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First We Take Manhattan

Leonard Cohen

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viva la revolution
Added by: Morag
I find the politics of this song rather confused, but I take it to be anger at both the supposed democracy of western countries and the supposed socialism of the Stalinist bloc that Berlin was a member of at the time. While Cohen is clearly somewhere on the left, I'm not sure where his position is in regards to liberalism or socialism - "Democracy" and "Anthem" both have revolutionary themes as well.
About society, not politics.
Added by: R. Hansen
The poem is rife with anger, but not anger at a political system so much as a social system--a system which, instead of being amenable to change from within, has ostracized and cast out the people who don't quite fit in.

And what of the outcast, who was shunned and sent away for no crime other than not being just like everyone else--the same fashions ("I don't like your fashion business, mister"), the same vices ("these drugs that keep you thin")? He is "coming now, coming to reward them"--he's tried to enact positive, peaceful change from within the system, but has been rebuffed and punished; now, he is angry and motivated to burn the entire thing down to bare ashes and rebuild from scratch.

The song is apolitical, in that it could apply equally to Moscow in the height of the Cold War or the most boringly banal suburban high school in Canada. It's not especially tied to a location or a political system.

The theme, it seems, is rage--rage at the singer's mistreatment, rage at the way others are being mistreated, rage at the imperiousness of the social machinery; and rage which is ultimately directed at the destruction of all that currently is, so that something better can come along in its wake.
First we take Manahattan - hyperbole
Added by: Brian Murray
First we take Manhattan is a song written by middle-aged man, angry about a system he knows too well, and dreaming of some form of clensing tidal wave. He threatens to use his fame, notoriety, and anger, like the poets of old, to defame, embarass, and harass the manipulators within society. It is comparable to the novel 1984, and is politically cut from the same cloth. His anger is a defeated, cynical anger. His lyrics are cool. It could also be about an alien invasion lead by Leonard Cohen.
First we take manhattan
Added by: Thomas
The song reminds me of a poem by Bertholt Brecht where he depicts how a young woman is working as a servant or barmaid in a harbour town where she is taking a lot of abuse and demeaning, but she just bows her head and smiles secretly; because one day a tall ship with 40 guns appears on the horizon, and she is the pirate queen of this ship. She commands the pirates to slay all the townsfolk in a big cleansing of the town that treated her like scum. This poem is the basis of Lars von Triers movie "Dogville" featuring Nicole Kidman. The story has the same "cleaning up the dirt through revolution" theme as First we take Manhattan.
first we take manhattan
Added by: Andree'
Its about being socially outcast because of ideas for social change and having worked alone planning of starting at the cultural mecca on one side of the earth then the cultural mecca at the other side to make these ideas reality. While overcoming a love that is abusive and possessive that this person would have given up their dreams for if they were treated better. Trying to say that men and people and women are different but equal. And what was given to them by their love is appreciated. And now they are saying remember me and every one is wounded for not believing because they owe them very little.
First We Take Manhattan
Added by: Warren Ross
This song has intrigued me since I first heard it in 1994 in Katoomba, Australia. It was performed by a 17 year old gypsy violinist from Halle in East Germany and a 50 year old street singer from Ireland at the Blue Mountains Folk Festival. The passion tore the small venue apart.

I am wondering why these two places in particular. Manhattan is easier to see than Berlin. The mix of fashion with his general alienation is interesting. A wonderful piece of writing. Your analysis on this page is the first discussion I have read on it.

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