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.
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).
I sang this recently at the Spondon Folk and Acoustic Club at the Vernon Arms. It was my opening song and the first time I had played there. It’s an easy listening song, and people were soon joining in the chorus.
However – it’s not easy listening if you take note of the lyrics. It’s a song about our mortality – how life is slip sliding’ away and it’s about a search for meaning. Does God have a plan for our lives – and is that where we can find meaning? It’s a huge topic and simple ‘proof text’ verses from the Bible won’t do it justice. I get encouragement that I’m not the only one who gets puzzled though – there is part of the debate in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 1. I think I’m with Paul Simon on this one.