Hallelujah

There’s a light at the end of the digestive tunnel. (Sorry, can’t resist.) Four bowls of broth, two teas, a bit of jello, four glasses of water and an Italian ice have all made it past my pancreas, now once again the cooperative beast it was for close to 61 years before it revolted a week ago, dropping me into a trough of pain and inconvenience.

In the morning I get my first solid food, then start careful eating habits for the duration. If my pancreas agrees, I’m outa here by noon.

Which brings me to this comment by my buddy Chip, pointing to Leonard Cohen performing his song Hallelujah on German television, I’d guess in the mid-80s. (Cohen wrote the song in ’84.) It blew my mind. Cohen is a transcendant poet and songwriter, but also a performer of such unusual calm and grace that I’m stunned by how well his schtick works, even in a hokey TV stage setting.

And these lyrics just give me chills:

  There’s a blaze of light in every word.
It doesn’t matter which you heard.
The holy or the broken Hallelujah.

  I did my best, it wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.
I told the truth. I didn’t come to fool ya.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the lord of song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

“Hallelujah” has been covered out the wazoo. It’s the Pachelbel Canon of poetic ballads. On YouTube alone, you’ll find outstanding covers by the quartet of Kurt Nilsen, Espen Lind, Askil Holm and Alejandro Fuentes, the Shrek soundtrack, Allison Crowe, Sheryl Crowe, Damien Lieth, Rufus Wainwright, Bon Jovi, Amanda Jenssen, k.d. lang, k.d. lang (again), The OC, Jeff Buckley (many from him) John Cale

I’ve listened to all of them, some several times, and still I like Cohen’s the best, maybe because his is the only one with the lines I quoted above.

Among my resolutions for life after Liberation is to sustain my love of music, rekindled here in the hospital. It’s not hard, that love. We all have it. Maybe that’s why I like the opening stanza of “Hallelujah”, as everybody sings it. Dig.

Bonus song. Another.

21 comments

  1. Francine hardaway’s avatar

    Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite singer/songwriters, and I only recently learned that he is Canadian and Buddhist. ‘Chelsea Hotel” is one of my all time favorites. And I like it when he sings them himself because 1) he can’t sing, and 2) he sounds terminally depressed.
    “If music be the food of love, play on.” (That would be Shakespeare. Twelfth Night. I. i)

  2. Liz’s avatar

    It’s hard to beat Jeff Buckley’s version, I think. I also like Wainwright’s. I haven’t seen/heard Cohen’s performance. Unfortunately, the song has been popular on American Idol so it’s a little overdone than, say, 3 years ago. It has such powerful lyrics, I’d hate to see it sung in a hammy or oversentimental way.

  3. je’s avatar

    cool — glad you are moving on

  4. Geoff Goodell’s avatar

    The last week has been quite an ordeal — it is quite relieving to hear that you are on the mend!

  5. Dan’s avatar

    For the curious, a YouTube video of Cohen’s performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf36v0epfmI

    Get well soon!

  6. karen’s avatar

    So glad you’re starting to feel better! Wishing you a speedy and complete recovery.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Liz, watch the Cohen version. It’s entirely different from every cover. Also, I missed the Idol stuff, because I rarely watch TV and never watch that show. Too much stuffing 85 actobatic notes into lyric syllables. But do watch it. The lyrics are different, too, like I said.

  8. Steven E. Streight aka Pluperfecter’s avatar

    Thanks to God for answering my prayer that He heal you. I told Him that we simply cannot lose such a powerful voice for democracy, ethical business, and web revolution.

    I am so happy now. I feel a huge burden off my heart. Welcome back to the land of health and strength!

  9. dave rogers’s avatar

    If you feel like more Hallelujah obsession:

    http://www.clapclap.org/2007/04/hallelujah.html

    Brandi Carlile does a very nice cover. You can buy the live KCRW track at the iTunes Music Store, though I suppose that’s out of the question. :^)

    I’m fortunate that I have a young friend at work who keeps me up to date on new music. We both tend to prefer introspective romantics.

    In an odd sort of everything’s connected vein, I bought Neil Diamond’s Stones on Thursday night out of some nostalgic impetus. Listening to Suzanne late Friday night led to a search for Leonard Cohen at the iTMS, and I ended up buying Ten New Songs, I’m Your Man, and Dear Heather. Then I pop in to check on your progress and find you riffing on Hallelujah. (I’m in the Buckley camp on this one. Sorry. First heard the song on The West Wing, when Mark Harmon’s Secret Service character was killed.)

    A few other recommendations: Emmylou Harris has a new release out – All I Intended to Be. I’ll commend to your attention the track, All You Have is Your Soul, seems appropriate for a Sunday.

    Lucinda Williams came to mind a couple of times in following your ordeal, with Are You Alright from West.

    If you haven’t heard of Lizz Wright, you need to.

    The problem is, the music draws you in, the lyrics make you think and the more you think the less you write. But maybe that’s not really a bad thing either. Something to think about anyway. I’ve got a number of longish meditations that continue to revise themselves in my mind as events alter my perspective. Then I recall Heraclitus: “Silence, healing.” http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/heraclitus.html

    Glad you’re feeling better.

  10. Daniel Silverman’s avatar

    So glad to hear the ordeal is at an end. And thanks for the blogging along the way, it’s good to be able to check in and follow your progress.

    Because I seem to find myself linking everyone to this thing, let me pass along “It Doesn’t Matter Which You Heard”: the Curious Cultural Journey of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, a great study of the song in all of its forms and iterations.

  11. dave rogers’s avatar

    In another odd bit of semi-synchronicity, I was looking for some Mary Chapin Carpenter lyrics for another thing I’m working on, and I happened to read that she had suffered a pulmonary embolism last year. She recorded a This I Believe segment for NPR about that event. You can listen to it here (if you have the time, I know): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11182405

    And the unabridged essay is at Chapin’s site: http://www.marychapincarpenter.com/stories-and-essays/stories/this-i-believe.html

    The learning curve of gratitude, indeed.

  12. Buzz’s avatar

    Remarkable thread..and favorite is from the CD “Lifted..Songs of the Spirit” http://rufus.jt.org/album.php?i=LiftedSongsoftheSpirit

    The Wainwright version is sensational, and there are a number of other cuts, including one Alison Krauss that is equally memorable.

    Just glad that you are feeling better, Hallelujah…

  13. B.L Ochman’s avatar

    Funny how music gets us through. satisfied & tickled too that you’re feeling better. whew!

  14. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Danny and Dave, thanks for “It Doesn’t Matter Which You Heard”: the Curious Cultural Journey of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. It answers the question of lyrical differences (while covering vast grounds), although the Wikipedia entry on the song says that Cohen wrote more than 80 verses and sent fifteen to John Cale, so I still don’t know for sure why so far the lines that strike me most (quoted in my post) I’ve heard only in the German TV version, which I guess was from 1988. I invite folks to listen to that one again. Note especially the deep bass line, the orchestration, and Cohen’s hand-off of the chorus to these kids standing in arches behind him. The look is kitchy, but the music is very well-done. I love “Hallelujah” as a chorus sung by a big choir.

    For singing artistry, it’s hard to beat k.d. lang, who makes it all look so easy. She did two versions that I’ve found. She also remains among the best live performers I’ve ever seen. Just amazing.

    What’s especially remarkable for me also is how out-of-it I was for not knowing how overplayed, and not merely covered, the song has been. I barely remember the Cale version from the Shrek soundtrack. (Only saw the movie once, way back when.) And since about all I watch on TV are sports and occasional movies, I totally missed how much the song has been abused by the likes of (American and others) Idol.

    Thanks too, Dave, for all the leads on other music and sources for it. You’ll keep me busy the next few days.

    And thanks to everybody for a great thread that’s not just about tech or health jive.

  15. Hil’s avatar

    Hi Doc, you have been in my thoughts over the last week or so, and I am really happy to read you are leaving hostpital today

    I just wanted to backtrack to one of your music posts to recommend to you the lovely long live rambly Van Morrison version of ‘Caravan’ on his ‘Too Late to Stop Now’ album. And his song ‘In the days before rock n roll’, a kind of enigmatic homage to the part wireless and pirate radio stations played in his childhood, and in delivering the music of the early rockers to that generation.

  16. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Here’s Leonard Cohen performing Hallelujah this very month in Dublin. Home now, at my own desk, istening to it for the first time.

    Wow. Strong stuff.

    Notice the difference in lyrics and wording choices in this one.

    No matter how one does it, the man has given us a perfect song.

  17. Brian Benz’s avatar

    One of my favorites is Bono’s version
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA048pcITlA

    You gotta appreciate Tower of Song right now too:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtMFdBsWICs&feature=related

    Closing time is great too:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrPEM2qc-j8&feature=related

    Trivia – Leonard was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame this year – his acceptance is out there on Youtube somewhere too….

  18. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hey, Brian!

    Thanks for all of those, especially that Bono version, listed first. The lyrics, spoken there as poetry, are the same — right up to the “And even though it all went wrong…” stanza — as Cohen sang in that ’88 German TV version. The rest of it also makes sense of the other stanzas that all the other singers, near as I can tell, prefer to those opening ones. Interesting stuff.

    I gotta get past my obsession with that song. My kid is tired of hearing me hum it and play various versions of it on the laptop.

  19. Brian Benz’s avatar

    Glad you like it. His poetry is pretty good too – first picked it up as a kid in rural Canadian high school.

    There is a pretty good recent movie called “I’m your man” that you may want to see….

    A new one to hum – Anthem. Methinks you’ll like it. About as inspirational – and political – as Leonard gets…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjtE2-dLjSs
    “Ring the bells that still can ring”

  20. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    Nothing to do with Leonard Cohen or Hallelujah, but I’m still loving Acoustic Motorbike. Whether he meant to do it or not, the song is written at the speed at which you should be pedalling your bike. So I sing it while I pedal. Good for the breath control.

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