Remember when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series? That was pretty good, right? Other than that, 2016 continues to be quite the prolonged kick in the teeth.
I didn’t know Leonard Cohen’s work when I was first falling into my music obsessions. But I did know of him. Cohen was this almost mystical figure of cool on the fringes of pop culture, not boxed out of the center but choosing not to stroll over to it because it just wasn’t worth his time. Better to lean against a wall and nurse a cigarette. Let others deal with all that bother.
Even when I made to the college radio station, Cohen remained elusive. To my recollection, we didn’t have any of his albums. They’d all long since been absconded, I’m sure — liberated by someone who needed access to moody laments in the late night darkness of their dorm room. Maybe they were worn out from too much airplay, the inky vinyl scratched like a cutting board and the jacket reduced to crumbling pulp. Either way, the records weren’t there.
The hole in the library lasted until 1992, when Cohen released The Future, his first album in four years. Part of the time between albums was spent helping his son recover from a bad car crash, but it also reflected the difficulty in coming up with such literary songs. At the time, he explained, “I’m very disciplined in that I can settle down into the work situation but coming up with the words is very hard. Hard on the heart, hard on the head, and it just drives you mad. Before you know it, you’re crawling across the carpet in your underwear trying to find a rhyme for ‘orange’.”
The Future may not contain much that’s considered the pinnacle of Cohen’s canon, but I’ve been thinking of one song from it quite a bit the past couple of days, even before word of Cohen’s passing. I’ve now voted in eight U.S. presidential elections, and a full quarter of the time the person who got the most votes didn’t actually win. It puts a painful truth to the chorus of that album’s first single: “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.” Today, it feels like it’s still pending, a promise left bitterly unfulfilled.
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.
Listen or download –> Leonard Cohen, “Democracy”
(Disclaimer: Cohen has an awful lot of great albums to choose from, including a new one that arrived with a Bowie-esque sense of mournful timing. Head out to your favorite local, independently-owned record store and buy up a whole bunch of them. The small businessperson who runs the place can undoubtedly use the influx of revenue as the table is likely about to be tiled against them. Consider the sharing of this track not as means to circumvent the process of buying music, but as an impetus to do. As always, I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)