The artistry of the Canadian poet, songwriter, singer and novelist Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) has been, I think, among the most significant gifts to the world that have come from my country.
In 2008 in London, England, at age 73, Cohen was on a tour believed to have been necessary because his former manager bilked a massive amount of his life savings. He released a live album, and there are many YouTube videos of performances from that trip. A few years ago, I stumbled upon one of those videos, a live performance of “Democracy,” a song originally from his 1992 album The Future. It has stayed with me.
I never followed Cohen much in my youth and earlier adult life but as I have gained a greater appreciation for art and particularly poetry, I have grown to love the works of this man.
In some ways, the song “Democracy” may speak to some of the rancour that has recently affected America, as well as many other countries. Underlying that, I also feel the song is a kind of homage to the theory of democracy as an institution, an ideal, carried out through people exercising the right to vote. That is a right I take very seriously each time I have the right, privilege and responsibility to do it.
An inauguration, a conclusion to an election cycle, is undoubtedly a cause for jubilation for the election winners, as happened yesterday. But more importantly, it signals the continuation of that time-tested tradition of electing the country’s leadership and the commander-in-chief of the military; weighty responsibilities (and perhaps burdens) few might ever feel capable of carrying, but do, and mostly without thanks or respect.
The democratic process leads not only to celebration but also to renewal of hope and, ultimately, commitment and action to improve all people’s lives. All around this living world, we don’t do very well at that sacred task, no matter who takes power, or where.
But the role of helping folks is not just up to governments. It is up to each of us to give hope and a hand up to our neighbours and those with less than us; the sick, the poor, the lonely.
Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.
Here’s the video for the song (with full lyrics in the video post’s notes) from the official Leonard Cohen YouTube channel: