For a fairly introspective 17 year old the music of Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) drew me with a fascination bordering on obsession; I can still remember sitting alone in my bedroom listening to ‘Bird on a Wire’ on repeat. The phase soon passed, and I only recently came to appreciate the depths of this song ‘Anthem’, from Cohen’s 1992 album ‘The Future’.
‘The Future’ contains references to traumatic historical events, including Hiroshima and the Second World War. The massacre of students in Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin wall both happened in 1989; it was a time of massive upheaval and uncertainty in the world.
Listening again in late 2019 you have to ask, has much has changed? Just thinking about our own country (quite apart from the rest of the world!) Britain is facing a bewildering parliamentary election, Brexit is unresolved, the country has more Foodbanks than McDonalds….. there surely still is ‘a crack, a crack, in everything’, but Cohen leaves us with a note of hope, ‘that’s how the light gets in’. We need the light, in our national and our personal lives, as never before.
Currently it is Advent, traditionally the time for preparing for the coming of Christ. For me this song provides a kind of transcendence, bringing hope into the apparent hopelessness of our world. The parallels are obvious I hope.
This is the title track from the 1967 Beatles album and film of the same name. The ‘plot’ was structured around a merry band of travellers and strange characters who sign up to a mystery coach trip one day – destination unknown. Over the journey they get to know each other better, have their minds opened and enjoy … adventures. The film gets a mention in the definitive hippy narrative The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which also tells the tale of a band of ‘Merry Pranksters’ travelling the country in a converted school bus and spreading their message of liberation as they understood it.
The link to the idea of Christian life as a pilgrim journey of mystery is too delicious to avoid. Over history, some branches of the church have been architecturally and socially austere, while others have been plush with colourful decor and ornament. Some groups focus on The Word and doctrine, while others find connection with the mystery of God in experience through art and symbolism.
So if that could work for you, this is the invitation – roll up for the Mystery Tour.
Wolfe, Tom, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (London: Vintage, 2018) p.211
Don’t know about you, but this just makes me want to grow my hair long again and get some flares. There are a few versions of the Eagles playing this song on YouTube, but I picked this one because it is a live performance and seemed to capture the spirit of the times as well as the sentiment in the song. What a contrast with Britain, as The Sex Pistols were singing Anarchy In The UK in the same year.
As usual, we can’t be too analytical about the lyrics, but the message of the chorus seems to speak to me on two levels. One is simply about relaxing, living in the moment, enjoying life while we can and taking opportunities that come along.
Of course this is not a comprehensive treatise on how to live a good life! But on a second level as a Christian, I find definite pointers towards the encouragement in the words of Jesus: “If you are tired, come to me and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28-30).