Leonard Cohen x 3 for Yom Kippur: Who By Fire, Everybody Knows, You Want It Darker

by Bob Schwartz

It is easy to point to Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire for Yom Kippur, as it is his take on the liturgical poem Unetanah Tokef, recited during the holiday services. The poem says:

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.
But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.

Here it is featured as one of three songs that cover kindred territory and decades of his creative and spiritual life: Who By Fire (1974), Everybody Knows (1988), You Want It Darker (2016).

Appropriate for Yom Kippur, you will read and hear the evolution that artists model for us as they—and we—face our world, our lives and each other. Cohen as a man in his thirties, in his fifties, in his eighties.

You Want It Darker, written as he approached death, is punctuated by an exclamation suitable for facing your god, your life, yourself: Hineni. Here I am.


Who By Fire

And who by fire, who by water
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial
Who in your merry merry month of may
Who by very slow decay
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt
Who by avalanche, who by powder
Who for his greed, who for his hunger
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident
Who in solitude, who in this mirror
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand
Who in mortal chains, who in power
And who shall I say is calling?


Everybody Knows

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
Oh, 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
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
When you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe’s still picking 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
Everybody knows


You Want It Darker

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory, then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame

Magnified, sanctified
Be the holy name
Vilified, crucified
In the human frame
A million candles burning
For the help that never came
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my Lord

There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idol claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame

They’re lining up to prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggle with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission
To murder and to maim
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my Lord

Magnified, sanctified
Be the holy name
Vilified, crucified
In the human frame
A million candles burning
For the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame

If you are the dealer, let me out of the game
If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my Lord