This is episode 2 of The Tiny Café
Who do you think tells the deepest stories in music: Bruce Springsteen or Leonard Cohen?
I asked that question on Instagram.
You can cast your vote below if you want to join in the fun.
Hit play to watch the video or read the transcript below
The Virtual Café
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Hello and welcome to the Tiny Cafe. I’m Annette Wernblad and I am an expert on stories and myths and archetypes, and one of my favorite things in the entire world is teaching people how these things can very much transform our lives if we learn to pay attention and understand what they’re really trying to tell us.
I am also the creator of the Art of Living Deliberately Virtual Cafe. And what this is, the Tiny Cafe, is what I call the Espresso Version of The Virtual Cafe: that in The Virtual Cafe, we meet for 90 minutes, and here in The Tiny Cafe, we just meet for the length of what it takes, if you are seated in a lovely Parisian cafe with an espresso.
So every Thursday, as some of you know, I post a question on Instagram, and then on Saturdays I go live in The Tiny Cafe and talk to you about the question and the answers and my comments.
So the question I asked this week was, which of these two songwriters, in your opinion, writes the deepest stories? Bruce Springsteen or Leonard Cohen? And I actually thought, I’m not exactly sure why I thought that, but I actually thought that Leonard Cohen was just gonna win straight out. But it turned out that it was a 50 50 split and for the longest time, Bruce Springsteen was actually ahead.
CAST YOUR VOTE – I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK:
So what I’m gonna be talking to you about today is why did I ask that question? And what do the answers mean? How and why is it that song lyrics by the great songwriters can actually change our lives? What is it that they do? And why is that so potentially transformative if we learn to, to really pay attention.
So let’s start with Bruce Springsteen. And I’m just gonna take one example out of hundreds and hundreds of songs, and this is a song called Highway Patrolman. And it starts with these lines:
“My name is Joe Roberts. I work for the state. I’m a sergeant out of Perrineville, barracks number eight. I always did an honest job, as honest as I could, but I got a brother named Frankie, and Frankie ain’t no good.”
And I love these opening lines because straight away he does what Springsteen so typically does: he tells us very straight ahead stories that actually contain very deep archetypal levels. So what is it that he’s saying with this? Well, he’s touching upon one of the oldest and deepest stories known to mankind, which you might sort of boil it down to: Once upon a time there was a man who had two sons.Do you know that story? Because I think it is so fascinating that just those lines, once upon a time there was a man who had two sons, it’s a completely different story from once upon a time, there was a man who had three sons.
And when I’m saying that it’s an archetypal story, what I really mean is that it touches us on really deep unconscious and subconscious levels, whether we’re aware of it or not. But if we learn to read this consciously, we can actually start using it in our lives, instead of it using us. This is one of my mottos: If you don’t run with a wolf, the wolf will run with you.
So let’s just take a closer look at just that one story. And I could have taken any one Bruce Springsteen’s songs and done the same thing.
What does that mean? That story? Once upon a time, there was a man who had. two sons? Well, it touches upon one of the basic archetypes that Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, talks about, which is what we call the archetype the hostile brothers.
So we straightaway know, isn’t that true, I mean, if you think about it: There was a man, he had two sons, straight away we know that the typical structure of that story is that one of those two sons is a good man, a straight man, an honest man who was prepared to spend his life walking in the footsteps of his father.
The other man is the brother named Frankie, and Frankie ain’t no good. And I think part of the pain of that song is: which of those two sons does the father really actually like the most? And the answer usually is that he likes the bad kid better than the good, straight, honest kid.
And that means, if we’re asking ourselves why does that story concern me? I’m not a man who has two sons, or perhaps even, I’m not even a son. I may be a daughter, or whatever it is that we have as objections. Well, the thing about archetypes, archetypes are very old, ancient, delivered through generations to our subconscious. I mean, Jung’s theory, and I’ll explain more about that some other day, that Jung’s theory was that we all have, when we’re born, a knowledge of the archetypes.
So if we just look at that story – and we can look at that story of the hostile brothers in different ways – is that we all know the pain, I think of being that oldest son who is very dutiful and living up to all expectations and willing to just almost give up our own lives to walk in the footsteps of the parent, but the parent prefers the other one. So that’s just one level of archetypal, deeply ingrained knowledge. That pain of the parent preferring the other one.
The other level is, that archetype, the, hostile brothers, what does that archetype mean? One of the things Jung says, is somewhere we all have a frightful, horrible brother. And the more we try to hide things we don’t want people to know, the more we try to hide those things under the table, the more pleasure that brother takes in putting those things on the table.
And now it’s sort of touching upon another Jungian archetype, the one that’s called the shadow. The idea that we contain both brothers:
My name is Joe Roberts. I work for the state. I’ve always done an honest job, but I got got a brother named Frankie, and Frankie ain’t no good – that we contain both those things. We contain both those brothers, whether we are women or men.
And that has to do with the idea that we have, as Nathaniel Hawthorne says in The Scarlet Letter: we have one face that we show to the world, and then we have another face that we don’t show to anyone.
And that’s the other very, very powerful aspect of that archetype that also we all know. You know, I sometimes use this analogy saying, how do we know when that brother Frankie, who ain’t no good, how do we know when he’s playing tricks on us? And again, as I said, if you don’t play with Frankie, Frankie is gonna play with you.
We all know when somebody’s really annoying to us, and if we’ve had like one beer too many, or if we’re particularly sensitive, and something happens, and then we snap back at that person when we really didn’t mean to, and we really shouldn’t have, and it would’ve been much better not to. And the next day we call up mother-in-law saying, I’m sorry I snapped at you. I didn’t really mean it. And the thing is, yes you did, but you didn’t mean to say it and you shouldn’t have. And that’s the other thing.
So how does it transform our lives to listen to a Bruce Springsteen song like that? Well, that, whether we’re aware of it or not, these deeply archetypal stories touch that level of our unconscious and subconscious mind that we don’t normally have direct access to, but that stories do have direct access to.
So that’s the why: why can stories potentially transform our lives if we stop and listen to them?
The other question, and now I want to go into Leonard Cohen: if I were to say as briefly as possible, what is the, biggest difference between Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen? I would say this, that Springsteen’s stories are easily understood, they’re symbolic in a way that you know the story they tell on the surface level. We can all understand what he’s saying. I have a brother named Frankie, and Frankie is no good. But then it contains those deeper levels.
Leonard Cohen’s lyrics are much harder to understand because Leonard Cohen very often communicates in metaphors, and that means that things may not necessarily mean what they represent, they may mean something else, and we have to decode them in order to get to the deeper layers of what they mean, those metaphors.
I think all of Leonard Cohen’s songs are about a potential transformation of human consciousness in general. He comes from, obviously, the Jewish tradition where, I think that it’s useful sometimes with Cohen songs to almost see them as prayers. They’re sacred works in a way.
I think, if I ask people, do you know Leonard Cohen? and if they don’t particularly know Leonard Cohen, the line that everybody always quotes back is “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”, which is, I think, a very moving, line from a very moving song. Which actually if we had all the time in the world, if we were in the real Virtual Cafe, I would go into depth with that particular song Anthem, because it is, I think, very appropriate for the time we’re in now coming out of a very difficult period.
The other thing that people possibly know is Leonard Cohen’s song called Hallelujah, which in my opinion – and I hope I’m not offending anyone – I think it has been butchered to death almost by all those people doing cover versions. And it’s very clear, strangely enough, that those people abbreviate it (because it’s a very long song), that they don’t really understand what it’s about because it’s a very depressing song actually.
So people use it for all these things. Even Donald Trump used it for his inauguration. And Leonard Cohen’s estate had to sue, because you’re not allowed to just play that song, but obviously he didn’t understand what that song was about. It’s a very difficult and painful song about spiritual agony, and it ends with, I think, some of the most beautiful lines:
“And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue, but hallelujah. To me that’s so moving, “even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue. But hallelujah.” It’s about gratitude. It’s about redemption. It’s about going through that dark, dark agony. And of course, I think also Cohen’s lyrics are darker than Bruce Springsteen’s.
And let me just take this one level deeper. I asked people who are some of your other favorite, the really brilliant songwriters, and people came up with these wonderful things. Johnny Cash, Tom Waits P!nk, Kris Kristofferson. I was wondering that nobody came up with probably the greatest of them all, Bob Dylan. But what I’m saying now applies to all of them:
How then can you use, how exactly can you use those songs by those wonderful songwriters to transform your life in a way that you can feel instantly?
We have a tendency when we use art, when we view or listen to or read art, we have a tendency to almost binge like we do when we watch Netflix. We don’t like watch one episode and then stop and really feel it and think about it. We watch 10,000 episodes, and with music we have a playlist and sometimes it’s even on random and we are letting one of these programs we use for streaming music decide the order of the music and we just have it in the background. We’re multitasking, which is, you know, the slogan in my Cafe and everywhere is “the art of living deliberately”.
So multitasking is the opposite of living deliberately. You cannot have both of those things. So we are doing something else and we have music playing in the background, and that music may be Bob Dylan. It may be the most brilliant lyric ever written.
But the thing is, if you want to learn to use – you can apply this to movies and television series and books and all the other things I talk about – you can use that as well. But let’s just stay with music for the time being: If you want to learn to use music to transform your life, do it deliberately. Do it consciously. Take one song, listen to that song. Really, really listen to the lyrics. Maybe after you’ve listened to it a few times, you can find the lyrics on Google or something and read the lyrics too, but just try to listen to it the way it was supposed to be experienced.
Listen to that song and really just stay with that song. Don’t find a gazillion other songs by the same songwriter because you think this was a good one. Stay with it and really, really take it in and listen to what it’s saying. And the song I’m going to give you, as an example, is a song by Leonard Cohen, which is called Come Healing.
It is a song that again is very, very appropriate and timely for the period we’re in now because it is about coming out of pain, and processing that pain, and starting the healing.
I think Leonard Cohen, if you look at, at his works in their entirety, they’re really meant to transform the consciousness of mankind into something deeper and better.
I always say: we can’t decide, life is so short, we don’t know how LONG our life is gonna be, but we CAN decide how DEEP it’s gonna be. And I think Leonard Cohen is one of the people who was very much aware of these things.
So anyway, this is a song called Come Healing, and this is how it starts.
Oh, gather up the brokenness
Bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow
The splinters that you carried
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind.
And I almost can’t, I mean, I can’t listen to that song without crying and I’m almost tearing up now. “Come healing of the body, come healing of the mind.”
And this song, as I said, it is a prayer, and it’s sung like an anthem, and so your homework – I don’t usually give homework in The Tiny Cafe – your homework is to find that song Come Healing, and listen to that song and just stay with that one song for as long as you can and see if you can feel – and I dare you to not feel – how it transforms you to listen to that song.
So the big trick to how is it that art can transform our lives, is: don’t binge it. Don’t binge watch it, don’t play it in the background, don’t multitask while you’re experiencing it. You know, if you go to a museum, look at the paintings instead of taking pictures of you looking at the paintings. You know what I mean by that.
So that was all for today and, thank you so much for being here and for watching this, and I hope that you have a really great evening or afternoon, wherever you are in the world. Thank you.