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The Curious Cultural Journey of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"
March 5, 2008 2:35 PM   Subscribe


 
OMG it was on Idol last night! (lol)
posted by ND¢ at 2:38 PM on March 5, 2008


It was butchered, again on Idol last night.
posted by uaudio at 2:40 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


lol?
posted by ND¢ at 2:42 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Jeff Buckley's cover is my favorite song, bar none. I still remember discovering it, listening to it all night, then looking him up and finding out he was dead. Beautiful, haunting song in that version.
posted by flatluigi at 2:46 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, loling over Idol aside, this was my first ever comment as a Mefite.
posted by ND¢ at 2:48 PM on March 5, 2008


"It was butchered, again on Idol last night."

You say potato and I say spud.
posted by bz at 2:49 PM on March 5, 2008


Ever catch this clip of Leonard doing the song for German TV?

The John Cale cover, by the way, is included in the soundtrack to the animated feature film Shrek.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:49 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


As he mentions, Buckley's version may not be the original, but it is definitely the definitive version.

II appreciate what he has to say about Cohen's original, and I gotta give the man credit, since he wrote the song and all, but hearing Cohen's rendition after Buckley's is like listening to a painful karaoke night. There's just so much power of emotion in Buckley's, handled so subtly.

Rufus Wainwright also does a nice performance of it.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:49 PM on March 5, 2008


One of the largest cultural disconnects I've ever had was watching Shrek with my nephew and that song came on. I think he was three at the time so I was hoping I wouldn't have to explain bondage to him. He also used to sing, "I like big butts and I cannot lie. I like big butts and I cannot lie." Over and over. So I finally taught him the next line. Apparently it was in the same movie (I don't remember that one).

It's a beautiful and strange song, as this askme (found in ND¢'s link) shows.

Interesting post. Thanks.
posted by sleepy pete at 2:54 PM on March 5, 2008


I first heard the song on VH1, days after 9/11*. It was some sort of tribute video with firemen and ambulances and chaos. I downloaded it immediately from Napster. I think I'll always associate that song with those days right after.
posted by ColdChef at 2:54 PM on March 5, 2008


*Which made hearing it in Shrek fucking weird.
posted by ColdChef at 2:54 PM on March 5, 2008


This image documents something that has annoyed the shit out of me for the past five years. I know there are few original ideas on television, but how many fucking shows need to use this song as some kind of dramatic closing montage soundtrack? That list only goes to 2006, but I swear it's been used at least 10 times since then.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:55 PM on March 5, 2008


WTF
posted by homunculus at 2:58 PM on March 5, 2008


KD Lang has my favorite cover (yt) of it. OK maybe I lied I don't think I have heard a version of this song that I could listen to only once.
posted by meeshell at 3:00 PM on March 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


There's just so much power of emotion in Buckley's, handled so subtly.

Seems to me that power of emotion handled subtly is kinda Leonard Cohen's whole deal.
posted by statolith at 3:07 PM on March 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


I like that article. Did you notice the title, or how he threw this in at the end in the middle of a paragraph? There's a blaze of light in every word, it doesn't matter which you heard, and every song contains a thousand possibilities—or, at least, the great ones do....
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:09 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer sez:
II appreciate what he has to say about Cohen's original, and I gotta give the man credit, since he wrote the song and all, but hearing Cohen's rendition after Buckley's is like listening to a painful karaoke night. There's just so much power of emotion in Buckley's, handled so subtly.

I understand that everyone's taste is their own, but if you don't think Cohen's rendition has 'subtle power of emotion' you need to get your emotion sensors replaced. I always saw Buckley's version as excellent, and faithful to Cohen's version - like the original dolled up in a very nice new dress - I am in fact insinuating that what you read as superior emotional content is really just the natural prettiness of Buckley's voice.
posted by thedaniel at 3:11 PM on March 5, 2008


or: what statolith said.
posted by thedaniel at 3:11 PM on March 5, 2008


As a VU fan, I first heard this song on John Cale's "Fragments of A Rainy Season" album. I thought I'd throw in a vote for Cale's version being the best. Or just my favorite.
posted by Slothrop at 3:15 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


"There's just so much power of emotion in Buckley's, handled so subtly."

Subtle like Wagner.

Seriously, Buckley defines bombast.

The Cale version is best, and yeah, that Shrek moment was hella weird.
posted by klangklangston at 3:20 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, by the way, this was a great article.
posted by klangklangston at 3:20 PM on March 5, 2008


[IB's wife]

The difference is:

Jeff Buckley's version makes me want to hug Jeff Buckley.

Leonard Cohen's version makes me want to fuck Leonard Cohen's brains out.

There's sad pretty voices, and then there's AMAZING voices that have a range of emotional inflection.
posted by InnocentBystander at 3:21 PM on March 5, 2008 [8 favorites]


I seem to remember hearing its about the female orgasm. Seems to fit the lyrics.
posted by verisimilitude at 3:28 PM on March 5, 2008


"KD Lang has my favorite cover of it.

k.d. lang could sing the menu at McDonald's and it would be awesome.

But yeah, that's my favorite version too.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:31 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, echo what's been said above. I like both versions equally, but for very different reasons. Buckley's version is almost high camp, but it works. Because you believe him. I kind of feel similarly about Dylan's version of "All Along the Watchtower" and Willie Nelson's "Crazy", perhaps not as technically proficient as their more famous renditions, but just as valid and as good.

Having said that, practically everyone who's covered David Bowie has made his tunes sound better than he did.
posted by psmealey at 3:31 PM on March 5, 2008


Great article! Thanks Buddha in a bucket!
posted by Coaticass at 3:33 PM on March 5, 2008


Hey! I thought it was awesome to see some kid on the most popular show in the country singing this sad/happy/tragic/joyous/beautiful/haunting song. Granted, he couldn't possibly match Buckley's range, but he certainly did an admirable job for a somebody on a cheesy talent show.
posted by lattiboy at 3:34 PM on March 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think he had some good points about the progression of the song through its various versions, but he was too hard on Buckley. There's a reason it's such a favorite (and it isn't just that Buckley died, sheesh). I think the complexity remains, but some of the point is that Buckley is interpreting it as filtered through a certain point where the sadness is still keenly felt, whereas Cohen gave more an impression -- an older man's, no doubt -- of looking back on something with wistful regret.

Also, I wonder how many of the "sad montages" were influenced by PTA's Magnolia. I know there were musical interludes long before that, but this use of the multi-story montage seems relatively new.
posted by dhartung at 3:35 PM on March 5, 2008


KD Lang has my favorite cover of it.

Great googly-moogly. I've never heard that one before; that's just stupendous.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:35 PM on March 5, 2008


Good article.

Unlike everyone else in this thread, though, I don't really like the Jeff Buckley version. The Cohen version was okay, but at least in makes sense in a Cohen context: along the same lines as much of Songs of Love and Hate, for instance, but not as good as some of his early songs ("Teachers" is more interesting and more bearable, I think). The Buckley version just sounds sad, almost as if the words themselves were extraneous. I can't dig on that. But then I've never watched The OC.

This, though, from the article, is totally on point:
However you come to the song, it's got an aura around it. If it's through Buckley, well, he's this beautiful dead boy with an apparently "ethereal" voice, and he's singing this song that sounds like a long-ago thing. Cohen himself is distant enough at this point to be symbolically equivalent to an old blues guy: mysterious, wise, world-weary. Buckley's martyrdom cleanses him of the "dude with a guitar who signed to a major label in the 90s" status, and Cohen, cheesy though he may be at times, comes from the pre-corporate past of the music industry, and is untainted by its commercialism.
posted by nasreddin at 3:36 PM on March 5, 2008


Is there some kind of mathematical formula for predicting the regular of recycling Leonard Cohen into the cool-o-sphere and then realizing you hate the fucker?

During his 1985 reentry into the college freshman outer plane of existence I bought his first three albums from a record store close-out sale — on impulse — hoping doing so would hep me get laid. Then I got bored by him during fourth orbital iteration of Cohen in college radio in1986 that I sold those back. Then in 1990 suddenly all my friends who couldn't stand him were talking him up again becuase of something Kurt Cobain said in a magazine interview. So I bought some compilation hoping it would help me understand what my friends were on about and... to help get me laid. And then I sold it back six months later.

The last four times he has become hip again I AM NOT FOOLED. I am married now, suckers.

Sorry but Cohen is frigg'n BORING and completely over rated. Feels soooo good to say it. YES! No more bowing to peer pressure. Every single song sounds exactly the same and is about four minutes too god damned long. Ahhhhh. That felt good.

Oh. What's that you say? He's on iTunes? Eh. What's 99¢?

[...watches download... plays]

DOH! DAMN YOU COOL-O-SPHERE!
posted by tkchrist at 3:36 PM on March 5, 2008 [9 favorites]


IB's wife writes: "Leonard Cohen's version makes me want to fuck Leonard Cohen's brains out."

Heh heh! This is exactly the kind of response to Cohen's music I had in mind when I wrote (in a song posted to MeFi Music) this line:

Who's that voice keeps singing "I love you", there ain't no way of knowin'
Who's that voice keeps singing "I love you", there ain't no way of knowin'
But that golden voice wrapped 'round your woman I believe that's Leonard Cohen...

Cohen's one of about 6 or 7 songwriters who get namechecked in that song.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:38 PM on March 5, 2008


Since we're going over best and worst versions of this, Bono's version of this song is absolutely the worst.
posted by Eekacat at 3:39 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Having just listened to the Cale, Buckley, Wainright, and Lang versions I think it's fitting that they all work.

That Cohen boy can write
posted by fullerine at 3:41 PM on March 5, 2008


Sorry but Cohen is frigg'n BORING and completely over rated. Feels soooo good to say it. YES! No more bowing to peer pressure. Every single song sounds exactly the same and is about four minutes too god damned long.

For you: More whiskey. Less meth.
posted by felix betachat at 3:42 PM on March 5, 2008 [8 favorites]


The Umberto Eco essay on Casablanca cited in the afterward is plenty interesting, too.
posted by goingonit at 3:45 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love the Jeff Buckley version, but Grace was pretty much at the top of my personal soundtrack all through high school. I have much love for Jeff Buckley, and I wept when I found out that he died.

That said, I've got the KD Lang version going in the background and it just made my entire body break out in goosebumps.
posted by sugarfish at 3:46 PM on March 5, 2008


Great article. (I'm listening to the k.d. lang version at the moment.)

In particular:
And this particular--and particularly amazing--trick is a big part of why, no matter how it comes to you, "Hallelujah" always manages to seem like a discovery. It can pass through a thousand corporate paws and be marked by them all, arriving at its destination in the form of a TV show or a mass-market major-label CD or a bunch of pop idols. The song is just so strange--so alien, so smart, so densely packed with signifiers--that it doesn't seem possible that it's actually part of mainstream culture, no matter how much mainstream culture embraces it.
Yes yes yes.

Thanks for a great find, BuddhaInABucket.
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on March 5, 2008


Entertainment Weekly just did a blog post about the song and they included Youtube links to most of the versions mentioned above (Cohen's, Cale's, Buckley's, Lang's, Wainwright's etc.)

I had heard the song before last night on TV shows, but I didn't really know what it was. The article was great, but I also really liked reading the AskMe thread linked above and hearing all the different versions.
posted by bove at 3:48 PM on March 5, 2008


p.s. Lang's album Hymns of the 49th Parallel is just all-around wow.
posted by rtha at 3:48 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, this blog totally needs to be in my Google Reader.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:52 PM on March 5, 2008


My Old Kentucky Blog updated their Hallelujah covers page last week.
posted by ahughey at 3:54 PM on March 5, 2008 [8 favorites]


Great article. It's always refreshing to see someone discussing pop culture intelligently. It reminds me of The War Against Silence.
posted by pombe at 3:55 PM on March 5, 2008


It's all about the Cale cover for me. Sounds like it was for Jeff Buckley, too. Good link.
posted by willpie at 3:55 PM on March 5, 2008


Buckley's version makes me cry every time, and in my mind it's the definitive version.

That said, I really dig the live version by Espen Lind, Askil Holm, Alejandro Fuentes, and Kurt Nilsen (a Norwegian Idol winner, ironically) off their Hallelujah Live tour.
posted by gemmy at 3:57 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


We've gotten this far in the thread and no one's mentioned the abortion that is Bon Motherfucking Jovi's version of this song? Have we all agreed never to mention it? Because that would be fine with me.
posted by Rangeboy at 4:05 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


II appreciate what he has to say about Cohen's original, and I gotta give the man credit, since he wrote the song and all, but hearing Cohen's rendition after Buckley's is like listening to a painful karaoke night. There's just so much power of emotion in Buckley's, handled so subtly.

This opinion seems to be passed around a lot, and I am utterly, completely mystified by it.

Buckley's cover is flat. There are no peaks and valleys, no rise and fall of emotion. it's just there. I don't know how someone can sing a song called "hallelujah" and not realize its supposed to build towards an ecstatic peak, but that's what he Buckley did, to my ear. he just drones along- he might as well be talking about shopping for lettuce.

I have never heard a version that comes close to the power of Cohen's.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:06 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Note for all the lovers: Leonard Cohen is soon to announce the specifics of his first tour in over a decade. I believe tour dates and locations are to be announced March 11. Supposedly it's Canada/USA in May, Europe after that. Don't miss it, because who knows if it'll happen again.
posted by roombythelake at 4:13 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Sorry but Cohen is frigg'n BORING and completely over rated. Feels soooo good to say it. YES! No more bowing to peer pressure. Every single song sounds exactly the same and is about four minutes too god damned long."

Dude, you can't say every Cohen song sounds the same if you've heard Jazz Police.

Not necessarily good, mind you, but not the same.

On the production choices note, I read an interview with Cohen some time ago where he said that he focused on writing the songs and when he got to the studio, he didn't much care how they got recorded or what production got added or what the arrangement was, because after he was done singing he got to go home and fuck Rebecca DeMornay. That helped explain a lot of his late '80s/early '90s sound to me.
posted by klangklangston at 4:13 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


If one more person titles their work "The Curious X of Y" I'm going to choke myself to death with a dog in the night time.
posted by fraxil at 4:13 PM on March 5, 2008 [9 favorites]


I feel I must defend my comment above.

As I said, I heard the Buckley version first (in a West Wing episode where it was used very well, IMHO). Listening to it over and over, I found myself totally in line with his views of love, sex, betrayal, and the sad glory of redemption through knowing enough to finally know better.

I point particularly to the line:

Remember when I moved in you, and the holy dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was Hallelujuah...

If anyone ever describes my feelings the first time sleeping with someone I've fallen precipitously for any beter, I'll eat my hat... or... something. But in any case, Buckley interprets this line much more powerfully (to me) than Leonard Cohen does.

I shouldn't have called Buckley's version "subtle." That's not accurate. It is, however, very controlled, in the best sense of the word, ad in the hands of a great talent who could've gone over the top with it and didn't. Picture anyone today doing a cover of the Buckley version, and picture how awful that would be. That's what I meant.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:16 PM on March 5, 2008


Buckley's version never worked for me, either, and I was willing to love it. It just seems so self-satisfied with its vocal airs and flourishes that there's no room for sadness or despair left in it. (I feel like shit dissing a dead man, especially one as talented as Buckley, but it really fell short for me, despite the pretty, airy guitar.) Cohen, Cale, lang and even my lovely florid Wainwright all serve the song more humbly.
posted by maudlin at 4:17 PM on March 5, 2008


PS. This looks like an interesting article, and I thank you for posting it.

But on an unrelated note, before even reading it, the first thing it proves to me is how hard it is to read paragraphs which are centered on a page. Seriously, I'm going to have to cut and paste it into a word processor and align it to the left before I can continue reading.
posted by roombythelake at 4:19 PM on March 5, 2008


Is there some kind of mathematical formula for predicting the regular of recycling Leonard Cohen into the cool-o-sphere and then realizing you hate the fucker?

I don't know, but I know I like the Pixies in even years, hate them in odd years. It's like clockwork.
posted by dw at 4:25 PM on March 5, 2008


Heh. The way the choir steps out from behind the set in the German TV performance flapjax at midnite linked to totally reminds me of the opening sequence of The Muppet Show.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:25 PM on March 5, 2008


If anyone ever describes my feelings the first time sleeping with someone I've fallen precipitously for any beter, I'll eat my hat... or... something.

Meh. Just because it describes you doesn't make it good. Christ.

Cohen is David. He plays the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift even as he is singing them. His song is rich and complex, resonant with history and loss, terror and joy. It's David's life and his own at the same time. The act of realizing one's self through mimesis is the essence of art. The act of mimesis which continues to resonate beyond the moment of creation is the essence of great art. Despite his fallible humanity, Cohen literally achieves self-transcendence through the act of writing and performing this song. What you here there, if you'd shut up and listen, is the sound of a man becoming a demigod.

Buckley turned all that into a little emo ditty about busting a nut.
posted by felix betachat at 4:27 PM on March 5, 2008 [22 favorites]


On preview: I think the question of the "peaks and valleys" is critical, and is the difference between fans of one or the other version. I'll proudly say that when I first heard and fell in love with Buckley's version I was at about the worst part of my life that I can imagine. From that perspective, his rendition comes across as someone seeing light from the depths of hell and regret, and any more "peaks and valleys" would've betrayed that idea, and wouldn't have made it work at all.

There are a very, very few songs which have helped me work my way out of bad times, but Buckley's version of this is one of them. And as much as I appreciate Cohen's original, it's simp[ly laughable from that vantage point.

Still, everybody has their place from where they approach music, and the article let me understand why COhen's version is, artistically superior in many ways. I'm just unlikleky to prefer those standards above my own.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:28 PM on March 5, 2008


You should hear The Butthole Surfers' cover.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:31 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cohen's (live) and Buckley's I like, Cale's I loathe (possibly just because I first heard it during Shrek, and after the first notes was expecting Cohen/Buckley, and yeesh did I hate it), but nothing's as bad as Bono's. Not even Lang's.
posted by bonaldi at 4:32 PM on March 5, 2008


Buckley turned all that into a little emo ditty about busting a nut.
This.
posted by bonaldi at 4:34 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ugh, Too many version of this song are exercises in sounding pretty. Buckley's influence, I presume. Although it has a sweet melody, it's not an inherently pretty song, and sweetening it up like that is just an exercise is missing the point. There was a time when singers looked to be authentic by singing without excess ornamentation, especially when performing music borrowed from folk traditions -- you wanted to sound like someone's drunk uncle, or a cowboy hunkering down for a night on the prairie, and this choice made sense since you were singing songs of drunken uncles and hunkered cowboys. Now everybody seems to want to sound like choirboys with broken hearts, and it juts doesn't match. There's humor and bitterness and sophistication in these lyrics, and everybody sounds instead like they have mistaken it for an especially drippy song to be sung by too-sensitive high school boys who carry their guitars to every party, and use them to get drunk girls to peel their shirts off at the end of the evening. Which I suspect is precisely what this song is used for nowadays.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:36 PM on March 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Navelgazer, it sounds like the lament of someone raised on Sunny D finding out that real orange juice isn't as sweet.
posted by klangklangston at 4:36 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's just a fucking great song, and one which my kids (they're three and five years old) sometimes request as their bedtime song (thanks to the "Shrek" connection). So I'm going to have to say the version that my family sings together in our pajamas is the best one I've heard.
posted by padraigin at 4:40 PM on March 5, 2008 [13 favorites]


klangklangston: there's probably something to that, although to me Buckley's version seems much more stripped down, less histrionic, and less adept for some reason. I'm certainly hearing it differently now that I've read the article, but I just still will never prefer it, is all.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:44 PM on March 5, 2008


correction: Buckley's version seems MORE adept than Cohen's. My mistake.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:45 PM on March 5, 2008


the 1991 tribute album I'm Your Fan

A very fine fine fine tribute album (no, not the one with Sting, the other earlier one).
posted by KokuRyu at 4:50 PM on March 5, 2008


Cohen is David. ... The act of realizing one's self through mimesis is the essence of art.

It's a wonderful song, and I love Leonard Cohen's many versions. And I absolutely love Rufus Wainright's as well. (I wasn't aware how close it is to Cale's.) To me, at least, it is every bit as much an askesis, authentic and revealing, despite the fact that he didn't write it. It's one of the things that regularly floors me about song that it seems like such an incredibly unitary art form, but isn't. I hear such distinct revelations and confessions in Cohen and Wainright singing the same words (give or take).

It makes me a little sad that talking-kettle christ doesn't like Cohen.

(And, yeah, k.d. lang's version made me cry, too.)
posted by ~ at 4:58 PM on March 5, 2008


When I was home over Christmas, I made a special trip to the family safety deposit box and slipped a note in the If I Should Croak folder stating that Antony Hegarty's cover of Leonard Cohen's "If It Be Your Will" should be played in lieu of a hymn, and the first verse should be reproduced in the program:

If it be your will
that I speak no more
and my voice be still
as it was before,
I will speak no more,
I shall abide until I am spoken for,
if it be your will.

[Ideally my best friend Zach will announce that the next song is a moving cover of a deeply spiritual Leonard Cohen song and all my friends will roll their eyes at each other, expecting "Hallelujah" from either the pedestrian Buckley or constipated Cale, and then the Antony song will start and they'll be like "Oh snap, Ian outfoxed us even in death!" and then my ghostly visage will appear and I'll be all "Suck it, haters! I'll see you bitches later" and epic lulz will ensue.]
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:59 PM on March 5, 2008 [26 favorites]


It's been covered umpteen times, but the Cale version is always the one that's done it for me. I saw him at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh in 1999 and when he played this I thought I was going to collapse. His piano playing sounded like plates crashing to the floor, and that ringing Welsh baritone was enough to turn my legs to jelly.

Admittedly, I was on a colossal ecstasy/coke comedown at the time, and thus, um, somewhat fragile, but every time I hear Cale's version now, it transports me back ...
posted by Len at 5:00 PM on March 5, 2008


I love me some Beirut, but I can't help but think that ukulele and his particular warble might not do the song justice.
posted by tylermoody at 5:03 PM on March 5, 2008


I happen to like this song very much, but singing it oneself is the best cover.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:05 PM on March 5, 2008


Eh - forgot to add my paean of praise to Buddha for the lovely link.
posted by ~ at 5:06 PM on March 5, 2008


So I'm going to have to say the version that my family sings together in our pajamas is the best one I've heard.

Beautiful.
posted by billder at 5:08 PM on March 5, 2008


felix betachat: Cohen is David. He plays the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift even as he is singing them. His song is rich and complex, resonant with history and loss, terror and joy. It's David's life and his own at the same time. The act of realizing one's self through mimesis is the essence of art. The act of mimesis which continues to resonate beyond the moment of creation is the essence of great art. Despite his fallible humanity, Cohen literally achieves self-transcendence through the act of writing and performing this song. What you here there, if you'd shut up and listen, is the sound of a man becoming a demigod.
Wank wank wank, I heard there was a secret plate of beans, that felix overthought to please the Metafilterines...

Whatever, dude. Yeah, I think we all picked up on the whole "singing about the chords as he plays them" gimmick. You seem to be overblowing that Leonard Cohen is singing a song that has meaning to and about him... which is what most decent songs do, have an element of autobiographical meaning mixed with cultural allusions and broader generalizations so as to connect to the audience's own experiences. Labeling that "mimesis" is... eh, too pretentious for words.

Maybe you're so used to American Idol and its tendency to have mostly young fools singing songs they don't understand, grinning through ballads about spousal abuse or adding melisma runs to simple tuns that the idea of someone singing a song because it means something now seems foreign to you. It shouldn't.

Leonard Cohen is a mediocre singer; not that every song has to be Celine'd or American Idol'ed to within an inch of its life (I personally found that k.d. lang version to be overblown), and yes there's something to the fact that he's singing and really knows what he's singing about, but it's been done far better. Demigod? Dude, you're hipster posing is laden with pathos.

It's just a song. If it resonates with you, it's not because of the tune or the lyrics, it's because you want it to resonate with you. For the love of Christ, it's not that Cohen is "becoming a demigod" by singing it. Unreal, man. Unreal.
posted by hincandenza at 5:21 PM on March 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


To me, the Buckley version sounds fragile and overblown at the same time. I love that. The corruption is delicious.
posted by batmonkey at 5:27 PM on March 5, 2008


It's just a song. If it resonates with you, it's not because of the tune or the lyrics, it's because you want it to resonate with you.

Are you suggesting that everything I enjoy I only enjoy because I want to do so, rather than it being bcause of some property of that thing? That sounds unreal, man.
posted by xmutex at 5:28 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


PS: it's odd to me how many have first heard the song in a TV show. Cohen's, Cale's, and Buckley's versions first hit my ears via the radio. Maybe that was the best way?
posted by batmonkey at 5:28 PM on March 5, 2008


I'm sorry for being an asshole, I really am and I hope you can all forgive me, but every time anyone starts talking about how much they love Jeff Buckley's music I immediately have stop taking anything they have to say seriously.

Not that he's a talentless hack or anything, he's got a few really spectacular songs, but I just can't deal with the NPR crowd cooing over him and his tragic fucking story.
posted by willie11 at 5:37 PM on March 5, 2008




Since American Idol has come up so much in this thread, I figured I'd pop back in and include a link to the kid who sang Hallelujah last night, Jason Castro.
Hincandenza: there's no grinning or melisma in this version, don't worry.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:42 PM on March 5, 2008


...first hit my ears via the radio. Maybe that was the best way?

Nosirree bob, you ignorant whippersnapper! Why, back in my day, we used to hear the song through a series of tubes that stretched from Baltimore in the east clear on out across the Great Plains and through the Rockies, all the way to Bakersfield, California! We'd pay 2 and a half cents (a LOT of money in those days) to lay flat on our bellies with one ear up to the tube (for some reason they always had the receiving end down on the ground) and we'd listen to Leonard personally sing the song to us. Sure, we'd stand up again with a little dust in our mouths and maybe an insect or two in our trousers, but we knew we were getting the song straight from the source. Radio? Harrumph!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:44 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know, I always wondered why the old goats always had those little circular impressions around their ears and bug legs all over their clothes along with an inexplicably knowing smile...


I have never in my 36+yrs ever been called a whippersnapper before. Delightful!
posted by batmonkey at 5:51 PM on March 5, 2008


Jeff Buckley's cover is my favorite song, bar none. I still remember discovering it, listening to it all night, then looking him up and finding out he was dead. Beautiful, haunting song in that version.

It's eerie how much my experience mirrors that. I just discovered this track a couple of months ago..... was playing WoW, killing elementals in Nagrand, when that song came on Radio Paradise... and I stopped playing and just listened after a minute. Then I quit playing, went and found it, listened to it a couple more times, and ordered the album.

FInding out that the singer had already died.... boy, did that make me sad.

(And yes, I'm a cultural cretin for not hearing it sooner. You don't need to say it. I already know. :) )
posted by Malor at 5:58 PM on March 5, 2008


God damn, that clip made me want to punch Fall Out Boy. More than before, I mean.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:04 PM on March 5, 2008


Fuck this thread. My ears wouldn't be bleeding if not for this thread and that goddamn Fall Out Boy cover. Now I've got tampons in my ear canals and it's still not helping.
posted by schroedinger at 6:12 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Clive Davis himself could hand it to you, but this would just seem like evidence of Clive's human side rather than another slime-dripping part of the corrupt music industry.

Heh. Ms. Steady and I were just saying, after watching Idol, that a trained seal could sing "Hallelujah" and it would still give you the shivers. I agree that the non-specific, "old-time religion" of it is something, but there is something in the "...the 4th, the 5th, the minor fall, the major lift..." chord progression that touches a very primitive chord in me. Even thinking about it right now (no speakers at work) does it.

So, it's the Cale version in the movie Shrek, but the Wainwright version on the soundtrack, right?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:14 PM on March 5, 2008


I bought Buckley's Grace the summer after his death. I was 16. It became one of these albums that I'd listen to from start to finish while lying in bed at night, not falling asleep (I was 16). Though I never listen to it anymore I have a great fondness for it. If I were to pull an album out and put it on it probably would be the Live at the Sin-é ep, partly because I love his accent on Je n'en connais pas la fin and partly because 25 minutes is about the amount of Jeff Buckley I'd want at one go.

But I digress...

It's a great article which, despite its knee-jerk Buckley hate, gets at the truth of the song. It is a stupendous song. Cohen is one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years and he was firing on all cylinders when he wrote Hallelujah. I think what makes lyrically powerful isn't the vagueness of it, however, but how specific it is. I mean, that first verse is a short retelling of the story of David and Bathsheba (the lyrics even echo the King James Version), which is one of the most historically powerful stories in Western Civilization. It's pretty much the ur-story about adultery and begging forgiveness. While I don't think that many listeners of that song recognized the story (my 16 year old self certainly didn't) but the force of the lyrics comes from that. Yes, Cohen is identifying with David the songwriter, but also, specifically, with David the cuckold.
posted by Kattullus at 6:14 PM on March 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also: Buddha, Jason still isn't singing it like he knows what the hell he's talking about, though.
posted by schroedinger at 6:14 PM on March 5, 2008


schroedinger: I'm pretty sure tampons in your ears don't help anything.
posted by heeeraldo at 6:18 PM on March 5, 2008


Poor Marissa (Imogen Heap). You''ll make me cry all over again!
posted by mrgrimm at 6:22 PM on March 5, 2008


The Curious Death of Fraxil

The West Wing scene.

KD Lang has my favorite cover

That version was a little too bellowy/Hootie and the Blowfish for me; I liked this one with Jools Holland better.

I am married now, suckers.

So the whole trying-to-get-laid thing didn't work out?
Just kidding, of course.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:23 PM on March 5, 2008


Kattullus, in David and Bathsheba, David was doing the cuckolding.

It is an even more interesting song if taken in that context--the person singing the song comes off as kind of a dick. After all, David was a powerful king, able to have any woman he wanted. But he stole Uriah's, and sent the man to be killed so he could take his most loyal soldier's wife as his own. His lust is mirrored in the lyrics "Your faith was strong but you needed proof / You saw her bathing on the roof / Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you." He then goes on to complain about her breaking the throne, being tied to the chair and whatnot, and depending on which verses you're using reflects on the lack of sex in their relationship and goes before the "Lord of Song" with his hands in the air, saying he couldn't help himself.

Very, very different than the sad, wistful, wronged-lover tone that most people take out of it.
posted by schroedinger at 6:24 PM on March 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


David was doing the cuckolding.

And tried to get her husband killed, as I recall.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:37 PM on March 5, 2008


Metafilter: I've got tampons in my ear canals
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:39 PM on March 5, 2008


schroedinger: Kattullus, in David and Bathsheba, David was doing the cuckolding.

Yes... that was just my complete misuse of the word "cuckold" there. In fact, your whole comment summarizes what I was trying to say much better than I did.
posted by Kattullus at 6:58 PM on March 5, 2008


Am I the only person who really doesn't care for the song, no matter the rendition?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:07 PM on March 5, 2008


Outstanding post.

The first time I heard this song was the Cohen original version, on, of all things, a holiday compilation CD that came from Starbucks. Somehow, I had managed never to hear the song before then, and I heard the line about being tied to a kitchen chair and I thought it an odd choice for a Christmas compilation ...

I later heard Buckley's live version on Mystery White Boy (Live) and although, on the whole, I like Buckley's cover, man, MWB(L) is a physically difficult album to listen to because it seems to be the quietest CD I've ever encountered. The first time I listened to it was on the stereo in my truck and it was still almost inaudible at full volume.
posted by kcds at 7:11 PM on March 5, 2008


Great Song, Great Post!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:13 PM on March 5, 2008


tkchrist instead of trying to get laid, you shoud have setteled for the oral sex.
Thanks for the post BuddhaInABucket, it was a good read.
posted by Sailormom at 7:16 PM on March 5, 2008


Wait! There are covers?!
posted by rough at 7:32 PM on March 5, 2008


Have to agree with Ambrosia. I like the original lyrics the best. The "flag on the marble arch" version sounds kind of whiny.

Thanks for the pointer to Hegarty, Ian A.T.. That was incredible.
posted by Coventry at 7:33 PM on March 5, 2008


Yeah, I actually think this really good paper points out what's wrong with most people's covers of, not just Hallelujah, but all Cohen. If it's Cohen, it's never just about the sadness. It often comes from the point of a view of someone who lives with tragedy, but it contains humor, anger, wit, and fear.

That's what makes him one of the great songwriters of the english language. The beautiful and the profane, the sweet and the ridiculous, often in the same line.

"You were the whore and the beast of Babylon..... .... And I was Rin Tin Tin"

Great post.
posted by lumpenprole at 7:40 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


also discussed on Metachat some time back... the kd lang in Winnipeg is very heartfelt.

This version from there is a towering accomplishment: like the youtube comment says: from right to left - awesome guitarist, great singer, one too many vodka and cokes.
posted by Rumple at 7:43 PM on March 5, 2008


The first three lines of the song are some of the best that have ever appeared in pop music, but the ones that always stand out to me are "it's not a cry that you hear at night, it's not somebody who's seen the light, it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah" The idea of a broken Hallelujah is a paradox. Hallelujah is a Hebrew word which means "Glory to the Lord." I think that this idea of being gloriously broken is a reoccurring theme with Cohen. "The idea of brokenness figures prominently in all the forms of art he practices . . . 'When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the Children of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf he threw the tablets to the ground and they broke. Then he went back up and came down with the full set again. Now the interesting thing - and this isn’t in the Bible but in the oral tradition - is that when they built the tabernacle they put the broken ones in with the whole ones, as if to say, this too, is part of the immutable, inflexible human law. We are broken. Many years later, the Hassids say that 'from the broken fragments of my heart I will build an altar to the Lord'. So that sense of brokenness is impossible to avoid. It seems clearer today than it was when I was young, so I say it over and over again, 'there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in'." Face Value The Arts of Leonard Cohen by Robert Enright (pdf).
posted by ND¢ at 8:07 PM on March 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


Give me the Wainwright version!!!

To me, Buckley does an ok, pretty good cover. I can NOT get past the guitar-tone wankery that starts that version. I used to like the Lang version, but *seeing* it, as linked above, she looked like she was faking all that overwrought emotion. Bleagh.
posted by notsnot at 8:13 PM on March 5, 2008


(Thanks for linking that, Coventry...I wanted to, but I was on my Blackberry and for some unfathomable reason even if your HTML is impeccable, linking just doesn't work. I could have just posted a plain text URL, I suppose, but how vulgar.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:17 PM on March 5, 2008



So we're are all talking about how our favourite rendition of the song makes us feel.
Great, we own those responses.

It seems we're missing half the point. The Barthel essay shows how the song is used (now altered and emotionally simplified by successive covers) as a tool for eliciting the correct emotional response from a passive tv audience. Night after night. The 'sad montage', indeed.

So -- how does that make you feel?
posted by Herodios at 8:18 PM on March 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Your favourite version of Hallelujah sucks.
posted by I, Credulous at 8:19 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


lumpenprole: Yeah, I actually think this really good paper points out what's wrong with most people's covers of, not just Hallelujah, but all Cohen. If it's Cohen, it's never just about the sadness. It often comes from the point of a view of someone who lives with tragedy, but it contains humor, anger, wit, and fear.

That's what makes him one of the great songwriters of the english language. The beautiful and the profane, the sweet and the ridiculous, often in the same line.


I agree with this assessment completely. Maybe it's because I live in walking distance of his home and famed stomping grounds, but Cohen, to me, will always be the best performer of his own songs.

I hate how musicians keep covering the same songs over and over. Why not choose something that dozens of other people haven't already done well? A good example of this is Lou Barlow's cover of Lady by the Little River Band.
posted by loiseau at 8:20 PM on March 5, 2008


It's getting played at my funeral. I'm not sure which version (KD, Jeff, Lenny god bless), but some motherfuckers is gonna cry. Also a live version of Joe Hill, I got it tattooed on my chest next to the DNR. Also Party and Bullshit by Biggie.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:32 PM on March 5, 2008


Thanks for that Norwegian version. So lovely. And thanks for the great link. This is why I come to Metafilter.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:39 PM on March 5, 2008


Although, John Cale, wow, lovely. I'm revising my feeling to say it's LC, he understands the phrasing, the essential "Do ya", not "Do you..." Please don't forget the Biggie though, and maybe something by Donnie Hathaway, a cover, thanks, check the tattoo.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:44 PM on March 5, 2008


Leonard Cohen isn't a mediocre singer. He's a goddamn awful singer. And I love listening to him all the more for that. My favourite Cohen moment is the start of Anthem, when he croaks out "The birds, they sang at the break of day" in a gravelly hell-voice that is the very opposite of birds sweetly singing.

Leonard Cohen should have been the poet laureate for Canada.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:46 PM on March 5, 2008


John Cale, by a flippin' mile.
posted by unSane at 8:53 PM on March 5, 2008


In my mind there are two remarkable things about this song; the meta-lyrics in the first verse that describe writing their own music, and the fact that Cohen found so many convincing rhymes for hallelujah.
posted by AndrewStephens at 8:54 PM on March 5, 2008


Leonard Cohen really is one of the great bad singers. I love my sweet and soaring altos and baritones, but there's something about the life-packed croak of Dylan and Cohen that delivers where it counts.

Here's some accessible Cohen -- a hit! a palpable hit! -- (in Canada, anyway).
posted by maudlin at 8:55 PM on March 5, 2008


It seems we're missing half the point. The Barthel essay shows how the song is used (now altered and emotionally simplified by successive covers) as a tool for eliciting the correct emotional response from a passive tv audience. Night after night. The 'sad montage', indeed.

So -- how does that make you feel?


Pleased that I turned off the crappy tv years ago Herodios.

I think I'll go turn on Dance me to the end of love, and dance with my sweetie for a not so passive emotional response. As IB's wife notes, Leonard is always a turn on.
posted by CDHJ at 9:00 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I do not like the Buckley version. It's so weak. No power, no real emotion, no grit, no balls.

Unless I'm sorely mistaken, the recording I have of Cohen is from his senior years, with a much grittier voice. It conveys so much more to me. Cale's comes close, too; so does Lang's.

The video version with Cohen is not at all familiar to me. He has another version and it is much, much better.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:03 PM on March 5, 2008


kinda not getting the buckley-disdain this thread is replete with. to dismiss him as only meaningful in the context of the tragedy of his death or as an npr-crowd pet (you have, i assume, listened to npr enough to make such a snide insinuation, but not enough to be the very sort of listener you imagine you loathe -- that's a neat trick) or even more absurdly, as simply a '90s rocker dude with a guitar and a pretty voice who conceals his immateriality with bombast and bluster, as the posted article itself does, is a very shallow misinterpretation. it's sad that jeff wasn't around long enough for this fact to be clearer to more people.
posted by Hat Maui at 9:06 PM on March 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


More covers.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:10 PM on March 5, 2008


Cohen Live. Can't stand the backing music, but his voice is spot-on.

Not singing so much as speaking, mind...
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 PM on March 5, 2008


Well, since we're all sharing . . .

I already loved the Cohen original (and really just generally thought that Cohen's songwriting had a voice-of-God authority that was perfectly amplified by his barely-even-singing intonations), and the Buckley version came highly recommended - "the definitive," said my friend - and, well, you know how you're on the intercontinental flight and it's late and you're on your third glass of red and you find yourself choking up just a little at like the climax of Notting Hill or some bloody romantic-comedy confection or other on the screen there?

It was a bit like that.
posted by gompa at 10:21 PM on March 5, 2008


I definitely fall into the Buckley camp on this one, although the KD Lang version is pretty good as well.

A friend of mine proposed to his girlfriend while playing it a little while ago, so I have to admit I also have a soft spot for that one too...
posted by vernondalhart at 10:32 PM on March 5, 2008


Just want to add that for me, the best version is by Páll Rósinkranz, an Icelandic singer. I like the Buckley, I like the KD Lang, I like the Rufus, I like the Cohen versions. The Rosinkranz version is better, but only available on his album, or via Napster back in the good-ol-days. There's a short clip available here but I realize it's not really enough. Wish I could post it somewhere, but that would be naughty.
posted by johngumbo at 10:49 PM on March 5, 2008


Thanks for reminding me of Neil's comment ("I'm beginning to feel like a Leonard Cohen record, cause nobody ever listens to me.") on The Young Ones, but you are So Wrong about Cohen. See Cohen in this video.
posted by treeshap at 11:10 PM on March 5, 2008


I'm waiting for the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain cover... now THAT would be awesome.
posted by wendell at 11:29 PM on March 5, 2008


One cover I haven't seen mentioned yet is by The Tea Party. The only YouTube version I saw was with Jeff Martin solo, and I'm not sure it quite conveys the full band version most of their fans have heard. Even as a fan of the band, it is not my favourite version of the song and I sometimes feel it falls a bit flat.

To Herodios:
Cohen wrote it to evoke emotion, and it gets used for that in movies and TV all the time.

Hearing it from a talented artist unassociated with a program trying to convince me to feel a specific way, I find it beautiful and haunting (and sometimes done really poorly and cheesily but still possessing the incredibly deft lyrics and composition).

Hearing it associated with a program trying to to convince me to feel a specific way, I feel it is a great reminder that I should head to the nearest music playback device and hear it as it should be heard: on my own terms, with my eyes closed, and a regretful but delighted smile. And, sometimes, as much as I'm loathe to admit it, tears.
posted by batmonkey at 12:01 AM on March 6, 2008


This pairing was so successful that, for the finale of season three, the final moments were accompanied, once again, by Heap, this time covering --and, to be clear, I am not shitting you--"Hallelujah." This is the point where the OC consumes itself whole, and it is a sickeningly gorgeous thing to watch.

That pretty much sums up my undergrad. Seeing youth consume itself in an oroborus of pop-culture awareness and half-ironies.

Great article!
posted by phyrewerx at 12:41 AM on March 6, 2008


My kid was singing this all the time when she was three. I think she learned a lot of words and I am fairly sure the real meat of what this was all about escaped her.*

*I really never can be sure. Surprising little brain. Full of curiosity and surprises.
posted by Wolof at 1:18 AM on March 6, 2008


Here's another listing of covers from last.fm, although I'm not sure how to get from list to songs.

I can't seem to find that Tea Party cover you mention, batmonkey, but given that I love that band (oh those crazy canucks) and love this song, I clearly should hear the cover.


Fun game: seeing what ads google comes up with when "tea party" is in your search phrase.
posted by nat at 1:48 AM on March 6, 2008


It feels like we've had this discussion about the song before. But the article itself is fantastic, and "The Sad Montage" is such a perfect name for what has become the cliched use of the song.
posted by kyleg at 1:57 AM on March 6, 2008


Antony Hegarty! Thank you, I have been trying to remember who the boy with the Nina Simone voice was for MONTHS!
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:01 AM on March 6, 2008


See, I think I like the Buckley version because of the guitar as much as the voice. It's so clean, so pure, so pretty, so sad. Those opening notes and chords are fucking amazing, you just know what's coming.

The Cohen version is good, in a completely different way. They're really two completely different songs, to be appreciated as such.

The article was very good, really, except I don't understand the fixation on Jeff Buckley being dead. I knew lots or serious Jeff Buckley fans when he was alive, who were all devastated by his fairly lame and unexpected death. I don't really know anyone who only got into him after he died.
posted by Jimbob at 5:05 AM on March 6, 2008


Just listening to the KD Lang version now. Girl does have an amazing voice, but it always disturbs me when people play with the rhythm of the song so much...
posted by Jimbob at 5:06 AM on March 6, 2008


I'm sure I heard it before Shrek, but after I heard it in Shrek I had to seek it out. Fortunately I did some research first, because I discovered I don't care much for Rufus Wainwright's version. Count me as another vote for Cale, particularly the live one on Fragments of a Rainy Season which is a terrific album. Also like the Cohen originals. Also like the Buckley take, although just barely. There's also one by a raspy voiced British(?) guy which I think is Pretty Darn Good (live, solo guitar, voice, dedicated to "Max." Dunno how it got on my hard drive. Anyone know who this is?)

Good article. I'm curious though about interpretations of the lyrics. There's some fun ambiguities with the narrative voice and I wonder what other people make if it.
posted by wobh at 6:17 AM on March 6, 2008


Wish I could post it somewhere, but that would be naughty.

Yah, 'cause then we might all discover another artist we'd like to hear more of, and then go out and buy his music. But, no, let's let him rot in obscurity: that's the way RIAA wants it.

not a snark at you, but at RIAA
posted by five fresh fish at 6:37 AM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


*is disappointed that the Butthole Surfers link isn't real*
posted by Kwine at 6:37 AM on March 6, 2008


It is a great article and was my introduction to the term "needledrop": the term used for libraries of "aural clipart" music which producers can use as a lazy or cheap alternative to getting some bespoke music composed. Once upon a time needledrop would tend to be used only at the initial stages of editing when trying to decide what sort of final music to commission. Not now it seems.

Hallelujah is a great Cohen song but my Favourite is "Tower of Song"
posted by rongorongo at 6:37 AM on March 6, 2008



Batmonkey:

That's what I'm talking about. Being moved versus being manipulated.
posted by Herodios at 8:19 AM on March 6, 2008


Wainwright for me. I'd never heard Cale's version before today, but it's grand.

Cohen's original is so different from the covers as to almost be another song. I love his flat singing, I love the female chorus.

I've tried to listen to Buckley's version before today, and much like now, I couldn't get through it. Flat and uninspired to me. I somehow managed to completely miss Buckley in my high school years, so maybe that's why his version doesn't appeal to me? Or I just have taste. (Oooooh burn!)

Thanks for the post and great discussion everybody!
posted by m0nm0n at 9:04 AM on March 6, 2008


Jimbob makes a good point:
"See, I think I like the Buckley version because of the guitar as much as the voice. It's so clean, so pure, so pretty, so sad. Those opening notes and chords are fucking amazing, you just know what's coming."

I think this is why I still love that version so much: his guitar fills in for where his voice leaves off.

nat:
Jeff Martin, live in some intimate spot; the recording starts late in the song and is speckly. Listening to it now, I think maybe he's doing better on his own with it than the group did as a whole.
Jeff Martin w/ Wayne Sheehy, in one of the slower developing renditions he's performed. Jeff's voice is a little wrecked-sounding, and he uses his usual trick of accenting the "don't care for music, do ya?" line so that the crowd shuts up (or, in this case, laughs).

...I looked through my CDs and the discography and, for the life of me, I cannot find where the recording I'm remembering is from. I *know* it's live...there's a babbling crowd at the beginning, which goes from assish convo to a quiet buzz after he does the trick mentioned above. Maybe it's on a comp I have laying around here somewhere...

Herodios:
I think that's the main gripe of the folks in here who are disturbed by the number of covers extant. Particularly since so many performers of those versions do little to truly honour the remarkable composition while lapping up the kudos for having the gall to think themselves capable of doing it any justice.
posted by batmonkey at 10:16 AM on March 6, 2008


Leonard Cohen isn't a mediocre singer. He's a goddamn awful singer. And I love listening to him all the more for that.

While Kristofferson doesn't have the soul of Cohen, he comes to mind in terms of songwriters who've been outdistanced in notoriety by those covering their songs. If you've composed songs or poetry yourself, you can appreciate the story re-creating itself from the voice of the one who sat down and put it together from the start. That's what lends significance to my preference of the Cohen version of Hallelujah (or Kristofferson's own "Sunday Morning Coming Down" -- "gravelly hell-voice" and all.)
posted by skyper at 10:22 AM on March 6, 2008


Leonard Cohen is a dirty old man. And I love him.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:30 AM on March 6, 2008


Wish I'd caught this earlier.

Why the hell does nobody in any of these links point out the obvious reference to the biblical Samson in the "bondage" verse? He's already referenced the biblical David... what am I missing here?
posted by tarheelcoxn at 10:31 AM on March 6, 2008


Ahh. Did get mentioned. nvm
posted by tarheelcoxn at 10:36 AM on March 6, 2008


dangit. first link failed: Jeff Martin performing "Hallelujah"
posted by batmonkey at 10:42 AM on March 6, 2008




folks in here who are disturbed by the number of covers extant.

Hmm. It would be a sadly impoverished musical world without covers. With some particularly egregious exceptions, choosing a favourite is mainly a matter of taste. I like a lot of covers, even where the artist's reach exceeds their grasp, though I prefer that they put some new eyebrows on the tune.

What I am generally against is the lazy use of good music as cues for 'sad montages' and such by directors who can't come up with words, music, and visuals that will do the job on their own.

I will say that if Chaps or Scrubs or whatever it's called uses "Hallelujah" on the sad montages between detergent ads, at least a) the tone is approximately correct and 2) Cohen is alive to enjoy it. Feature Carl Orff seeing Carmina Burana played over clashing football players or computer-animated barbarian fantasy hordes every night. "O fortuna", indeed.

BTW, Bhuddaina, I enjoyed reading the linked essay. Thanks.
posted by Herodios at 11:55 AM on March 6, 2008


Herodios explained:
"Hmm. It would be a sadly impoverished musical world without covers. "

Agreed. I think they do more than provide another tune for the covering artist - they make the original part of our cultural dialogue and promote re-imagining. Admittedly, that can sometimes go over like a lead balloon, but it keeps brains working, so that's valuable. Whether it's an artist trying to show love to an influence or a satirist using a popular song for arch parody, covers are valuable and are a long-standing cornerstone of musical tradition.

I think where it goes wrong is when you hit the realm of grating repetition without respecting, improving, or even feeling the piece. That's when you know a cover has either gone too far or not far enough. Or, rather, the artist has done so, since it's up to them to make it worth the attempt.

The image of Carl Orff having to watch as his masterpiece traverses the media landscape with as little consideration as a piece of toilet paper on the shoe of some drunken sadsack on a pub crawl is both pitiful and amusing. I can't help it. I'm picturing his eyebrows shooting up as he hears the unmistakable first notes, hope on his face, so glad he's being remembered this far forward, only to stay there out of shock when a hulking truck spins around a stylised warehouse track and it's clear it was just used to sell said truck.

Maybe that would help him understand why folks were so upset when he was willing to re-write Mendelssohn's work. Or, maybe he'd love it and just be glad his work was that lasting. Really too bad he's not around for us to find out.
posted by batmonkey at 1:13 PM on March 6, 2008


Leonard Cohen: one of the handful of truly gifted poet/composers working in the popular idiom still alive today. Others: Bob Dylan (natch), Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young? Any others??? Dead guys: Townes Van Zandt, Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie?
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:05 PM on March 6, 2008


Any others???

Still alive? I'd add Richard Thompson to that list, as well as Randy Newman. John Prine has written his share of great songs. Those three are just off the top of my head. But "dead guys"? Man, that's a loooong list. Let's start with, say, Stephen Foster. Hank Williams. Johnny Cash. Another three.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:13 PM on March 6, 2008


Immediately I thought of: Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. Morrissey. Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays and Black Grape. Not many songwriters have written lyrics that work on the page.
posted by Kattullus at 4:37 PM on March 6, 2008


I have no issue with covers, at all. What I find irritating is 40-50 people covering the same old song. Make your own secret discovery and bring it to light.
posted by loiseau at 5:08 PM on March 6, 2008


Any others???

Patti Smith.
posted by rtha at 5:59 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whither Bruce Cockburn?
posted by dw at 10:32 PM on March 6, 2008


"Hallelujah" Shoots Up iTunes Chart After Idol Performance

At this moment it's #1 at iTunes.
posted by dw at 9:52 AM on March 8, 2008


dw, I just re-visited this thread to ask what cultural phenomenon could have sent "Hallelujah" to #1. American Idol it is. As much as I dislike that show and Simon Cowell, there are tons of people who watch it. Sadly, Jeff Buckley would probably been voted off.
posted by Frank Grimes at 2:47 PM on March 8, 2008


At this moment it's #1 at iTunes.

That's probably very good news for Leonard Cohen, who, sadly, had a lot of his savings siphoned off just a few years back by his manager.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:43 PM on March 8, 2008


Mr. Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame this evening. At the ceremony Damien Rice performed Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah.
posted by Tenuki at 8:16 PM on March 10, 2008


Here's the video of Cohen's acceptance speech.
posted by Optamystic at 7:05 AM on March 11, 2008


Thanks for posting that link, Optamystic. When Cohen recited his wonderful "Tower of Song" as his acceptance speech, I noticed that a lot of the audience members laughed fully, genuinely and heartily at several of the lines, which are indeed very funny. It occurred to me, though, that that seemed like the kind of hearty laughter that you'd really only get from someone hearing the lines for the first time, and I guess it might be true that many of those folks in the audience may indeed have been hearing (or at least paying real attention to) that for the first time. Which, considering the nature of the event, is a bit of an odd thought...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:45 AM on March 11, 2008


Speaking of Cohen's funniness, here's Philip Glass on the subject:
When Leonard Cohen first read his poetry to Philip Glass, there were times when the composer was beside himself with laughter.

"They're hilariously funny," Glass says. "I was rolling on the ground. We were out in Los Angeles in a friend's house. There was a nice green lawn. We were sitting on the lawn. I found it funny."
From an interview in The Sydney Morning-Herald. Philip Glass has set a number of Cohen's poems to music.
posted by Kattullus at 8:16 AM on March 11, 2008


Cohen recited his wonderful "Tower of Song" as his acceptance speech

I would pay quite a lot for a boxed set of Leonard Cohen just reading his lyrics/poetry.
posted by Tenuki at 9:53 AM on March 11, 2008


I didn't read this thread but fuck I love Leonard Cohen. Can we talk about So Long Marianne or something?
posted by ludwig_van at 9:22 PM on March 11, 2008


"They're hilariously funny," Glass says. "I was rolling on the ground. We were out in Los Angeles in a friend's house. There was a nice green lawn. We were sitting on the lawn. I found it funny."

"And we were both stoned out of our gourds." Honestly, he might as well have said it straight out.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:16 PM on March 11, 2008


CBC's "Q" interviewed the author of the essay just now... The podcast.
posted by GuyZero at 8:06 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


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