In the past I have written about satire found in TV shows, entertainment and books, however I have never discussed songs. Songs are like any other form of media and can be satirical. A singer that has written and performed many satirical songs over the years is Leonard Cohen. Cohen is an artist that I greatly respect because he writes about the injustices that can be found in society. He is 80 years old and still writes and performs music, and he has written songs and poems since the 1950’s. The most well known song of Cohen’s is probably “Hallelujah”, but the song I’m writing about today is “Everybody Knows”. “Everybody Knows” discusses issues such as politics, problems in society and the outbreak of AIDS. The song is extremely bleak, and this reflects the time it was written, 1988, which was just as bleak for people concerned with the outbreak of AIDS.
The lyrics of the song are, in part, a satire of the fact that no matter how hard the truth is covered up, it will eventually come out.The goal is to make fun of the way people act. When Cohen lists many injustices in the song, such as “Everybody knows that the boat is leaking / Everybody knows that the captain lied”, followed by the chorus “Everybody knows”, the satire is that society knows everything that is wrong, but nobody acts. A connection can be found in The House of Bernarda Alba, written by Federico Garcia Lorca. The connections between Bernarda Alba and Leonard Cohen’s music are not merely superficial, however. Lorca was an inspiration of Cohen, so much so that Cohen actually named his daughter Lorca. In addition, Cohen translated one of Lorca’s poems into a song.
In the play, the house slowly crumbles because Bernarda Alba cannot sufficiently control it. All of the daughters know something is wrong, but nobody confronts Bernarda or tries to change anything. The lyrics of “Everybody Knows” mock the inaction that is so abundant in society. Cohen says in the song that “Everybody’s talking to their pockets / Everybody wants a box of chocolates” to explain this inaction. The song says that everyone is aware of society’s injustices, but the prospect of becoming rich and living in luxury prevents anyone from trying to right these wrongs. If a person believes that he can leave the corrupt system behind, if he can leave everyone behind him in his rush to success, then he doesn’t have a reason to change anything. This is the reason that Adela doesn’t care if her lover Pepe marries Angustias. Adela believes that even if Angustias marries, it won’t stop her relationship with Pepe, as Pepe likes Adela more than Angustias. Everyone hopes they can escape society so much they don’t care about fixing it, like Leonard Cohen says, “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded / Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.” The idea is that nobody cares if their system is corrupt. People only care if they can cheat the system… if the system is corrupt in their favor.
The inaction is important to the other part of the satire in the song; the outbreak of AIDS and what it meant for people of the time. Cohen uses AIDS as an example of the inaction. Cohen says “And everybody knows that the plague is coming / Everybody knows that it’s moving fast.” With this, Cohen implies it is an accepted fact that AIDS is in the US and nobody can (or, possibly, nobody wants to) change anything. Following this, Cohen says that “Everybody knows that the naked man and woman / Are just a shining artifact of the past.” These lines mean that people will try to hide something that is embarrassing, especially if it sexual in nature. The song satirizes the fact that the public does not want to confront an embarrassing truth. This is true enough with AIDS, and how President Reagan refused to recognize that AIDS was a significant threat for so long. This is also true with Bernarda Alba. When Adela commits suicide, Bernarda’s first reaction is to cover up the affair between Adela and Pepe, as she screams “ha muerto virgen. ¿Me habéis oído? ¡Silencio, silencio he dicho! ¡Silencio!” Cohen satirizes the fact that sexuality is repressed in our society, to the point of death.
Leonard Cohen is not afraid to write and sing about all of society’s ills, no matter how embarrassing or taboo in nature. Satire does not need to be gentle in nature. This is what makes Cohen’s satire so efficient. He realizes when people don’t want to discuss something – and this is when he grabs the subject and drags it into the light of day.