“[Democracy] makes people act, whether it’s for the good or the bad… But we see that the populations of the world are no longer content with their previous positions in regard to authority. Democracy makes everybody nervous.” Leonard Cohen 1993

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I think we are on the edge of a democratic experiment. I think it has begun. I think that the idea has escaped into the world. It becomes a kind of necessity that is stronger than hope, and it will result in a tremendous amount of human suffering like all other ideas that get into the air like an infection. I don’t know whether there’s an absolute quality to democracy or to Islam or to Christianity, but it’s like fuel—it makes people act, whether it’s for the good or the bad, I couldn’t possibly decide. But we see that the populations of the world are no longer content with their previous positions in regard to authority. Democracy makes everybody nervous.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From The Future by Alberto Manzano (El Europeo: Spring 1993)

“So can you place me on the political chessboard from that song [Democracy]? Is it religious? Is it political? Is it social? Is it a joke? Is it mystical? A mystical democrat?” Leonard Cohen

Do you regularly read the newspaper?

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Sometimes, at the moment I get the paper every morning. And of course during the Gulf War, I watched the TV night and day like everyone else. I try to stay informed. I listen to the news on the radio. It’s like the last verse of my song, ‘I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean / I love the country but I can’t stand the scene / I’m neither left nor right, I’m just stayin’ home tonight / Getting lost in that hopeless little screen / But I’m as 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 USA.’ So, can you place me on the political chessboard from that song [laughs]? Is it religious? Is it political? Is it social? Is it a joke? Is it mystical? A mystical democrat [laughs]…quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Les Inrocks: Aug 21, 1991). Via Google Translate.

“I’m in the prophecy business; but, I work so slowly that the business is almost bankrupt.” Leonard Cohen

sanseb
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Well, I know I’m in the prophecy business; but, I work so slowly that the business is almost bankrupt. For instance, I began this song about democracy in ’88 and I didn’t get it out till ’92. Well, by the time I got it out, the song was co-opted as a tool for the Democratic Party. It was played on the radio stations in the week of the election and it seemed to fit in with the President Elect’s programme.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Leonard Cohen’s The Future Interview by Bob Mackowitz. Transcript from a radio special produced by Interviews Unlimited for Sony Music, 1992. Originally posted May 7, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“It can be tricky working in original genres.” Leonard Cohen


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It can be tricky working in original genres. There aren’t really any other songs like this [Democracy]. You’re creating forms and it’s hard to know where to take them. So you say to the guitarist, Play it so it sounds like . . . what? There’s no real precedent. It’s hard for yourself too. You end up thinking, Is there really a song here? Does it actually exist? You’re constantly dealing with these doubts.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen: Porridge? Lozenge? Syringe? by Adrian Deevoy. Q, 1991.

“I asked myself, ‘Where is democracy really coming?’ And it was the USA.” Leonard Cohen On Writing Democracy


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I addressed almost everything that was going on in America. This was when the Berlin Wall came down and everyone was saying democracy is coming to the East. I was the gloomy fellow who always turns up at a party to ruin the orgy or something. And I said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen that way. I don’t think this is such a good idea. I think a lot of suffering will be a consequence of this wall coming down.’ But then I asked myself, ‘Where is democracy really coming?’ And it was the USA. The USA is really where the experiment is unfolding. This is really where races confront one another, where the classes, where the genders, where even the sexual orientations confront one another. This is the real laboratory of democracy.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo (Da Capo Press: 2003) p. 335. Photo by Paul Zollo.

“[Democracy is] reduced to the real basic, unsplittable atom, which is the individual in whatever condition he is, wheezing, broken, sick, or triumphant, saying ‘Me too. This depends on me.'” Leonard Cohen

From Party Time? Leonard Cohen Gets Caught with a Cockeyed Grin by Charles Taylor (Boston Phoenix: November 27, 1992), Originally posted November 4, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

An Independence Day Post: Leonard Cohen Performs Democracy – “A Revelation In The Heart”

“I wanted a revelation in the heart” Leonard Cohen On Democracy

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I didn’t want to compromise the anthemic, hymn-like quality [of Democracy]. I didn’t want it to get too punchy. I didn’t want to start a fight in the song. I wanted a revelation in the heart rather than a confrontation or a call-to-arms or a defense.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

demlon

The Verse Not Taken

First we killed the Lord and then we stole the blues
This gutter people always in the news
But who really gets to laugh behind the black man’s back
When he makes his little crack about the Jews?
Who really gets to profit and who really gets to pay?
Who really rides the slavery ship right into Charleston Bay?
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

This verse, completed for “Democracy” but omitted from the final version (the lines were performed as a spoken verse in two concerts: San Francisco – July 3, 1993 and Boston – July 16, 19931), is an artifact of the rigorous revising that was integral to Leonard Cohen’s songwriting process and offers insight into his insight and intent. The above quotation is Leonard’s response to the query “Why did you take that [verse] out?”1

Leonard Cohen – Democracy
London: July 17, 2008
Video by PBS

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  1. Tower Of Song – Interview (Feb 1992) by Paul Zollo. SongTalk: April 1993, []