Democracy ~ Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, novelist, and artist. Cohen published his first book of poetry in Montreal in 1956 and his first novel in 1963. His work often deals with the exploration of religion, isolation, sexuality and complex interpersonal relationships.

Musically, Cohen’s earliest songs (many of which appeared on the 1967 album, Songs of Leonard Cohen) were rooted in European folk music. In the 1970s, his material encompassed pop, cabaret and world music. Since the 1980s his high baritone voice has evolved into lower registers (bass baritone and bass), with accompaniment from electronic synthesizers and female backing singers. Over two thousand renditions of Cohen’s songs have been recorded. He has been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. While giving the speech at his induction into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008, Lou Reed described Cohen as belonging to the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters.”

Cohen was born in 1934 in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, into a middle-class Jewish family. His father was of Polish ancestry. His mother, of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry, emigrated from Lithuania. He grew up in Westmount on the Island of Montreal. His father, Nathan Cohen, owned a substantial Montreal clothing store, and died when Leonard was nine years old. Like many other Jewish families with names like Cohen, Kahn, and Kagan, Cohen’s family claimed descent from the Kohanim: “I had a very Messianic childhood,” he told Richard Goldstein in 1967. “I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.” He attended Herzliah High School, where he studied with poet Irving Layton. As a teenager he learned to play the guitar, subsequently forming a country-folk group called the Buckskin Boys. His father’s will provided Leonard with a modest trust income, sufficient to allow him to pursue his literary ambitions.

Democracy

In 1992, Cohen released The Future, which urges (often in terms of biblical prophecy) perseverance, reformation, and hope in the face of grim prospects. Three tracks from the album – “Waiting for the Miracle”, “The Future” and “Anthem” – were featured in the movie Natural Born Killers.

In the title track, Cohen prophesies impending political and social collapse, reportedly as his response to the L.A. unrest of 1992: “I’ve seen the future, brother: It is murder.” In “Democracy,” Cohen criticizes America but says he loves it: “I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.” Further, he criticizes the American public’s lack of interest in politics and addiction to television: “I’m neither left or right/I’m just staying home tonight/getting lost in that hopeless little screen.”

It’s coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tienanmen Square.
It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin’
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we’ll be making love again.
We’ll be going down so deep
the river’s going to weep,
and the mountain’s going to shout Amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on …

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

  • Audio from the 1992 album, The Future:
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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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