By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"The Future," which was inspired both by the fall of the Soviet Union and the L.A. riots (which Cohen observed at close-hand), took a considerably bleaker view. Ostensibly written by a deposed Eastern European autocrat ("It's lonely here/there's no one left to torture"), the song put us on notice that "Things are going to slide in all directions" and depicted a world in which people longed for the return of Stalin and the Berlin Wall. "There'll be the breaking/of the ancient Western code," he warned. "There'll be phantoms/there'll be fires on the road/and the white man dancing." Until a few weeks ago, "Democracy" and "The Future" balanced each other perfectly. They were like a fork in the road. Depending on your mood, you might incline to one or the other, but each seemed equally plausible. Lately, the balance has shifted considerably in favor of "The Future":
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.
ALTHOUGH HE WASN'T IN THE MOOD TO TALK about politics when I met him, Cohen did allow that his perception of the world as "a butcher shop" had not been altered by the flush economic times of the '90s. "I guess fundamentally I prefer order to disorder," he told me when I pressed him on his political beliefs. "The details change from time to time, but I think that society is fragile and that the things we take for granted are not written in stone. Some sense of preservation operates in my work."
I asked Cohen what he meant when he sang about "the breaking of the ancient Western code."
"I think I meant the end of privacy as it developed in the West, which was the real feature of our civilization," he answered. "The notion that there was private space, which wasn't really terribly available in the world until we in the West started establishing private rooms and studies and walls. So I think I felt at a certain point that this was beginning to reverse itself with a very potent mass culture. This notion of a private space in which to develop certain ideas and cultivate certain aspects of the psyche. I felt that was disappearing, and that we were moving into a kind of mass mind.
"That's why I think the notion of being able to shut one's door and find that place is becoming more and more urgent. You just need to turn things off. And it's harder and harder to turn them off with every story that's going on, with every story being decided by all of us to be worth listening to. It's not just like the media is some special reserve of individuals who are deciding. All of us are cooperating in these decisions that it's going to be O.J. or Chandra Levy, or whatever the going preoccupation is. We all cooperate in that decision, and it becomes pervasive and inescapable. It becomes part of your mind. The notion that began in the Bible with cities of sanctuary, where you could go to escape the general mechanism of the situation, those spaces are dissolving. And it produces a sense of breakdown in the psyche. You get the kind of chaos and meaninglessness and data that can't be distributed along the lines. It can't be deployed usefully, and it becomes overwhelming."
Which is one of the reasons, presumably, why Cohen sought seclusion in a monastery for five years. That, and being so depressed he couldn't get out of bed in the morning. Or perhaps he was simply watching too much television, "getting lost in that hopeless little screen," as he sang in "Democracy." Who knows? Back then, Cohen probably wouldn't have told you he was depressed in the first place.
"How could I dare to complain?" he asked rhetorically. "Because I think the appropriate and legitimate response would have been, 'What have you got to complain about?' When you recognize that you're living in this incredibly privileged, tiny pocket of mankind, where there is the luxury to discuss these questions, one darenot complain -- except in a good, sad song!"
And since so many people listen to Leonard Cohen when they're depressed, who does Leonard Cohen listen to?
Cohen seemed to shrug, as if it wasn't a matter of great importance. "I can listen to George Jones in those moments -- or Chopin," he said. "Most of the songs that we love are sad songs, because we experience profound disappointment in our lives, all of us. And to hear it sung" -- he laughed -- "Well, that's what this whole racket is about, isn't it?"
I asked him, now that he was no longer depressed, if he felt that he had been sick in some way, if his depression had actually been biochemical. He had already told me that none of his experiments with Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Wellbutrin, as well as their cruder pharmaceutical ancestors, had helped him.
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