`That’s how the light gets in.’ Kirk Watson brings Leonard Cohen to the Texas Democratic Convention

Good Monday Austin:

It is not unusual for a politician to take the stage at a Texas political convention to some kind of popular anthem, like Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down, or Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band).”

But when state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin came to the stage at the Democratic State Convention to the strains of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem Friday, I thought,  Well, that’s different.

It was.

Here are the lyrics to Anthem.

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free
Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see
I can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
A thundercloud
And they’re going to hear from me
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
Ring the bells that still can ring (ring the bells that still can ring)
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in

Here is Watson’s speech.

That song you just heard is a Leonard Cohen song called “Anthem” that I really like.

A key lyric, one that resonates with me is:

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

We’re part of a community. We’re all in this together.  We’re called to contribute to each other.

It’s why I’m a Democrat.

None of us is making perfect offerings.  All of us are ringing bells with some cracks.  But each of us is working, working, working to let the light in.

I’m very proud of our efforts.

But today, both in the State Capitol Building and in D.C. there’s a toxic tone and approach in politics that would’ve been unthinkable not so long ago.

The list is long. The seeming normalization of overt racism and demonization of other people.  A disregard for objective truth, facts, science and expertise. A loss of the sense of shared responsibility.

And I’ve been stunned that long-standing democratic norms have been so easily abandoned in the name of party over country.

Right now, that toxicity is epitomized by a government that tears children away from their parents.  It’s astonishingly inhumane.  It’s poisonous.

All of it has made me more angry than I’ve ever been. And I’m not typically an angry guy.

But I find myself getting pretty worked up about the efforts to divide us, the extremism, the unthinking, unblinking partisanship.

Why can’t they hear those who plead for someone to listen? Where’s the love and empathy? How has injustice and intolerance and selfishness prevailed?

“Where’s the light in all of this”?

And we should ask whether we’re doing all we can. We must change things.  We must succeed.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

I don’t know all the answers.  But I know that we have to continue to ask the questions.

Are we inclusive enough?  Are we limiting success by expecting an outcome, even demanding it, in a certain way?

We must reject what has failed.  We can’t demand our idea of perfection.  And we can’t settle just because it’s the way it’s always been.

And we need to support each other, even as we may not agree all of the time.

I’ve been moved by those who are finding hope in resisting, marching, organizing, donating, tweeting, testifying, wearing hats.

Engaging and ringing bells.

But it’s just an outcry if we don’t turn that enthusiasm, desire and, yes, in some cases, anger into votes.

The resistance must have results.

And the most meaningful results will come with winning elections.

Let’s face it, Democrats.  We’ve been down.  We’ve been discouraged. But we don’t give up.

It’s a part of who I am.  I feel it in my bones that we can’t stop. We must go forward with all of the passion and effort we have.

Because . . .We are the bells.

 Unsure. Imperfect. Broken.

We are the ringing sounds of justice.

We are the cry for equality.

We are the voices of diversity.

The roar for unity.

The song of happiness.

The whisper of love.

We are the clanging noise of hope.

Without us, there is no light.

Without us, it is quiet.

God bless you.

I spoke with Watson last night about how he came to devote his convention speech to Anthem. 

WATSON:

I’m a big Leonard Cohen fan. 

The lyrics that he writes have resonated with me for some time.

This song obviously has.

A few years back, our church (First Baptist Austin) actually used the chorus of Anthem during Lent as a reference point, and I even did a testimony at the church related to my public service and my view of the world and the way things were going.

And for a couple of years now it’s been a part of how I think about how we should be  addressing what’s going on.

I have joked that I would like to teach a political science course or a public policy course on the song, Anthem.

The chorus jump out at you and it serves as a good basis for a less than five-minute speech at a Democratic Convention, but if you let me speak for an hour and a half or all through a semester, I’d like to go through all the lyrics in that song, verse by verse.

And if you read he verses of the song, right now they particularly resonate with me and move me and I thought they would be particularly moving to the folks who are there who I know bow strongly they feel about community and about the need to protect and work for one another and bring their individual skills and talents to the game.

The concept of starting again, and the belief that we don’t need to focus on what’ has already happened – he refers to it as having “passed way” – but instead recognizing that there are things that are going to happen over and over again, and we need to recognize  that there are going to be things that are imperfect, that there are things that have cracks in them, but that’s how the light gets in, and, as I said in my speech, I envision those of us who believe we are here as part of a community, that we are all individuals, that we are all imperfect, that we all have cracks, that we are all unsure, but yet, what we do is bring our individual strengths, desires, hopefulness, passions, talents, to each other.

Admittedly that is also biblical with me and part of how I see how democracy is supposed to be and how I see what government should be, so the song has special meaning to me in that regard.

Particularly with that was happening to the children at the border, I felt it was most important to speak to the fact that we are the bells and without us, there’s not light, and without us, it’s awfully quiet

Watson said the speech was very well received.

Wonderful reaction. Wonderful reaction. Very gratifying.

It has been a very strong response.

I wondered with Watson what President Trump’s favorite Leonard Cohen song might be..

I suggested First We Take Manhattan (then we take Berlin).

Watson likes the REM version

I prefer Cohen’s own version.

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I’d really like to live beside you, baby
I love your body and your spirit and your clothes
But you see that line there moving through the station?
I told you, I told you, told you, I was one of those
Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win
You know the way to stop me, but you don’t have the discipline
How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I don’t like your fashion business mister
And I don’t like these drugs that keep you thin
I don’t like what happened to my sister
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I’d really like to live beside you, baby
And I thank you for those items that you sent me
The monkey and the plywood violin
I practiced every night, now I’m ready
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I am guided
Ah remember me, I used to live for music
Remember me, I brought your groceries in
Well it’s Father’s Day and everybody’s wounded
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

But perhaps Everybody Knows best captures the general despair that crosses partisan lines about the current broken moment.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah, give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows
Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
And everybody knows that it’s now or never
Everybody knows that it’s me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah, when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows
And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows
And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it’s coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows
Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows, everybody knows
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows

And then there is the mordantly hopeful Democracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Time cannot decay

I’m junk but I’m still holding up

This little wild bouquet

Democracy is coming to the USA

 

 

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