Cover Image: Various Artists' I'm Your Fan

Various Artists' I'm Your Fan

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The book starts with the musical artists tribute to Leonard Cohen 'I'm Your Fan' to a general look at various artists albums  Interesting.
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The editorial latitude given to authors of each 33 1/3 volume can lead to some really good and unfortunately really bad treatments of modern classic albums. "I'm Your Fan" is one of the best I have read. Personal and scholarly, historical and in the moment, this gives a broad, in depth study of the rise and current struggles of the tribute album in general and a deep look into this specific album and what it meant to the career of Leonard Cohen. Really a lot of fun to read!
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Most everyone I know hates tribute albums. I hate them too. They are mostly nothing more than cheap and uninspired cash grabs. But among the lifeless sludge of pathetic "tribute" albums, there are those few ones that are simply marvelous pieces of art. Without a doubt, one of them is I'm Your Fan, the album dedicated to one of the greatest songwriters and poets of the last century, Leonard Cohen. 

Ray Padgett's book on this album not only gives the story of this famed collection of songs, which incidentally paved the way for the incredible success and influence of the song Hallelujah, but also tries to change the readers' minds about the tribute album as such. The first it manages to do with flying colors - the book is chockful of interesting information; the second, though, it falls somewhat short on.
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This was really fun to read. A comprehensive history of the tribute album was long overdue. I love books in this series regardless of whether or not I know the album, and this title is a good example of why that is.
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I've been curious about the 33 1/3 series  for a really long time, so when an edition that focused on Leonard Cohen came up on NetGalley, I requested it. I'm not sure I realised it was an analysis of a Leonard Cohen tribute Album.
When I realised this I tried to find the songs on Spotify. I made a playlist, but could only find three of them. The searching did show me how many covers there are of Cohen's songs.

The book is detailed and knowledgeable, starting with an analysis of the genre of tribute alum and going on in great detail about the bands, the songs and a whole lot of music history. It's not blind to issues, touching briefly but importantly on gender issues.

This book probably has too much detail for me, because I'm more of a casual fan. That is not the fault of Ray Padget or his book, it's the nature of this series. Choose your book wisely - preferably about an album you know inside out, press play on the music and learn as much, or more, than you need to know about a single album.
If you need me, I'll be listening to Leonard Cohen.
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33 1/3 books are always a pleasure to read; they're hidden treasures, bursting with the kind of music journalism you'd love to see in a magazine again.

Padgett mined the meta rather skillfully here. Yes, this book is part of a series of tributes, but in this case, it's not just a tribute to a tribute album, but the tribute album. Leonard Cohen plays a supporting role, as he did in life when it came to listening to covers of his songs. He was humble enough to relegate himself to a passive observer the moment another artist put their signature on his song, and he functions as such in the book too, dipping in and out with a wisecrack, profundity or sweet nothing. I guess in that way it's reminiscent of "Hallelujah" today; the song has been filtered largely through John Cale's lyrical curation, his non-Jewish gaze so to speak. Cale's perception of the song lent itself to his interpretation. It's pure melody; it's all Cohen, but it isn't. Now it's whatever we make of it.

There's efforts to thematically tie the tribute album to the music of Cohen himself, as he entered the business as a songwriter - the tribute album with its humble start highlighting obscurities vs Cohen failing to get a record deal, larger bands joining in on tribute album mania vs Cohen using songwriting to launch his own career, then a steep decline when music biz fat cats were intent on sucking the joy and soul out of music by squeezing as much as they can into as many records as they could, and Cohen? Well, modish synthesisers and drum machines just weren't his thing.

Padgett argues that once love was factored back into the equation, both tribute albums and Leonard Cohen, found their way home again. Of course, the cynical are always there to prove you wrong, but hope can outlast cynicism; music outlasts cynicism.

Take Juliana Hatfield and her admitted indifference to tribute albums. It made me think about musicians and their role in the tribute album as it pertains to the zeitgeist. Do they have a moral obligation to keep the fire lit in an age of algorithmically-composed smash hits and payola playlists? I'm not so sure, but it was nice to read that Hatfield was finally inspired enough by a tribute album to fully commit to making entire records herself. No one's immune to its charms.

Ultimately, a long-forgotten song that stays with a musician from childhood til 30/40/50 years later when they put their own spin on it, doesn't have to be mutually linked to the fate or public opinion of the original artist — a song is only alive if we keep it alive.

It's reductive to limit suggesting this book to fans of Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Man/Fan or even fans of tribute albums; it negates the tribute album's reason for existing in the first place. They're methods of discovery, whether that's the subject or other performers on a record. It doesn't matter, it's what you get out of it.

That being said, if I was made to recommend this to a group of people, I'd say fans of music history, especially podcasts like Cocaine and Rhinestones. Even that feels reductive though, I'd  also recommend it to fans of the podcast You Must Remember This and anyone who's  remotely interested in showbiz history and its links to American excess.
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After reading the book, I'M Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen., I was really amazed. I learned about the rise and fall of the tribute album genre and Leonard Cohen's work. The book opened my eyes to some new songs and some old favorites. It was a great trip down memory lane of the past twenty or thirty years. However, I do think the book could have focused more on Cohen's work and those who his worked affected rather than going into tribute albums. All in all, it was a great book to read. Being a musician and a music photographer, I would have loved to see some photos of the stories and events that took place in this book even if it was just album covers.

I thank you for the opportunity to read this splendid manuscript.  I am singing Hallelujah right now.
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I haven't read many titles in this series, because nothing could top Joe Pernice's Meat Is Murder iteration, and I am much more interested in a literary fiction treatment like Pernice's than what usually seems to boil down to long magazines article in book format. I haven't looked into the new books in the series for a long time, but when I saw this on NetGalley, I decided to give it a shot. 

I have been a Leonard Cohen fan for half my life (and it would have been longer if only I'd known who he was before I was in my early 20s), and I love a good cover song / tribute album. I was pretty interested in the history of tribute albums from the 1980s through the present, especially the process of how the artists and songs are chosen. Other aspects of the music business interest me less, and the final 25% of the book didn't grab me because it had a lot of details about financing and how the industry has changed in the digital age. But where the book sticks to the high points -- Leonard Cohen himself, his songs, his reaction to people's covers, the cover artists and how they feel about Cohen's music -- all that was great, and I am glad I read it. I recommend it for fans of Leonard Cohen and fans of any of the artists who have covered his music.
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This book had the right balance between talking about the subject, giving background on the original artist and showing glimpses of the myriad artists involved in the recording the album. It also serves as a great crash course in the origin and history of the tribute album format. Going off the map a little to talk to tribute album producers and artists who've contributed to similar projects was a great addition.

I love the 33 1/3 series in general, but I enjoy it more when the author eschews making the book too much about themselves and their personal experiences. I understand that the spirit of the series is to use an album as a jumping off point to delve into deeper issues, but making this a history of tribute albums and not a series of "here's what Leonard Cohen means to me" anecdotes puts this up there as one of the most enjoyable entries in a stellar series of books.
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Ostensibly a 33 1/3 overview of the excellent I'm Your Fan tribute to Leonard Cohen from 1991, which featured everyone then alternative from Nick Cave and REM to The Pixies and The (criminally under-rated) Lilac Time, this is also both much more and a little bit less. The more is the fact that it is essentially a history of the tribute album from an expert on cover versions, and thus fascinating.  The less is the fact that there is in my view too little actual discussion of the album itself.  What's there is fascinating, I just would have liked more.  There are lots of interesting material and insights here though, such as the observation re "alternative" cover versions in the late 80s that "it's hard to capture, from today's perspective, how much they presented as a kind of shared secret, badges for a club'. Was tempted to give it 3 1/3 stars but it's better than that.
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Various Artists' I'm Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen by Ray Padgett is an interesting addition to the splendid 33 1/3 series for a number of reasons, and it works on multiple levels.

As a Cohen fan from way back I was interested in this book as a way to understand what the various artists involved in the project thought. While there is plenty of that here it was not as extensive in that respect as I expected. Surprisingly, that turned out not to bother me because the book more than made up for it by being so interesting in other related areas.

One of those areas is the history and reception of tribute albums over the years. I found this very interesting and made me rethink many of my opinions about them. I still ended up at about the same place, I don't care for most tribute albums, but I do have a greater appreciation for what they sometimes are and usually try to be.

While there is a big difference between an album of covers and an album that purports to be a tribute album I, as a listener, started thinking about covers in general. That can be problematic in some cases, for instance, when you go back to when there was a clear separation between songwriters and performers. Even if the songwriter became a recording artist (Carole King for example) does one consider every performance of a King song a cover even if it was written prior to her solo singing career?

But even aside from those issues, the idea of a cover leads to two possibilities that can be good and one that is almost always a disappointment. Namely, an artist can choose to try to cover the song as close to the original as possible, allowing for key changes or slight changes for genre, or they can choose to completely take over the song and make it their own, which might make it barely recognizable as a cover of the original. Either of those options can have wonderful results. The third option is when an artist can't seem to decide between the two and ends up not doing any justice to either the original or their own creativity. And therein lies the problem with many tribute/cover albums, the songs are all over the place and the album doesn't hold together.

I admit that my favorite part of the book may well have been the chapter on Julianna Hatfield. I was a fan back in the day and admit I had lost track of her career. This was a refreshing interview and also served to refresh my interest in her music.

I recommend this to fans of Cohen as well as any fan who wonders about the popularity, or lack, of tribute albums. It is an engaging read and offers a lot of insight into the making of this particular album as well as the genre (?) itself.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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"Michael Stipe is holding a banana." It's a strong opening*, and makes more sense than you might expect, beginning the album's story by taking us through its artwork – just as, back when I'm Your Fan came out, you might well look through a CD booklet before you got chance to hear it. Each of the acts contributing to this selection of Leonard Cohen covers was photographed with a banana, by way of defusing the doominess with which Cohen has often been associated, while also nodding to the artwork of his own I'm Your Man. Of all the acts on the album, only Nick Cave refused to play along, something which seems very strange now, with him more than happy to play silly buggers in his delightful Red Hand Files. And indeed, even stranger as we read on, and learn the full story behind the Bad Seeds' contribution to the record; their version of Tower Of Song is already something close to notorious, but turns out only to be fragments of something far bigger and stranger, and even further from any kind of reverence. That's one of the tracks to which Padgett devotes most attention; the other is John Cale's take on Hallelujah, which Padgett convincingly argues was instrumental in making a little-regarded track from the album Cohen's label wouldn't even release Stateside into the song for which he's best known. He has the stats to prove it, too, meeting with a fansite administrator who has a spreadsheet of 3,500 Cohen covers - a spreadsheet he admits is out of date, and which only includes ones that have been physically released, because if you added online-only ones it would just be silly...

That aside, though, this isn't the sort of 33 1/3 which doggedly goes through each track on the album in roughly equal depth. Which to some extent irks me, but then, that's mainly just because I wanted much more on the Fatima Mansions. Indeed, I would be well up for a whole 33 1/3 imprint which did a book on each of their albums, and then one on each of Cathal's solo records. Looking realistically at a single book, would I want a chapter on them if it also meant a whole chapter on That Petrol Emotion? Perhaps not. And this is one of the things Padgett wants to discuss, the way that unlike most of the albums these books address, there are very few people who like I'm Your Fan end to end – and it's widely considered one of the better tribute albums. Tribute albums in general being a big part of what he wants to talk about. He's interested in the history of the form, the way it snuck up from being something maverick producers would do into a fairly standard record company gambit. He never quite uses the phrase Big Tribute, but that was certainly how I was categorising it once we got into the stories of producers having their tribute album ideas gazumped, or one of the big compilers, Ralph Sall, talking about how he doesn't like to get bands less famous than the subject involved because it feels like they're exploiting the big name – an idea which gave me Ayn Rand shivers, not least because, as Padgett points out, nobody ever got rich from contributing to tribute albums, even before so many of them started being for charity. Hal Willner, on the other hand, comes across as a good egg, as well as the arguable godfather of the format. He died just as the book was going to press, but I'm glad we'll still get to hear the final projects he was working on, not least because they could be considered tribute tributes, but also because I really want to hear Nick Cave singing Marc Bolan. Another sad section, though for different reasons, comes with the Juliana Hatfield interview. She's not on I'm Your Fan, but given Padgett has already acknowledged that album in particular as quite the sausage party, and that tribute albums in general can often reinforce quite a default male version of music history, it makes sense that he should interview a prolific female contributor to the field. Alas, he's disappointed to learn that she's not really all that keen on a lot of the acts whose songs she covered; often it was just a case of wanting to work with a given collaborator, or supporting a good cause, or simply that she enjoys being in the studio. You worry that if she hadn't at least admitted her own recent covers albums were her own choices, and acts she genuinely loved, Padgett might have made his way home with lip trembling, like a little boy who's just found out Covers Santa isn't real.

There are a few glitches along the way, like bands and members introduced more than once. There's also a generalisation about rappers not tending to cover songs, which while not wholly untrue, does rather ignore the elephant in the room that is the Hamilton Mixtape, surely one of the bigger tribute albums of recent years; still, I suppose when you're as immersed in the scene as Padgett, a man happy to tell us about the witch-house Lindsay Lohan tribute album, any single modern tribute album must seem like a fairly minor deal, however successful it is.

On the whole, though, he does a very good job of doing one of the best things 33 1/3s can, and using one album as a window on to something wider – here, a whole unexamined sector of the music business, and the light that reflects on the still regrettably widespread notion that singers should ideally be singing their own songs. It takes a looping path, for sure, but often you see more that way – and it's especially appropriate as applied to Cohen, a man whose career began before he released a record, with other singers' versions of his songs (at least one of which I've still never heard in a Cohen version), and which was revitalised likewise by I'm Your Fan. It's a book which works if you're into Cohen, and works if you're into tribute albums, even if you haven't heard I'm Your Fan in a while. Which is handy, because as Padgett laments, it's one of many pre-streaming tributes now only available online via YouTube jiggery-pokery, because rights complications leave them off the main streaming sites and thus, in a sense, subject to the same forgetting from which I'm Your Fan initially sought to rescue Leonard Cohen.

*Even without the additional resonance from one of my online communities, where 'Stipe' is a byword for 'old'.

(Netgalley ARC)
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To learn more about Leonard Cohen was the reason I decided to read this book and I certainly gained a lot of insight about how he was discovered and his music. Fascinating behind the scenes details along with information about tribute albums and how they started. . A bit too much detail for the average music lover that I am, but this author certainly knows music . Thanks #netgalley and #variousartistsimyourfan for letting me read and review this book.
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As a self-described music geek, I loved this book.  It took me behind the scenes to understanding the history and future of the tribute or covers albums.  Was fascinating to read about the key people whose concepts and hard work brought about some of the albums covered in this work.  Such great stories about the backgrounds of songs and projects.  I have already gone straight to Spotify a few times to stream something that I read about - like a kid in a candy store.  I even went to eBay and purchased the 1991 album that the book was written about as well pre-ordered an upcoming project mentioned.  A quick easy read but if you are also a music nerd, a lover, a trivia buff, you'll love the few hours invested in this work, and will probably end up spending some money like I did to expand your library.  Ray Padgett I'm your fan for bringing these treasured stories to life for me!!  Hallelujah!
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