"Democracy" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
It's coming through a hole in the air
From those nights in Tiananmen Square
It's coming from the feel
That this ain't exactly real
Or it's real, but it ain't exactly there
From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the USA
It's coming through a crack in the wall
On a visionary flood of alcohol
From the staggering account
Of the Sermon on the Mount
Which I don't pretend to understand at all
It's coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay,
From the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of Chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the USA

It's coming from the sorrow in the street
The holy places where the races meet
From the homicidal bitchin'
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat
From the wells of disappointment
Where the women kneel to pray
For the grace of God in the desert here
And the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the USA

Sail on, sail on
Oh mighty ship of State
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the Squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on

It's coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It's here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it's here they got the spiritual thirst
It's here the family's broken
And it's here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the USA

It's coming from the women and the men
Oh baby, we'll be making love again
We'll be going down so deep
The river's going to weep,
And the mountain's going to shout Amen
It's coming like the tidal flood
Beneath the lunar sway
Imperial, mysterious
In amorous array
Democracy is coming to the USA

Sail on, sail on
O mighty ship of State
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
As time cannot decay
I'm junk but I'm still holding up this little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA
To the USA


Lyrics submitted by nursejen

"Democracy" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Democracy song meanings
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10 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentAm I the only guy that likes this song?
    Mr_Crawon July 30, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentno.
    papersnakeon September 06, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentRadio host Thom Hartmann often uses this song as a bumper track for his daily show. thomhartmann.com
    radioardillaon May 24, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis was one of the first Leonard Cohen songs I remember hearing. Like another poster, I too love the combination of cynicism and hope in this song. It cynically reminds us that America is not the democracy it claims to be: that racism and classes have not been abolished. Then he points out that while that time is not here yet, it is coming in its own time, and that America is paving its way without trying. It also makes me think that when democracy arrives, it will be those who speak of it most who will reject it without recognizing it for what it is.
    Sylviedon March 27, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti swear to god I never thought this might be sarcastic, and 9-11 is years to early, but i think my understanding has morphed.... either way I think Mr Cohen would like that were talking about it still!!!!
    ElegantMuleon January 16, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti dont think its sarcastic. i think he's being ironic saying that "democracy is 'coming' to the USA" when the point of the USs existence is to be and have always been democratic although for along time it hasn't been.

    so at first this song sounds patriotic, preaching manifestdestiny etc when infact Cohen is cleverly highlighting the hypocracy of the whole system
    10203040on September 24, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree with you Sylvied. I like how the last stanza describes someone who could be completely unaware politically and also, at the same time, be about some who is very politically aware. Great device and great writing!
    eyehopon September 14, 2012   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationTo me, this song is all about balance and good description of the USA and its people. It's all about hope about American (and in general) democracy and it's about hopelessness and strange things about the world in the USA. But ultimately, hope wins. Leonard wrote it in 1992, right in the middle of the Gulf War, waiting for the mid-term election in 1992 and the presidential election in 1994 - to bring about change in politics via democracy.

    Here's my (subjective :)) analysis, line-by-line. This song has two meanings throughout: 1) images and happenings at home in the US and in 2) Gulf War in Iraq.

    Hear the marching drums - they herald how democracy will do away with the senseless war in Iraq (first Gulf War).

    "It's coming through a hole in the air" <--- on the waves of radio or TV, or a major bomb explosion

    "From those nights in Tiananmen Square" <--- images of the crushed 1989 uprising, appreciates US democracy, US protecting democracy in Iraq

    "It's coming from the feel That this ain't exactly real, Or it's real, but it ain't exactly there." <--- Reference to US marketing and optimism. Many things started then half finished or just existing as an idea. Or the alleged WMD in Iraq there were never there.

    "From the wars against disorder, From the sirens night and day," <--- Big city image of constant fight against any disorder

    "From the ashes of the gay" <--- refers to the AIDS epidemic and/or homophobia

    "Democracy is coming to the U.S.A."

    "It's coming through a crack in the wall" <--- reference of how invisibly it gets into our lives

    "On a visionary flood of alcohol" <--- people discussing, prognosticating about politics in a pub being a bit drunk

    "From the staggering account Of the Sermon on the Mount, Which I don't pretend to understand at all."" <--- Reference to Christian cults or the Book of Mormon which are not easily comprehensible to Leonard.

    "It's coming from the silence On the dock of the bay" <--- Reference to the Ottis Redding song "Sitting on the dock bay", how nothing has changed at all

    "From the brave, the bold, the battered Heart of Chevrolet". <---America's fixation on cars, especially American made classic cars

    "Democracy is coming to the USA"

    "It's coming from the sorrow in the street," <--- reference to riots, or compassion towards homeless

    "The holy places where the races meet" <--- America's churches (also gospel) playing the role of the family that's often far away

    "From the homicidal bitchin' That goes down in every kitchen To determine who will serve and who will eat." <--- The equality of women, who no longer just cook in the kitchen. Also, broader meaning of society: who will be rich and who will be poor.

    "From the wells of disappointment, where women kneel to pray" <--- supermarkets, stores where women shop to forget their agony of waiting for their husbands to return from the first Gulf War OR images of Arab women praying at a water or oil well

    "From the grace of God in the desert here" <--- Biblical reference to the desert, also hoping for success of military exercises in desert test ranges in Nevada, etc.

    "And the desert far away" <-- in the Iraqi desert in the first Gulf War, this song is in 1994 after the older Bush's presidency

    "Sail on, sail on O mighty Ship of State!" <--- reference to the USA (metaphor) and maybe also an aircraft carrier

    "To the Shores of Need Past the Reefs of Greed To the Squalls of Hate" <--- hopes for unity, compassion for the poor, the ethnic minorities and the people of Iraq

    "It's coming to America first" <--- the spirit of American innovation

    "The cradle of the best and of the worst" <-- America is the country of extremes

    "It's here they got the range And the machinery for change" <--- Refers to the size of the US economy, economies of scale and the machinery of innovation, the nature of people who support change

    "And it's here they got the spiritual thirst" <-- mockery of American cults, hunger for self-improvement books to the point of stupidity

    "It's here the family's broken and it's here the lonely say That the heart has got to open In a fundamental way." <--- references to places of worship and religion in the US that attempts to substitute family (everyone moves away from home and lives far away), naivete of beliefs how religion and self improvement, opening yourself up, etc. will change your relationship to the world when it won't

    "Democracy is coming to the USA."

    "It's coming from the women and men. O baby, we'll be making love again. We'll be going down so deep The river's going to weep And the mountain's going to shout Amen!". <--- Reference to the overblown interest to sex in the US. Also to the oversexualized media and the importance of raw and loud sex, loud orgasms in porn vs. emotions.with intimacy.

    "It's coming like the tidal flood Beneath the lunar sway Imperial, mysterious, In amorous array" <-- Democracy is coming slowly, unnoticed, unstoppable like the tide rising but in a majestic way.

    "Sail on, sail on" <--- Ship of the US sailing on the sea of democracy, keep going with democracy

    "I'm sentimental if you know what I mean" <-- He loves this ambivalent world to a degree
    "I love the country but I can't stand the scene" <-- he hates politics and the then current state of affairs of 1992

    "And I'm neither left or right" <--- no political stance just fed up with the war

    "I'm just staying home tonight, Getting lost in that hopeless little screen".<-- watching CNN on TV, just following what's going on

    "But Im' stubborn as those garbage bags That Time cannot decay" <--- environmental catastrophe, but still optimistic and stubbornly vouching for democracy

    "I'm junk but I'm still holding up This little wild bouquet" <-- power of nature, optimism, belief in the future

    "Democracy is coming to the USA." <-- Democracy's cycle will change and do away with all the bad things (Gulf War, racial hatred) in the USA soon.
    acseron August 28, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMost songs about politics, government, or the USA are either patriotic and overly optimistic to the point of blind sentimentality and how wonderful "government by the people" is, or else they are protest songs that are negative, pessimistic, and focus on the injustices and deep flaws in the system. This song obviously aims to see things in all of the shades of gray, not denying all of the darkness that is all around, but yet somehow trying to see the potential for good and the hope that still remains in the midst of all of the negativity. As a political system, democracy has largely failed to live up to all of the idealistic talk of the people who made it into the world's predominant political system. And yet, the thought here is that there is still hope for the future, and that total cynicism may be an easy perspective, but it is somehow not the true one or the best one.
    JT1968on July 10, 2017   Link
  • -1
    General CommentWell, I don't know about only *guy*, but definitely not the only person. :-)

    I love this song, although I must admit to liking his "spoken word poem" version better. It's very dark, showcases his voice perfectly, and very fitting considering the subject matter.

    I think it's pretty self-explanatory in meaning. However, I find it interesting to note that a born-Montrealer (now NYer) manages to capture so perfectly the notion of contemporary American democracy. Perhaps it shows that the concept of Americanism is a universal one.

    At any rate, lyrically, Leonard Cohen > Bob Dylan. :-)
    Phanta5manicon November 21, 2006   Link

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