Watch Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer’s Haunting, Animated Take on Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy”

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.”

He start­ed writ­ing it in the late ’80s, churn­ing out dozens of vers­es as he pon­dered the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tianan­men Square protests.

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.”


You can pur­chase the track here—the project was fund­ed by 9,408 con­trib­u­tors to Palmer’s Patre­on and all pro­ceeds ben­e­fit PEN Amer­i­ca.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Leonard Cohen’s Final Inter­view: Record­ed by David Rem­nick of The New York­er

Hear Aman­da Palmer’s Cov­er of “Pur­ple Rain,” a Gor­geous Stringfelt Send-Off to Prince

Neil Gaiman Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”: One Mas­ter of Dra­mat­ic Sto­ry­telling Reads Anoth­er

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.

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