Playing the Indian Card

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Recent Prophecies of Eliezer ben Nisan ha'Cohen

According to his son Adam, speaking at the Junos, Leonard Cohen confidently predicted that Donald Trump would win the recent US election and become president.

Cohen died the day before the election.

Publicly, at least, Cohen always stayed strictly politically neutral as a wise artist does. As he sang in “The Future,” “I’m neither left nor right.” And he’s not American; he had no dog in the race. But Cohen was a true prophet. Not that he literally saw the future, any more than any prophet can, but he saw beneath the surface of things, and so was able to draw the proper conclusions about what would happen next. It is a matter of reading the human soul. Perhaps also the will of God.

This is the job, actually, of any true artist. To the extent that they are true artists, they are inspired by God; they are prophets. And they tell us what is happening in the world of the spirit. But Cohen was especially aware of this.

Cohen’s prediction is that much more impressive because he made it while living among the entertainment industry, and intellectuals, in Southern California. A place and a milieu that was solidly for Clinton. California gave Clinton her plurality in the popular vote.

Yet Cohen was sensing what was going on in the wider culture, in the rest of the country—in the rust belt. It was not something he was picking up from the people around him, who, according to Adam, all thought Clinton would win.

So Cohen was a true prophet. We ought to listen to him.

As it happens, he did an album called “The Future.”

Cohen has said often that the world is undergoing a spiritual catastrophe.

On the album, he makes two prophecies that seem contradictory. One, “The Future,” is of disaster. The other, “Democracy is Coming,” is optimistic.

But Cohen has said that the former is far more likely.

Here it is:

Give me back my broken night
My mirrored room, my secret life
It's lonely here
There's no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
Over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby
That's an order!

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that's left
And stuff it up the hole
In your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
I've seen the future, brother
It is murder

Things are going to slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it has overturned
The order of the soul

When they said repent, repent
I wonder what they meant
When they said repent, repent
I wonder what they meant
When they said repent, repent
I wonder what they meant

You don't know me from the wind
You never will, you never did
I'm the little Jew
Who wrote the Bible
I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all
But love's the only engine
Of survival

Your servant here, he has been told
To say it clear, to say it cold
It's over, it ain't going any further
And now the wheels of heaven stop
You feel the devil's riding crop
Get ready for the future: It is murder

There'll be the breaking of the ancient western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There'll be phantoms, there'll be fires on the road
And the white man dancing
You'll see your woman hanging upside down
Her features covered by her fallen gown
And all the lousy little poets coming round
Trying to sound like Charlie Manson
Yeah the white man dancing

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
Give me Christ
Or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don't like children anyhow
I've seen the future, baby: It is murder

Cohen, as a true artist, has said, quite properly, that his poems and songs don’t mean anything, any more than a diamond means anything. There are just beautiful. He is right; it is blasphemy to “interpret” art. If you could say the same thing in an essay, you would write an essay, which is after all easier to do.

Still, it is unsettling how very wrong so many interpretations of Cohen tend to be. We do exegesis on the prophets; even Jesus did explain some parables. So I claim the liberty to clarify.

It's lonely here
There's no one left to torture

Cohen is not calling for sadism; I think we can take that as given. By making the statement, he is alerting us that he is speaking ironically. What he is saying is, give me back a moral code, in which such things, if done, are secret. The standard modern notion is that morality is simply torture—so he using the term ironically.

He argues it is better, and more moral, to have a moral code you can break than to have no moral code. So it is better to sin than to never sin, in this sense, by denying there is anything sinful. The danger is moral relativism. And Cohen further says that the result of moral relativism is loneliness.

Keep that in mind.

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that's left

I think I need to comment here, because many will think Cohen is endorsing sodomy and environmentalism here.

In later performances, Cohen removed the words “anal sex”; I guess he regretted them. I think he changed it to “risky sex.” What he is saying is that he wants risks, rather than either crack or sex specifically. While some might think he wants anal sex, does anyone really think he means to endorse crack cocaine? Which is to say, I think, he is calling again for morality. If there is no risk of doing moral wrong, then there is no opportunity to be moral. That is the risk evoked here: these are examples of doing wrong. This is confirmed by the reference to “Stalin and St. Paul.” Stalin and Saint Paul are evil opposed to good. The Berlin Wall is the clear delineation between the two.

It does sound as if he is referring to environmentalism as a possible new morality: “Take the only tree that’s left”; but I think not. It does not sound entirely reverent to suggest you stick your last tree up your … anal sex? And it sounds parodic to suggest that a tree can fix a hole in a culture. He is saying that environmentalism, the worship of nature, is a pathetic substitute for culture.

The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it has overturned
The order of the soul

Here is a clear statement of the problem. The world—the physical, nature—has overcome and obliterated the soul, the spiritual. Which is order—Aristotle called it “form.” Christians call it “logos.” Moral order is a part of that, along with logic, which is to say truth. And beauty is a third form of order: the good, the true, the beautiful.

That, then, is the catastrophe. We have abandoned the good, the true, and the beautiful, for chaos.

And here is the solution, put as gently as possible: repent! The important, the vital, the essential first step, is to accept and admit that we are wrong.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol―that our lives had become unmanageable.

I’m the little Jew
Who wrote the Bible

Here Cohen makes clear that he speaks in the person of a prophet. And he calls for love as the only solution.

Here a lot of people will eagerly jump in and say, “Aha! Cohen is calling for free love! Go for it, baby boomers!”

Just the opposite. The confusion of sex with love is at the core of the problem he has just diagnosed.

What does sex have to do with repentance?

If you know your catechism, you should know how love fits in here. We honestly repent of our sins in the confessional, when we do so, not out of fear of punishment, but out of a full realization that we have offended God, “who is worthy of all love.”

Repentance comes from love; it is its first natural expression.

And, as Jesus says, love is primarily love of God; if we do not love God, we do not love our fellow man either. Jesus says, love God with all your heart. Then love your neighbour as yourself. You cannot do the second without the first. You might do nice things for your neighbour, but you cannot love him.

As AA recognizes.

Step 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Love does not mean romantic love, specifically, here, let alone sex. This should be obvious from the scope he gives: the rise and fall of civilizations, human survival.

I think he is right, too, that civilizations rise and fall, succeed and fail, based on the amount of love for one another and for God among their citizens. Armies fight and win because of love: your love for the next guy in the trench, and for the folks you defend at home. Nations rise if and when those who happen to be in charge do what they do for love of others, instead of for self-interest.

Cohen clearly sees that we in the West are losing that, or have lost that, and this will be our downfall.

We have turned away from God, and the spirit, and so we have turned away from each other.

As W. B. Yeats similarly put it:

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

There'll be the breaking of the ancient western code

What could be clearer than “the breaking of the ancient western code”? This is the code that Moses brought down from Sinai. The devil is in the saddle. He is now in charge.

The image of the woman hanging upside down is a kind of inverted crucifix. Cohen perfects the inversion by making the figure a woman, and having the hanging expose her genitals. So this is an image of our inversion of our traditional values. Now it is all about sex, and nobody sees anyone’s face, anyone’s humanity, any more.

Art, beauty has disintegrated because it has lost its moral purpose. Poets want to sound like Charlie Manson. I have read some suggesting that Cohen’s concern here is to condemn bad poetry. It is, in a sense, but do not miss that he is telling you what makes bad poetry bad. Immorality is ugliness, and ugliness is immorality. You cannot have the good without the true, or the true without the beautiful, or the beautiful without the good.

Cohen puts double emphasis on the line “the white man dancing.” The usual claim is that this would be a good thing. “White men can’t dance” is intended as a criticism. It is because they are “uptight,” that is, too self-controlled. But self-control means morality. The image also suggests a second sense of “dancing,” as you see in old Westerns: the idea of being forced to dance as a humiliation. White men are being humiliated.

You begin to see here what he was seeing in the Trump phenomenon, perhaps. It was the white men standing up for the ancient Western code. In popular leftist terms, Cohen is a “white supremacist.” Not that that term really means what the words say it means.

Destroy another fetus now
We don't like children anyhow
I've seen the future, baby: It is murder

Like me, it seems, Cohen sees abortion as key to the whole problem. He puts that reference here at the end, making it a sort of punch line—a secondary punch line, because this verse is followed by the repeated chorus “Repent! Repent!”

Abortion is indeed murder. It is the present holocaust. It is the ultimate proof of our lack of love for our fellow man. Abortion is the ultimate litmus test: are you a sheep, or a goat? Are you with God, or for yourself?

That is Cohen’s Jeremiad.

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