I remember being seventeen, in 1986, nervously flipping through albums in the C section of Melody Records, right off Dupont Circle, in Washington, D.C.. I loved music, but I was not immune to the terror of others’ opinions, and the guy slumping behind the cash register looked intimidatingly cool. I did not know if Leonard Cohen was cool or not, but I’d heard his song “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and was intrigued. There were no albums with this song on it, but there was Songs from a Room, with an admirably minimalist cover. So steeling myself for the cashier’s judgment, I bravely purchased it. I was rewarded when I got home and heard “Bird On A Wire” for the first time. The way those words were arranged. The tonality, jive, pain and resistance brought together with that raspy, sensual voice. I was instantly hooked, and have been a Leonard Cohen junkie since then.
Learning of Leonard Cohen’s death in the midst of my election night grief almost lightened my mood. He was a mordant wit in his life, why not carry through with it to the end? What a perfect moment to bow out. The last record he made, and released this summer, also exhibits his impeccable timing. Its title cut weaves disco, a synagogue choir, and his octogenarian voice stating simply: “You want it darker. We kill the flame.”
Leonard Cohen knew how to deal with the dark. He dove into it, investigated it, and sprawled about within it, enjoying its fruits. The face he showed us was that of a man neither afraid of the darkness within him or the darkness without. He must have had fears. He was human. But he kept them at bay, or perhaps he learned to transform them into songs that worked as a communion for his millions of fans. Perhaps he took his darkness and turned it into music. Isn’t what we’re supposed to do—whistle in the dark?
Isn’t that what we should be doing now, in this mess that Mr. Cohen left behind? We should not turn our faces from the dark. We should not pretend that it’s not there. The political ground has shifted dramatically and dangerously. We still have an unusually humane and decent President, but come January, the United States will be led by an unstable and vindictive man who has unleashed waves of violence with his venomous rhetoric. Around the nation, incidents of white thugs attacking minorities are on the rise; even in the 99% Democratic haven of Brooklyn where I live, at a French cafe where I often drink an afternoon cup of coffee, a 49 year-old woman, bemoaning the results of the election with her friend, was punched in the face by a Trump supporter from another table. In the halls of power, white supremacists like Steve Bannon grin at the camera.
The prospect of a far right executive branch, coupled with a Republican Congress, and let’s not even mention the Supreme Court, has affected many of us so viscerally that it has been hard to do anything for the past week except hug one’s friends, cry, crawl into bed and/or drink large doses of whiskey. And yet, even in our sorrow, we are seeing the beginning of a nation-wide resistance. Since the election, The American Civil Liberties Union has received the greatest surge of support in its one hundred year history; over 20,000 people have donated to Planned Parenthood in Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s name. Muslim and Jewish organizations are coming together to renounce Trump’s plan to register Muslims. These are dark days, but we are beginning to whistle.
There are many ways to whistle and many ways to resist Trump, but at the bottom, it boils down to persistence and love. That means not giving up, and being kind to our family, our friends and our neighbors. All of them. Love kept inside doesn’t do much good and often sours. Love needs to be exposed and shared through songs, through art, through touch, through thoughtful protest and intervention. We hold each other up. We make beauty while we are here. Trump only wins if we stop doing this.
Want more direction? I have found the following links to be helpful:
Kara Waite’s Excellent Guide to Calling Your Representatives:
Million Women’s March
Maddy Myer’s Bystander’s Guide to Standing Up Against Islamophobic Harassment (and other types of Harassment Too)
Rufus Wainwright and a choir of 1500 singing Hallelujah.
The Glory & Splendor of NYC Young People’s Choir singing Bridge over Troubled Water