birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Explaining Leonard Cohen to Students and Then Just Music

I don't know it for sure, but I suspect that the majority of my students don't know Leonard Cohen.

I'm going to ask them on Tuesday and play him for them.

I've been meaning to give them a music writing spark - I teach mostly sweet, cool, emotional, shivery, pragmatic college children from the backwoods and hollers and cities of Alabama, and I try to offer sparks to inspire stories.

But this past Thursday, they had no idea who Patti Smith was - no idea - and I felt like a fumbling fool because, although I love JUST KIDS and THE M TRAIN and her beautiful writing and all the love and joy and everything that is Patti Smith, I could not describe her music because I never listened to it.

I am going to rectify that, of course, and I showed them the clip "advice to the young," which is so beautiful about keeping a good name...anyway.

Somehow, I feel Patti Smith would understand and she would not hate me for being a dumbass.

"Advice to the Young"

But I go through Leonard Cohen phases where I need to listen to his voice the way I need air or light or the smell of fall when the temperature drops or cut grass in the spring or the way trees scratch the sky in LA and sometimes even Alabama - In LA, it's Washington Robustia Palms (the tall ones) and in Birmingham, it's loblolly pines.

(Isn't loblolly a lovely word?)

I never listened to Leonard Cohen the way I listened to Lucinda Williams, although I need her in the same way at times especially "Lake Charles," but I only began listening to Leonard Cohen in the last few years, where as Lucinda got me through motherhood by letting just blast her in a terrible van I used to haul kids around in...

"Lake Charles"

Anyway, just like I need Lucinda and Leonard, I need SHOVELS AND ROPE - a younger husband and wife (duo) that slay it and they play every instrument (no band for they are the band) and they had a kid a year or two ago now, who they named, Louisiana. And I named a character "Louisiana" in a children's novel I wrote that nobody read called "Louisiana's Song" and I sent my novel to SHOVELS AND ROPE - because it was the first concert my youngest daughter loved so much because it wasn't Lucinda or Emmylou or John Prine, whom she likes just fine, but SHOVELS AND ROPE got to her. They understood her - they are kids like her.

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent.


When the Devil is All Around

When I sent the books, Cary Ann wrote me back and thanked me for "Louisiana's Song" - At the same time, I also sent her Gentle's Holler and Jessie's Mountain for they are a trilogy of Smoky Mountain novels for kids about a songwriter.

I wasn't just trying to suck up or whatever. I wanted her Louisiana to have my children's novels.

Shorthand? I love SHOVELS AND ROPE, because they write about grief and glass eyes and addiction with the same ferocity and they know about addiction, which we know too well, and Norah knows it in her big brother, which made her grow up fast, and it made Alabama our safe space.

Leonard Cohen, however, is mine.

Sometimes, alone on a Saturday night, in a house I never meant to live in in a city that was never mine, I reach for Leonard Cohen.

What is it about his voice that makes me feel like he is whispering in my ear?

What a cliche. But it's true.

I don't feel so alone when I am listening to Leonard Cohen. He is here with my dog, and I reprove myself for my ignorance in music or lack of variety - or something - because I love and adore John Prine, Emmylou, Patsy, Loretta, Hank, Dolly, Lucinda, Willie, Shovels & Rope (yes, they are newer), John Denver, Carpenters, Talking Heads, and of course Mozart, Eric Whitacre, Ólafur Arnalds (Broadchurch) if I really want to get depressed)...

But it's Leonard - and sometimes it's months or years - but then I need a hit of Leonard Cohen because his voice is deep and resonant and I hate all these adjectives but how can I describe him and the way he jabs at my heart and head.

You Want it Darker

And finally, once upon a time, I drove teenage boys in a van to gigs, and I stood in the back as ordered and I listened to them because I wasn't allowed to be seen, and sometimes (always) I miss those boys named Cal, Orson, Noah, Martin, Nick and Nick, and Flannery.

"Drugstore Cowboy" at the Greek (it's okay to listen without the sound too. It's a horrible recording but you get the idea.)


"Drugstore Cowboy"

I Learned to Sing Weeping

"Music Nidra"