Please Don’t Pass Me By (A Disgrace)
Now I know that you’re sitting there deep in your velvet seats and you’re thinking “Uh, he’s up there saying something that he thinks about, but I’ll never have to sing that song.” But I promise you friends, that you’re going to be singing this song: it may not be tonight, it may not be tomorrow, but one day you’ll be on your knees and I want you to know the words when the time comes. Because you’re going to have to sing it to yourself, or to another, or to your brother. You’re going to have to learn to sing this song.
This song — though it barely qualifies for that label; it is exactly what it’s criticized for being: Cohen, hoarse-throated, screaming at his audience — has haunted me for at least six years. Definitely since that ill-fated and dull baseball practice when I chose to spend the interminable running drills attempting to memorize the lyrics. I thought about it today, as I frequently do, when I passed the series of homeless men lined on the pavement in front of a closed Borders, and ignored them, making sure not to look at their faces. Because I’ve been taught by Levinas that it’s the only place I’ll glimpse God, and from the Rabbis that either Elijah or the Angel of Death will stare back at me.
Leonard Cohen, I’ve read, stopped performing this song because it pained him too much even without having to watch the audience completely miss the point. But reading the Sandusky Grand Jury report, and — more strikingly — watching the Penn State student body react to Paterno’s firing, I wondered whether this isn’t precisely what even those of us who haven’t spent the last two days making fools or villains of ourselves need to hear.