeting in person singer Rita Coolidge, his Delta Lady, and listening to her stories about him.
Hell, this was what it meant to take that one step beyond being a music fan. This was man love. Women and players, they will come and they will go, but the power of the songs that matter, they’re still playing inside your head.
The songs of Leon Russell, the musical journey of Leon Russell took me to young girls who wanted to be with an older guy who was three years older than them, but had packed another twenty into those three before knowing that I had found the only girl who mattered and needed to have in my life. The feeling wasn’t mutual at first, but it’s quite incredible what barriers relentless pursuit can break down. All the while, Leon Russell and his music and image and simply being there kept the dream alive. It kept that long train rolling.
When you’ve lived and loved that completely, everything and everyone that comes later can never ever fulfil you. Being the perennial romantic, it’s about being addicted to love. But when you have loved so strongly and it’s not there anymore, one can go down many roads trying to replace it. But it’s just not there.
This is where confusion reigns and love becomes sex and being in love with sex can keep you imprisoned in some very dark places for a very long time before finally seeing the light. But by then, you’re hooked, the entire “Carney” album is playing in your head to drown out Leon Russell singing, “I love you in a place where there’s no space and time”. And so you keep searching for that Lady Blue, that Delta Lady, those first two records of his before realising that nothing lasts forever and it comes to a point of settling for second best- having those around you with whom you have nothing in common, falling into cracked relationships that offer you no answers, and wondering what’s going to make tomorrow different from yesterday knowing today is just another rerun of yesterday.
So you have random sex to get through the afternoon and wonder what the night might hold. Usually, more or, to be more apt, less of the same. Maybe all that’s left anymore is the constant search for what once was though living in the past and those living in the past and yearning for what was gets on your fucking nerves. At the end of the day, like he sang, I’m alone now and I’m singing this song for you.
RIP Leon Russell. I never knew you, but I knew you better than I’m trying to get to know myself. What a trip it’s been. But there comes a time when you need to jump off that mystery train because there’s nothing mysterious anymore. Everyone’s grown up and you no longer have anything in common with them. And trying to settle for second best never lasts. You’re up on the tight wire again hoping to fall into the safety of her hands.