Meaning of “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen

Written By Michael Miller

Michael is a music teacher and professional cellist. He loves uncovering the deeper meaning of popular songs.

“Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen is a stark reflection on societal disillusionment, inequality, and the inevitability of death. Cohen paints a picture of a world where the scales are tipped in favor of the wealthy and powerful, where truths are universally acknowledged yet seldom addressed. The song touches on themes of corruption, the fragility of love, and the collective resignation to the world’s injustices. It’s not centered on a specific person but speaks to the human condition and society’s widespread issues. Cohen wrote this song as a commentary on the state of the world, highlighting the disparity between what is publicly acknowledged and what is done about it. His message is clear: the world is filled with inherent unfairness and corruption, and though “everybody knows,” change remains elusive.

Dive into the darkly poetic world of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” and uncover the truth hidden in plain sight.

“Everybody Knows” Lyrics Meaning

Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” starts with the resigned acknowledgment that “the dice are loaded,” setting the tone for a song that lays bare the inequities and corruption of society. This opening line metaphorically suggests that the game of life is rigged from the start, where outcomes are predetermined by power and wealth rather than fairness or merit.

As Cohen delves deeper, “Everybody knows the war is over / Everybody knows the good guys lost” reflects a world wearied by conflict and disillusioned by the failure of justice and righteousness to prevail. This sentiment resonates through the ages, echoing the feeling that despite our efforts, the “fight was fixed” against those who seek to change the system.

The lyric “Everybody knows that the boat is leaking / Everybody knows that the captain lied” paints a vivid picture of betrayal and the loss of trust in leadership. It’s a metaphor for the leaders who have failed their constituents, acknowledging the universal sense of abandonment and despair that permeates society.

Cohen doesn’t shy away from personal vulnerabilities either. In “Everybody knows that you love me baby / Everybody knows that you really do,” he touches on the complexities of love and fidelity, acknowledging the challenges of maintaining relationships in a world rife with temptations and indiscretions. This personal angle brings the song’s broader social criticisms down to a more intimate level, suggesting that societal corruption extends into the most personal aspects of our lives.

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the song is its commentary on mortality and existential dread: “And everybody knows that it’s now or never / Everybody knows that it’s me or you / And everybody knows that you live forever / Ah, when you’ve done a line or two.” Here, Cohen juxtaposes the immediacy of making significant life choices with the ironic notion of immortality through substance abuse, highlighting the desperate attempts to find meaning or escape in a decaying world.

“Everybody knows the deal is rotten / Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton / For your ribbons and bows” is a potent reminder of the lingering racial and economic injustices that continue to plague society. It’s a stark acknowledgment of the historical and ongoing exploitation of marginalized communities for the benefit of the privileged.

The song closes on a note of inevitable decay, with Cohen alluding to the apocalypse or a societal collapse: “Everybody knows it’s coming apart / Take one last look at this Sacred Heart / Before it blows / And everybody knows.” This conclusion serves as a final nod to the themes of inevitability and the shared knowledge of our collective demise, yet a demise that, despite being widely recognized, remains unaddressed.

Why Was “Everybody Knows” Written?

Leonard Cohen wrote “Everybody Knows” during a time of personal and global transition. The late 1980s, when the song was released, was a period marked by significant political, social, and economic shifts. Cohen’s state of mind likely reflected a blend of personal introspection and a critical view of the societal changes occurring around him. Through “Everybody Knows,” Cohen channels a sense of existential reflection, disillusionment, and critique of societal norms and injustices. The song articulates a deep-seated cynicism towards the state of the world, serving as a mirror to the disillusionment felt by many during this time. It’s a poetic testament to the enduring human spirit’s struggles against the backdrop of a seemingly indifferent world.