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Father's Day: Leonard Cohen's dark commentary

Updated on June 16, 2012

Everybody's Wounded?

The one lyric that won't make it into a hallmark card this Father's Day is from Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhatten."

"Remember me, I used to live for music,

Remember me, I took your groceries in

It's Father's Day and everybody's wounded

First we take Manhatten, then we take Berlin!"

What? You may ask. But the truth is that holidays go wrong more often than not, or at least they tend to disappoint the expectations of a consumer society intent on masking everything in sentimental positivity. I suppose here is a good example of what went wrong for the narrator in trying to do "the right thing." Taking groceries in, loving the beauty of music, but the family unit ends up hurt and damaged. The good intentions are rendered impotent in the symbol of what one wants the Father to stand for: power, authority, stability.

But the ambitious and bold resolve of conquest, to take Manhattan and Berlin -- this is definitely male. However, it's a desire for power and a value-free power that can come from losing in the quest to reap success for being good and holy. A counter-imperialism imperialism, marching for the mission of the broken-hearted.

Regardless, it's a song riddled with hard realities, not hallmark platitudes. The old meaning of Father has died, and as the younger generations re-invent the meaning of "family" in more and more non-traditional ways, perhaps this song can be the symbol for that new era, or (god forbid!) this New Age.


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