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Lyrics and Life


By Caitlin Ward


Everybody Knows
Leonard Cohen

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah, give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that it’s now or never
Everybody knows that it’s me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah, when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Generally speaking, I’m a fairly calm, fairly reasonable, fairly kind person. I sit with people and talk through things to try to understand multiple viewpoints. I interrogate my own prejudices and think seriously about why I think the way I do about things. And then, there’s an election in the English-speaking world. And then I stop being that fairly calm, fairly kind person. Just for a few days.

I am writing this a week after the United States of America elected that wretched orange man as their president, and the Republicans claimed majorities in the House and the Senate. By the time this goes to press, it will have been more than two weeks since orangey man was elected (yes, at some point I will have to start calling him by his proper name. Today is not that day). The pages of the Prairie Messenger and just about every paper and news-related website in the English-speaking world will have come close to exhausting all the ways to think about how and why that happened, and what the implications going forward will be.
Well. That, or the world will have been engulfed in flames. At this point, I discount nothing.

My point is, I doubt I’m able to contribute much more to the conversation, except to quote a friend and colleague. It was a throw-away line in a conversation years ago, but it resonated with me: “things don’t only happen for one reason.” It’s something I try to bear in mind most of the time, and especially in these strange days. When we try to parse whether it was alienation, economic instability, white backlash, or bigotry that led to this state of affairs, I think it’s most helpful to say it was probably all of those things.

Of course, that doesn’t mean each reason is equally valid, or equally relevant. That’s the place where I stop being fairly calm and kind around election times. This time around I got into an argument with every white man I encountered (except for my dad). I never shouted, but I definitely raised my voice a few times. I feel I should note: I didn’t try to pick fights with white men. It just sort of happened that way.

At first I was going to say that elections bring out the worst in me because of that, but I don’t think that’s it. It brings out a part of me that’s harder to take: I’m more challenging and I’m angrier. But then sometimes, it’s not fair to expect someone to be calm.

I’ve been thinking about this in the wake of Leonard Cohen’s death, which happened the day before the American election, and was announced a few days after it. If he had died another week, this column would be about the close but difficult relationship I have with his work. Perhaps I will write that column another time. But this week, I was thinking about how people have paid tribute to Cohen, and which of his songs have resonated in their lives. Now, I must admit, I was sick of hearing the song Hallelujah far before anyone posted it on their Facebook last week, and the number of times people have quoted from the chorus of Anthem was clearly getting out of hand (“there is a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in”). These are the songs of Cohen’s that have stuck with people, though. There’s a few others that come up a lot, too: Suzanne; Bird on a Wire; Tower of Song; Sisters of Mercy.

I see the appeal of these songs; they see beauty in broken worlds and broken people. They promise things are not quite lost, but nor do they promise perfection (from Anthem: “every heart will come to love / but like a refugee”). There’s ritual and faith in them. They comfort people. There are other sides to Cohen: there’s Cohen the broken man (Famous Blue Raincoat); Cohen the womanizer (Anyhow); Cohen who thinks no woman will ever love him, but really should pay more attention to his own life if he thinks that’s the case (Take This Longing); Cohen who is really more into Federico Garcia Lorca than anyone rightly should be (Take This Waltz); Cohen who should really consider converting to Christianity if he’s this into it (Joan of Arc).

Then there’s the Cohen who has “seen the future, brother / it’s murder.” That’s the Cohen who predicted a major terrorist attack in First We Take Manhattan. This is the same Cohen who threatened to make a lampshade out of your kiss in Flowers for Hitler. This is the Cohen who demanded we compare mythologies at the age of 23: said Jesus was nailed to a cross “like a bat against a barn” in his first book.

This is the part of Cohen that people tend to ignore: the Cohen whose sensuality turns rotten, whose spirituality is apocalyptic, whose religious fervour is violent. He’s the one who calls it like it is when no one likes how it is. And just as I would not call my combativeness in the wake of elections the worst of me, I would not call this the worst of Cohen (that title is reserved for everything he did with Phil Spector in the 1970s). I would say, however, it’s the part of Cohen that’s difficult to take.

But let’s face it. The dice are definitely loaded.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at