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Democracy: Neil Gaiman’s Transcendent Animated Tribute to Leonard Cohen, with Piano by Amanda Palmer

“…the heart has got to open in a fundamental way.”

“I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason,” C.S. Lewis wrote in contemplating our core misconception about democracy. A generation later, Leonard Cohen reflected on why he wrote what he wrote and left out what he left out in composing his famous anthem to democracy: “I didn’t want to start a fight… I wanted a revelation in the heart rather than a confrontation or a call-to-arms or a defense.”

In this time of dire need for “a revelation in the heart,” when the values of democracy are continually misconstrued and misused, Cohen’s immortal words come to life in a beautiful short film — part tribute to Cohen, part fundraiser for PEN America, part public service to lift the human spirit, narrated by Neil Gaiman, with music by Amanda Palmer and gorgeous watercolor art by David Mack and Olga Nunes.

There is a kind of sacredness to the slow, considered cadence of Gaiman’s voice and the sonorous depths of the piano, making Cohen’s words — to borrow a lyric from another one of his iconic songs — sink beneath his wisdom like a stone.

It’s coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It’s coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin’
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we’ll be making love again.
We’ll be going down so deep
the river’s going to weep,
and the mountain’s going to shout Amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on…

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.

Complement with Cohen himself on democracy and its redemptions, Parker Palmer on healing its heart, and Walt Whitman on why literature is essential for it, then join me in supporting PEN’s noble mission to defend the freedom of expression, protect persecuted writers, and advance literary culture.


Published December 30, 2016

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/30/neil-gaiman-leonard-cohen-democracy/

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