It’s A Cold And It’s A Broken Hallelujah
Thirty years ago this December (January for the United States and Europe), Leonard Cohen released Various Positions – his seventh studio album. And buried in this collection of songs is one of the greatest songs ever written: the oft-covered ‘Hallelujah.’
An interesting thing about ‘Hallelujah’ is that everyone who knows the song seems to fiercely defend a particular version. Some swear by Cohen’s original, some by Jeff Buckley’s, still other John Cale’s, and still others Rufus Wainwright’s. That doesn’t even include all the other versions that I am choosing not to mention. It’s hard to argue the song even belongs to Cohen anymore; it’s been adopted by the music world at-large and has the feel of a song that is probably going to survive across the centuries of music history, and will ultimately, like so many traditional songs before it, outlive its author to the point when people forget who the author even was.
Of all the chief players mentioned above, I like Cohen’s the least. But lest Cohen disciples chastise me for blasphemy, let me offer this point to support this opinion: I think all versions ultimately come up short and it has nothing to do with them being bad. The reason I believe ‘Hallelujah’ is one of the greatest songs ever written is because I think it is one of those rare songs that is so good that no artist can rise to meet it – not even its original composer. And in this writer’s opinion, that’s exactly what has happened.
But Various Positions actually has eight other songs, too. And some of them rule something fierce. Cohen, more than almost any artist I can come up with, feels like he could just as easily be the Devil incarnate as he could be God incarnate. There’s a duality to these songs that is both prophetic and proverbial; they’re full of warning, but also full of teaching.
Dance us to the end, Leonard Cohen. If he doesn’t make it that long, his songs will surely be there to finish the job.