Llewellyn Kriel
Llewellyn Kriel

Democracy is coming

FROM the moment Leonard Cohen entered my life back in 1970, his poetry and his music have profoundly influenced me. They have haunted my conscience, pestered my self-awareness and influenced my writing. You probably have similar influencers — painters who guided your expression, writers who moulded your experience, leaders who formed your social consciousness, preachers who animated your beliefs, philosophers who reshaped your world view.

This is normal. And it’s quite alright. In his TED talk, musicologist Kirby Ferguson says “Everything is a remix”. He goes on to show how Bob Dylan “remixed” older folk songs to create “Masters of War”, “With God On Our Side” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”. Dylan even admits he probably heard older songs and forgot about them until they bubbled up some time later and became his. Woodie Guthrie did much the same thing with “This Land Is Your Land”. Successive generations build on the work of their ancestors, who built on the work of their ancestors, who …

Because it spoke so tangibly, so evocatively to me of something that remains so incomprehensibly elusive in South Africa, I remixed Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy” off his 1992 album, “The Future”.

DEMOCRACY
[With deep apologies & deeper reverence to Leonard Cohen]

It’s coming through a hole in a chair
From those nights in John Vorster 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 war against corruption, from the sirens night and day
From the huddles of the homeless, from the bashers of the gay
Democracy is coming
to the RSA.

It’s coming through the cracks 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 siessies working every day
From the sea-bleached heart of that island in the bay
Democracy is coming
to the RSA.

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street
From the battlefields 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 a shanty here and the dryness far away
Democracy is coming
to the RSA.

Sail on, sail on
Oh 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 South Africa, the cursed,
The cradle of the first and the worst
It’s here they have arranged the philosophy for change
And it’s here they have the spiritual thirst
It’s here the family’s broken and it’s here the people say
That the heart has got to transform in a fundamental way
Democracy is coming
to the RSA.

It’s coming from the women and the men
Oh, baby, is it raping-time again?
We’ll be going down so deep that the desert’s gonna weep
And the river’s gonna shout, “Amen!”
It’s coming through the tidal flood beneath the lunar sway
Imperial, victorious in shoulder-puffed array
Democracy is coming
to the RSA.

Sail on, sail on
Oh 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.

I’m patriotic, if you know what I mean,
I love the country, but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left nor right I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those shopping bags that time cannot decay
I’m drunk, but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming
to the RSA.

Will it happen, can it happen any day?
Is ubuntu real or just a thing they say?
Can Africa shed its slavery like a condom in the lavatory
begging bowls and pangas by the way?
Great yellow eyes and lofty dreams don’t comprehend today
they’re just hanging out on corners or in parliament’s array
Democracy is coming
to the RSA

The thoughts are mine, the poetry isn’t …

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