And even though it all went wrong...
What a week.
On Monday we lost the man who wrote that democracy is coming to the USA, though we didn't learn about it until Thursday, the day he was quietly buried in his native Montreal. On Tuesday we learned that democracy may be leaving the USA.
And on Saturday, on the cold open for Saturday Night Live, the truly lovely and talented Kate McKinnon paid a poignant tribute to both events by singing a few verses from Leonard Cohen's most-covered song, "Hallelujah."
I'm far from the only person to be grieving over both the election loss and the loss of Cohen, and certainly far from the only writer to see the interwoven themes they present.
In The Guardian Jonathan Freedland wrote:
...Cohen's songs often told of gloom and defeat and darkness, but his voice was one of consolation – of sharing the loss by finding another who felt it too, of discovering the glimmer of love or light that might get you through.
My word, do we need that now. Cohen died on Monday, slipping out before he had to glimpse the news that has convulsed the world. He saw a lot in his 82 years, but he never had to see the words President-elect Trump. With his impeccable timing, Cohen spared himself that ordeal. But his songs anticipated how the rest of us would feel. Looked through the paper. Makes you wanna cry.
The Trumpists and their sycophants outside the US taunt those of us who are fearful. Boris Johnson says we need to get over our collective “whinge-orama” and embrace the new reality. Iain Duncan Smith says Barack Obama was a cold fish anyway, and he’s glad to see the back of him. Nigel Farage chooses to describe America’s first black president as a “creature”. Why, Trump’s arrival could even be a good thing, they say: he might offer the UK a decent post-Brexit trade deal.
This is not only pathetic in its cravenness, grovelling to a bigot when the moment demanded some of the moral steel shown by Angela Merkel – who extended her hand to Trump, but only on condition that he accept basic human values including respect for the minorities he had so copiously insulted – it is also unforgivably myopic. It fails to see there is a much larger picture here...
A much larger picture indeed, which is why I find it both sad and intensely annoying to read sneering comments on social media -- even from people whom I'd considered to be friends or at least allies -- calling the anti-Trump contingent spoiled crybabies who are merely "butt-hurt" because "their" team didn't win. "Get over it," we're scolded, and some of the scolds aren't even US residents and will not have to reside in Trump's America.
And here's Andrew O'Hehir on Salon.com:
I don’t know how much attention the great Canadian troubadour paid to current events during his final days in this vale of tears. I can only imagine he was both horrified and mordantly amused by the rise of Donald Trump, a cartoonish would-be despot who seemed to have been conjured out of Cohen’s darker visions. (I have no particular objection to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize, except one: Leonard Cohen deserved it more.) All those disgruntled and downtrodden white people we’ve heard so much about apparently felt that everybody besides them had gotten a box of chocolates and a long-stemmed rose. So they ordered their own — and boy howdy, did they ever get them! Now, it’s true that the chocolates have a funny smell, almost as if they were made of something else that’s about the same color as chocolate. And the delivery guy bears a distinct resemblance to Freddy Krueger. As Cohen observed, that’s how it goes.The "box of chocolates" bit was a reference to lyrics in a song I've often quoted myself (here and here, f'rinstance): "Everybody Knows," which appeared on Cohen's 1988 release I'm Your Man.
In the title song of Cohen’s now-classic 1992 album “The Future,” he outlined a litany of terror-nostalgia that captures our present era even better than it did that one: “Give me back the Berlin Wall/ Give me Stalin and St. Paul/ Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima.” I think he really was a Jewish prophet (turned Buddhist monk) who could see the future. That human yearning for moral certainty and clarity, even at the risk of extinguishment or fiery damnation, runs through Cohen’s lyrics. There is a great deal of that spirit behind the unlikely election of a real estate tycoon and TV star, who possesses no understanding of policy or governance and no aptitude for public discourse, as president of the United States.
Years ago I read an article that I can't seem to find online, in which the writer described Cohen as "the hoarse man of the Apocalypse." And indeed he was, having earned that title by virtue of both his "golden voice" and songs such as the aforementioned "The Future."
Back in the early 1990s, when "The Future" was still a work in progress, I read a Cohen interview that mentioned the song, which at the time was titled, "If You Could See What's Coming Next." This October 2015 post on the wonderful Cohencentric blog quotes the original opening lines:
If you could see what's coming nextCohen was clearly inspired by the heady events that had been unfolding throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the unraveling of the Soviet Union, the deaths of tyrants. So many of us who were alive and aware back then were downright giddy, and some observers even suggested that we had for all practical purposes reached "the end of history" and that it was, by and large, a happy ending, because the good guys were triumphing at last.
If you could see the hidden text
You'd say, Give me love or give me Adolf Hitler
And you'd say, Give me back the
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
You'd say, Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima
Just get me out of this mirror.
Clearly, Cohen knew better, and while some might have merely found his message in "The Future" congruent with his own long history of being a brooding poet/novelist/troubadour, he framed it in a compelling way that cut into my own giddiness. I've long since accepted that in history and politics, as in Scamworld, there are no neat and tidy endings.
Yet on the very same album on which "The Future" appeared, Cohen also sang about democracy coming to the USA, and he offered another anthem of hope, titled, appropriately enough,"Anthem."
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, there is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
Well, yes, there is that. And as Kate-as-HRC said at the end of her song on SNL, "I'm not giving up and neither should you." For sure, Kate, I'm not giving up.
I'm stubborn as those garbage bags that time cannot decayAnd I'm thinking that if we can survive and even push back on the autocracy, there may be hope yet for democracy.
I'm junk but I'm still holding up this little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA.
Addendum 15 November 2016: A.J. Goldman penned a thoughtful and lovely tribute to Cohen's work and why it matters now more than ever: Why We Mourn Leonard Cohen in the Age of Trump.