Story of Isaac  (1968-1985)

The song doesn't end with a plea for peace. It doesn't end with a plea for sanity between the generations. It ends saying, "I'll kill you if I can, I will help you if I must, I will kill you if I must, I will help you if I can." That's all I can say about it. My father died when I was nine, that's the reason I put that one of us had to go.

L. Cohen Interview for "Zig-Zag" Magazine, October 1974

Read the complete Interview

There's a story in the Bible about Isaac, how his father summoned him to go and climb a mountain, how his father built an altar there after he had been commanded to offer up his son.  And just at the last moment before
he was about to sacrifice Isaac, an angel held the hand of the father.  But today the children are being sacrificed and no one raises a hand to end the sacrifice.  And this is what this song is about.

Modified verses:
second stanza (The original second stanza is not sung)


You who build the altars now
To sacrifice these children
You must not do it any more
For you have not had the vision
And you never have been tempted
By the Devil or the Lord...

Last stanza
..I wil help you if I can
And may I never need to scorn
The body out of chaos born
The woman and the man

And Mercy on our uniform....

I sing this song for the butchers and the victims.

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Paolo Caliari (Veronese)
XVI th century (Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain)


This is a song I wrote to the people who feel it is within their right to sacrifice the young for some purpose which they conceive to be holy or just. It's a song for them, and it's also a song for those who would enlist my aid in defeating those men. Because I don't want to join any program. I don't want to write my name at the end of any manifestion...

This next song concerns the curious relationship between generations and
that even more curious place where the generations seem to meet one
another, which is usually over some altar or sacrificial block.

This is a song about that curious place where the generations often meet, an altar or a butcher's block.The story of Isaac...

There is a place where the generations often meet. A very curious place. It's generally an altar or a chopping block. This is a song for my father.

"The Sacrifice of Isaac" from a book about the ritual of Rosh-Ha-Sahanna.
Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, France

verse variation

A scheme is not a vision
And you never ever have been tempted
By a Demon let alone a God.

The "Story Of Isaac" I don't remember much that one. As a matter of fact I remember I was writing that at the same time I was living at the Landmark Motel in L.A.. As a matter of fact Janis Joplin was living there at the time. I think Bobby Neuwirth was living there at the time, there were a few people living there. I'd already begun it, I think I began it up here, working on the lyrics, during that period.

verse variation

Shame upon this uniform
The man of peace the man of war
The peacock spreads his deadly fan.

"The Sacrifice of Isaac" by Caravaggio-Michelangelo Merisi (1571 - 1610).
It can be seen at Princeton (New Jersey), collection Barbara Piasecka Johnson.

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