The late Leonard Cohen’s 1992 anthem “Democracy” feels not just fresh, but painfully relevant these days.
Cohen, a Canadian who spent much of his adult life in the States, avowed that the song was neither sarcastic nor ironic, but rather hopeful, an “affirmation of the experiment of democracy in this country.”
The press kit for the album on which the song originally appeared stated:
These are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood. What is the appropriate behavior in a catastrophe, in a flood? You know, while you’re cleaning out your orange crate in the torrent and you pass somebody else hanging on to a spar of wood. What do you declare yourself? “left wing” “right wing” “pro-abortion” “against abortion”? All these things are luxuries which you can no longer afford. What is the proper behavior in a flood?
For musician Amanda Palmer and her husband, author Neil Gaiman, the answer to Cohen’s question is the stripped down, spoken word version of “Democracy,” above—a fundraiser for the free speech defense organization, PEN America.
The video’s stirring watercolors are courtesy of artist David Mack, an official Ambassador of Arts & Story for the US State Department who has illustrated several of Gaiman’s poems. Singer-songwriter Olga Nunes, another in Gaiman and Palmer’s vast stable of talented co-conspirators, animated.
Gaiman fans will no doubt thrill to hear that unmistakable accent gamely tackling such lyrics as “the homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen,” but for my money, the most memorable phrase is the description of this country as “the cradle of the best and of the worst.”
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.