Vin Maskell
Home, Melbourne, 2002

For my wife’s sister

It was a restless, fitful time. At one or two or three in the morning I’d carefully ease out of bed and head for the loungeroom, well away from the sleeping family.

I’d turn on the telly, hoping for distraction. But at those hours there’s little to focus, let alone hold, your attention. Each channel was more or less the same: infomercials for household gadgets: kitchen accessories, exercisers, and the like. Phone numbers would flash on the screen, voiceovers would exhort viewers to buy now now now.

But one station seemed to be regularly screening a program that was part-music video, part-documentary, part-infomercial. I never caught the entire program from top to tail in those restless weeks but I caught enough glimpses of Leonard Cohen, his mentor Kyozan Joshu Roshi, his co-writer Sharon Robinson and some songs to go back to bed and finally fall asleep, with the realisation that there was a new album to buy.

I played Ten New Songs (yes, that’s what it’s called) at bedtime, 10pm or so, turning on the CD player and then switching off the bedside lamp. Day for night. Light for dark. Sound for music. As the rest of the family washed dishes or ignored homework or practised piano, I turned my ‘good’ ear to the little bedside stereo.

At first I thought the arrangements for many of the songs too synthetic, too – well, as it says in the liner notes – programmed. (‘All tracks arranged, programmed, and performed by Sharon Robinson.’). But grounded in Cohen’s gravity, the songs became my lullabies. Restless became restful.

One song in particular caught my attention: Alexandra Leaving. Track 7. There is a lilt to it, a gentle sway, a reassurance, a gentleness.

Suddenly the night has grown colder
The god of love preparing to depart
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder
They slip between the sentries of the heart…

I listened to Ten New Songs for a few months in the dark, crossing the border between awake and asleep. I always started the CD at track 1, In My Secret Life, and hoped I’d still be awake for track 7.

And you who had the honour of her evening
And by the honour had your own restored
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Alexandra leaving with her lord

I can’t be sure what it all really means but lyrics, like life, are not always cut and dried. That’s the beauty of art, including song. I make no claim to be a Cohen scholar. The lyrics are apparently adapted from a poem by a 19th century Greek poet, Constantine P Cafavy. At a very simple level Alexandra Leaving is about departure – apt for a listener heading , now calmly, into the veil and the valley of solid sleep.

A decade or so ago I was chatting with my wife’s sister Jan, who had taken me to see Cohen in concert in 1985, and learnt that she had come across Ten New Songs via late night TV. Unable to sleep she too turned on the telly in the restless, fitful hours.

After Jan died in June 2016 her family, including my wife, sifted through Jan’s belongings. There was some early Cohen amidst the vinyl and CDs and iPods but not, as far as could be told, Ten New Songs.

The kitchen cupboards, though, were not short of gadgets and machines and accessories possibly bought via infomercials. We deal with the dark in whatever way we can.

It’s not a trick, your senses all deceiving
A fitful dream, the morning will exhaust
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost.

Jan Fell 1953 – 2016.


Vin is founding editor of Stereo Stories and director/MC of Stereo Stories In Concert.

By |2017-08-06T11:55:05+00:00July 23rd, 2017|Singer-songwriters|14 Comments


  1. Jesse July 23, 2017 at 9:24 pm - Reply

    Beautiful, Dad, thanks for writing.

    • Stereo Stories Admin July 23, 2017 at 9:47 pm - Reply

      Thank you Jesse. I wrote the story late last year and waited for the right time to release it into the world of Stereo Stories. Some things cannot be rushed. And how about the song, and the singing? Take care.

  2. Debbie Lee July 23, 2017 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    Beautiful tribute Vin. So many good songs on that album. I think my own personal favourite would be “That don’t make it junk” #3 but A thousand kisses deep is pretty much a fave too from when I saw him live ;) Will now have this story in my heart every time I hear #7 x

    • Stereo Stories Admin July 23, 2017 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      Thank you Debbie. Very much appreciated.Regards, Vin.

  3. Joren Timberake July 23, 2017 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    Great story Vin. Jan would be pleased to be associated with Leonard Cohen. I can even hear her singing this. Thank you

  4. Helen Askew July 24, 2017 at 1:13 am - Reply

    Oh Vin, What a lovely tribute to your wife’s sister. Thank you for introducing me to this album of Leonard songs, particularly to this hauntingly beautiful song. I agree with Debbie that ‘A thousand kisses deep’ is my absolute favourite. I will go and give this new album a thorough hearing!

  5. Chris Rees July 25, 2017 at 7:42 am - Reply

    Wonderful song, and I can see how it would be a very effective lullaby. Thank you Vin.

    • Stereo Stories Admin July 25, 2017 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      Cohen sings the song on the album but this version by Sharon Robinson certainly takes it to another level.

  6. Nola July 25, 2017 at 4:37 pm - Reply

    What a lovely tribute. Thank you, Vin. Earlier I had a little weep with a lady who sold me some shoes, so it must be one of those days.

    • Stereo Stories Admin July 25, 2017 at 4:40 pm - Reply

      Nola, I hope the story, and the song, do justice to the memory of your sister. As for a little weep in the shoe shop, grief – while never far away – sometimes catches us unawares. It’s always just around the corner.

  7. Stephen Andrew July 25, 2017 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    Comfort in the darkness. It’s a beautiful story, Vin.
    In that recurring debate of ‘Are Lyrics Poetry?’ I call on Leonard Cohen as first speaker for the affirmative.
    Stephen Andrew

  8. Colin Ritchie July 27, 2017 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    I read this while listening to Sharon Robinson, very emotional. The power of music and the power of words expresses so much feeling and emotion about ourselves and others. And as always, well written Vin.

    • Stereo Stories Admin July 27, 2017 at 8:55 pm - Reply

      Thank you Colin. Must admit I haven’t been game to listen to the song lately, for fear of the tears. But I listened to it just then, after reading your kind comment, and managed okay.Words and music – where we would be without them?

  9. David Oke July 27, 2017 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Vin, I read your words, shut my eyes and thought of my cousin Jan, then read your words again.
    You have melded some beautiful thoughts with a beautiful song. However, I can almost hear her saying a few things about you going through her cupboards. I can hear her having a good laugh about it too. There are many reasons why we miss Jan.

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