"A Singer Must Die" as written by and Leonard Cohen....
Now the courtroom is quiet, but who will confess
Is it true you betrayed us? The answer is "yes"
Then read me the list of the crimes that are mine
I will ask for the mercy that you love to decline
And all the ladies go moist, and the judge has no choice
A singer must die for the lie in his voice
And I thank you, I thank you for doing your duty
You keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty
Your vision is right, my vision is wrong
I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song

Oh, the night it is thick, my defences are hid
In the clothes of a woman I would like to forgive
In the rings of her silk, in the hinge of her thighs
Where I have to go begging in beauty's disguise
Oh goodnight, goodnight, my night after night

I am so afraid that I listen to you
Your sun glassed protectors they do that to you
It's their ways to detain, their ways to disgrace
Their knee in your balls and their fist in your face
Yes and long live the state by whoever it's made
Sir, I didn't see nothing, I was just getting home late


Lyrics submitted by Hosimosi

"A Singer Must Die" as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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A Singer Must Die song meanings
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  • +1
    Song MeaningThe first and second verse are about the long-enduring battle between the poet and the critic, or, even longer battle between the poet and the philosopher (SEE: The Republic, Book II, III, and X)

    The word "moist" here could have dual meanings or even a sexual meaning (as suggested in another comment), but it's very common for the term to be used simply meaning "teared up." So, I think he meant that the ladies got teary-eyed, but he could be wrong.

    In the third verse is talking about mourning the end of a relationship.There is the image of him "in" her clothes. I don't think he means he literally dressed himself in her clothes, rather I think he indulged himself in touching or smelling them. He says he would like to forgive her, but he also says he must go begging to her; these statements together are obviously confusing.

    By the fourth verse, we've gone from talking about a "you" (the keepers of truth) to the third a "her" and the fourth back to a "you." In the fourth I think he is talking again to the keepers of truth. He is saying the critic remains stoic and untouchable while he assaults the vulnerable poet. He seems to view the relationship as being unfair in this way.

    What is most confusing about the song is how the third verse fits into the theme of the critic vs. poet. Was the woman he loved a critic of his, romantically or through his literature? Why is she or the fact that he must say goodbye to her pertinent to the song? I would appreciate anybody who thinks they understand it.
    lydianon September 26, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationThis song in my opinion is the response to the critics in general. The first verse is an admission, but it's a false admission. There is just sarcasm in it, not true agreement with critics. The second verse is about the inspiration the singer gets. I see it as Cohen gives us a glimpse of what is driving his songs, where is the source of his inspiration - women. That he's defence, an explanation why he wrote the song. The third verse is more serious rebuff echoing the first verse. In it Cohen is more straight forward - he describes the methods critics use to demean the work of art. He finishes it though again with a playful "la-la-la" which punctuates one more time he's not really interested in critical opinion in the first place.
    iliadavon September 26, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentQuite a few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Leonard Cohen. He told me that he wrote this song after discovering he'd been put on the Nixon Administration's "Enemies List" -- a list of artists, writers, musicians, and other public figures whom the ever-paranoid Nixon considered somehow "dangerous" or "subversive." In some cases, the "enemies" found themselves harrassed by the FBI/CIA, the IRS, or other governmental goons sent by Nixon. (I have no idea whether or not this happened to Cohen, or even why he was on the list in the first place -- probably because he was popular among "hippies" and other unsavory folks!)

    Cohen asked me not to print this in the article I was writing -- he said, "I don't want to inflame them even more." So I didn't use it, and as far as I know, it was never revealed anywhere else either, But he definitely did tell me this.
    jazzmanchgon May 02, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIs it about Cohen's guilt about some kind of personal artistic impurity or a criticism of another singer with a 'lie in his voice'? He thanks the 'Keepers of truth' for doing their duty, singers whose words are pure and truthful and honest, unlike his own song that is wrong and 'smudges the air'. Im not sure but how I interpret the last two verses is the character with the lie in is voice is only more confused by all the ladies he shags, he must go begging 'in beauty's disguise' at the hinge of her thighs - a great metaphor for a vagina!
    teddavis29on April 01, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI absolutely adore singing this song because as most honest people frequently tell me, I generally can't carry a tune, except on a rare occasion when it is a surprise to myself as well, and I can never duplicate it. I love to sing though and don't let my lack of technical skill stand in the way of my passion. I take great delight in making a cacophany of sound when I put all volume into the lyric, "I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song," yet obviously I'm not or I wouldn't be singing it in the first place. Most of my family would love to kill the singer in me. I love the fact that death makes ladies moist. The vagueness of the line is meant I think to speak of the bloodthirsty arousal some people take in others' demise, and the exact opposite of which is moist eyes in the most physical sign of compassionate empathy. Truth and beauty are synonymous in my book, but what happens when you make your living as a singer/songwriter, you have vital reasons for selling out to pay the bills. The mythical "keepers of truth and guardians of beauty" are a conscience that reminds him it's not okay to use art for material gain, however, it also pokes fun at the idea that artists take themselves too seriously.
    aleiaon September 03, 2007   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningI more likely see this song as ironic; he's saying "and I thank you, I thank you for doing your duty", but in truth he's not grateful at all. He's facing problems because of a song he has done, or simply an opinion he has stated, for public, or more likely only for one woman - something he has said, his opinion has "smudged the air". He still thinks that what he thinks is right, but because of the reaction all he can now do is to give up and surrender. "I was wrong, you all are right, whatever, I surrender in front of the public vision".

    The defences behind his song are now "hid in the clothes of a woman", so I believe this song is about his feelings for a woman. Maybe he simply confessed his love (I've understood that Leonard Cohen often links words "singer" and "lover") to a woman, got a very wrong reaction, something like "You never should have said that!" and their relationship got very complicated. "In the hinge of her thighs, where I have to go begging in beauty's disguise" - maybe their relationship was purely sexual, and that's the way the lady wanted to keep it. And now the poor man has to feel sorry for his pure feelings.

    But any ideas what he's meaning with the word "night" here, he repeats it quite a lot?
    Elainduelon May 30, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWhen I first heard this song the first impression in my mind was that it's sort of talking about an artist involved in senator McCarthy hearings and that it's a sarcastic back and forth conversation and in some points the artist's simoltaneously comical and sad view of it.
    "And I thank you, I thank you for doing your duty, you keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty. "
    "Yes and long live the state by whoever it's made,sir, I didn't see nothing, I was just getting home late."
    syavashon August 17, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYou're close!

    Quite a few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Leonard Cohen. He told me that he wrote this song after discovering he'd been put on the Nixon Administration's "Enemies List" -- a list of artists, writers, musicians, and other public figures whom the ever-paranoid Nixon considered somehow "dangerous" or "subversive." In some cases, the "enemies" found themselves harrassed by the FBI/CIA, the IRS, or other governmental goons sent by Nixon. (I have no idea whether or not this happened to Cohen, or even why he was on the list in the first place -- probably because he was popular among "hippies" and other unsavory folks!)

    Cohen asked me not to print this in the article I was writing -- he said, "I don't want to inflame them even more." So I didn't use it, and as far as I know, it was never revealed anywhere else either, But he definitely did tell me this.
    jazzmanchgon May 02, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'm sorry -- I was clumsy and I repeated the post below. I didn't intend to. I'm not spamming anyone. I apologize again.
    jazzmanchgon May 02, 2013   Link

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