Saturday, October 20, 2007

More Song Lyrics: What's Up with Leonard Cohen and Abortion?

I love Leonard Cohen's music and poetry, but I've always wondered, is he anti-choice?  Or does he just have personal moral qualms about abortion, while perhaps not opposing abortion rights?  In a few of Cohen's songs, he uses rhetoric typically employed by opponents of the right to abortion.  This rhetoric equates "children" and "fetuses" in a way that I have suggested is inconsistent with most people's ultimate positions on abortion (even those of conservatives) and that has helped to fuel a climate of extreme hostility and violence against abortion providers. (See my comments on rhetoric here; see also this post on a video of abortion demonstrators that neatly demonstrates the inconsistencies I'm talking about.) 

One glaring example of Cohen's troubling rhetoric is in The Future, where Cohen sings:

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St Paul
Give me Christ
or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don't like children anyhow
I've seen the future, baby:
it is murder

And in the gorgeous Dance Me to the End of Love, he invokes "the children who are asking to be born":

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We're both of us beneath our love, we're both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love 

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love....

David Whiteis, in a thoughtful 1997 review, discusses "The Future," as well as other Leonard Cohen songs that reference abortion, noting Cohen's "apparent indictment of abortion as a symptom of social decay."  Whiteis also writes more generally about the problematic treatment of women in Cohen's music.

Here's more on Leonard Cohen.  On a totally unrelated (and lighter) note, if you are a Leonard Cohen fan and ever have an opportunity to hear the Austin Lounge Lizards parody him, don't pass it up.

You can find more song lyrics about abortion and unintended pregnancy by searching "song lyrics" on this blog.

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As a fan of music, and a supporter of a child's right to be born (you may call it anti-choice if you prefer) it's so refreshing to know that a musician/poet as respected as Leonard Cohen has pro-child messages laced throughot his music. I've noticed them for years (in "The Future", "Diamonds in the Mine", and "Story of Isaac") and have always appreciated them. I thank you for pointing out the message in "Dance Me to the End of Love". I'm not sure how I didn't notice it before, but I'll be giving it another listen today, with a new appreciation.

Mo, anti-choice

Posted by: Mo | Nov 13, 2007 6:32:46 AM

I'm a proud pro-lifer. I love Leonard Cohen's pro-life lyrics. I'm against abortion, war, the death penalty and euthanasia.

Posted by: Jerry | Aug 28, 2009 12:38:46 AM

Thank you for posting this. Always wondered what was with these lyrics, but no-one else seems to talk about it. I find it hard to listen to The Future with that line, it’s disturbing partially because I’m a fans and partially because men whinging about abortion is always disturbing.

Posted by: Gerii | Jun 26, 2020 1:43:30 AM

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