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

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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

“I asked myself, a territory that has produced everybody from Dracula to Ivan the Terrible to Stalin, is this really the fertile ground for parliamentary democracy? I didn’t think so. It was clear to me that the real laboratory of democracy is America.” Leonard Cohen


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I had a verse in my song, Democracy, which as you know has endless verses, but one of them was, ‘It ain’t coming to us European-style, concentration camp behind the smile, it ain’t coming from the East with its temporary feast as Count Dracula comes strolling down the aisle.’ I asked myself, a territory that has produced everybody from Dracula to Ivan the Terrible to Stalin, is this really the fertile ground for parliamentary democracy? I didn’t think so. It was clear to me that the real laboratory of democracy is America. It’s America where the races are really confronting each other, where the classes are confronting one another, where even people of a different sexual orientation are confronting one another. That’s where democracy started, and that’s where it’s really unfolding.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From A Purple Haze To A Purple Patch by Adam Sweeting (The Canberra Times: July 24, 1994)

Also see “It ain’t coming to us European style” Verse To Democracy Performed By Leonard Cohen At 1993 London Show

“Democracy is the great religion of the West…& it represents an appetite that has been animated in the heart” Leonard Cohen

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Democracy is the great religion of the West. It’s a faith. And it represents an appetite that has been animated in the heart, an appetite for some inviolable envelope of oxygen where you can breathe your own air, so to speak.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Life Of A Lady’s Man by Brian D. Johnson. Maclean’s: Dec 7, 1992.

“First we killed the Lord & then we stole the blues” Why Leonard Cohen Discarded This Verse From “Democracy”

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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 following excerpt, from Tower Of Song – Interview (Feb 1992) by Paul Zollo. SongTalk: April 1993, is Leonard’s response to the query “Why did you take that [verse] out?”

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I didn’t want to compromise the anthemic, hymn-like quality. 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

 

Note: Originally posted Aug 22, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. Source: Diamonds In The Lines []