On That Day

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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On That Day

Post by woody » Mon Aug 16, 2010 11:18 pm

I really like this song and think it's about as elequent and isnightful piece of art i've seen or heard on that subject. i particualy like leonard's vocal, it's deep and resonant and really brings a poignancy to the 'women unveiled/ slaves and our gold' lines which someone else may not have carried so easily.
i've always been intrigued by the last few lines-

'But answer me this
I won't take you to court
Did you go crazy
Or did you report
On that day
On that day
They wounded New York'

it's meaning was not obvious to me and to finish this way I think makes the song less overt and less candid than it may have been.
i have my own interpretation but I was wondering what everybody else thought of these lines?
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Re: On That Day

Post by Steven » Tue Aug 17, 2010 6:20 am

Hi Woody,

I take the "go crazy" words to mean becoming incapacitated due to the emotional trauma of the event. The
"report" I take to mean showing up to search for survivors and to assist the bereaved, etc. -- demonstrably
opposites of incapacitation.
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Re: On That Day

Post by mnkyface » Tue Aug 17, 2010 9:14 am

Steven wrote:The
"report" I take to mean showing up to search for survivors and to assist the bereaved, etc. -- demonstrably
opposites of incapacitation.
Also perhaps "report for duty", as in military...
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Re: On That Day

Post by woody » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:08 pm

Thanks for the response.
I agree this is probably what he's referring to. However it's always struck as a very specific set of options, mainly as most people in the world were not within the near vicinity of the situation. I presume then he's talking metaphorically, about the general manner with which we respond to catastrophic situations- namely do we sink or do we float?
And despite the protestation of 'i won't take you to caught' the whole song builds to the 'courtroom' of this moral poser.
i feel this is consistent of cohen who, for a individual of overt harmony, never goes easy on the inner self. since the early days of his 'army' band, to 'there is a war' to 'field commander cohen' there is a militancy burning behind much of his work. i feel this song nails his idea that war we see in the newspapers is merely a further actualisation of the war within the inner self.
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Re: On That Day

Post by Steven » Thu Aug 19, 2010 5:22 am

Hi mnkyface,

Yes, to that kind of service as a possibility also.

Hi Woody,

Glad you offered your opinion on this. Yes, i.m.o., to a metaphorical worthiness to these lyrics, but in addition to
literal-direct meaning to what the event had for people even far away. Wouldn't rule out people distant
geographically and not connected directly to the families of the injured and killed or to the responders. A person
gone "crazy" thousands of miles away in the wake of the disaster or someone showing up for service outside of the
area (blood donations, prayer service, etc.) would be included in the fallout/response. There are
other examples of disasters where the song, in entirely different cirumstances, could have relevance in terms of
the "sink" or "swim" behaviors that ensue. I don't see any moral posing in the song's portrayal. To the contary,
"I won't take you to court" shows a non-judgemental acceptance and recognition that either response is no
indication of lack of empathy for those wounded, fatally and otherwise. The song's character might conceivably have
arrived at the humility of "wouldn't know," through year's of inner-self work. Some of what we see in the newspapers is metaphorical of "actualization of the war within the inner self" (for probably most inner-selves).
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Re: On That Day

Post by Arnold the Frog » Thu Aug 19, 2010 7:43 pm

The liner-notes for the album are obviously directly prepared by Leonard
& Co. They give, next to the lyrics, a dictionary quotation defining "report"
in the sense "report for duty". My unreliable memory says that it was identified
specifically as a military usage, but that could be a figment (it's true anyway,
even if not explicitly stated).

Other senses are not excluded, but I take the military sense very
seriously. Remember that LC offered his services to the state
of Israel in 1973, as what became the Yom Kippur war loomed. In the end
he served with a guitar, but it could have been different. He has his
differences with the state of Israel, which he has been very careful to
express, but he has specifically disclaimed any suggestion that Israel
should disarm in the face of its enemies. "Holding the fort" is a dead
metaphor which threatens to rise from its grave.

I think Cohen is suggesting the same attitude here for the United States.
That is, it isn't necessary to take a particular view of the motives or purposes
of the 9/11 attacks to see them as crimes against which defence is
just and necessary. "I wouldn't know" is indeed humble, but it's more than
that: it is a political position, a refusal to march behind other people's
mobilising explanations, which ALSO refuses to say that mobilisation is
wrong. This is a difficult balancing-act in practice.

I find it hard to decide whether there is a balance between "going
crazy" and "reporting". "Going crazy" is, in a way, a sane reaction to
an atrocity: certainly more sane than a lust for vengeance. "Reporting"
has a precise weight here, not equivalent to "doing something". It
implies accepting a discipline and surrendering to it, and not just
"exploding". But it also means (or can mean) accepting someone else's
agenda. Both going crazy and reporting can be seen as ways to escape
a moral burden. Perhaps the "right answer" would have to be "neither"?
Then one has to find another way to do something, which may not be
available, or resolve to do nothing, which confronts the moral burden
and merely refuses to carry it. There is no way to make the
unbearable bearable which isn't, at bottom, wrong. And perhaps
that IS the lesson.
Dispute it like a man!
I shall do so.
But I must also feel it like a man.
Damn. Just I killed another virtual tree.
Before they made me, they broke the mould.
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