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The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah"

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  • Posted April 5, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The Holy or the Bro­ken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buck­ley, and the U

    The Holy or the Bro­ken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buck­ley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hal­lelu­jah" by Alan Light is a non-fiction book which traces the strange route of a song. That song, one of the most pop­u­lar ones in the world, is "Hal­lelu­jah" by mas­ter word­smith Leonard Cohen.

    The Holy or the Bro­ken by Alan Light is a fas­ci­nat­ing book about the cul­tural phe­nom­ena known as "Hal­lelu­jah". This is a song which I love but have never given much thought to it, the tune is sim­ple and I'm pos­i­tive that the first time I heard it; I believed that it was an old song I have heard before.

    Strangely, this marker of pop-culture is fairly new. Writ­ten in the 80's, "Hal­lelu­jah" was on the only Leonard Cohen album rejected by his record com­pany. I did my own, infor­mal and rather small sur­vey in which none of the par­tic­i­pants who knew and liked the song real­ized it was writ­ten as early as the 1980's. Many, like myself, thought it was writ­ten much ear­lier. Mr. Light said it best:

    Other [fans of the song] think that it's an ancient litur­gi­cal song, and are shocked when informed that it was writ­ten in the 1980s. Because it has reached so many more lis­ten­ers through inter­pre­ta­tion rather than through the author's own per­for­mances, now it mostly just seen like it's always been here.

    Mr. Light attrib­utes the phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess of the song to the fact that there is really no defin­i­tive ver­sion of it. Unlike, for exam­ple, "Imag­ine" which every changed lyric can cause mas­sive back­lash, "Hal­lelu­jah" is open for inter­pre­ta­tion and artists feel free to change the order of the ver­sus when needed.

    Light's research is deep and his analy­sis cov­ers the musi­cal / lyri­cal aspects of the song to the cul­tural phe­nom­ena which has swept the pop world in recent years. The author doesn't shy away from crit­i­cal analy­sis which I found to be enjoy­able and with­out any hid­den agendas.

    After giv­ing the reader a back­ground on the song's ori­gin and Mr. Cohen's career, the author dives into Jeff Buck­ley. The ill-fated singer included a somber ver­sion of the song on his land­mark album "Grace" (1994). When Buckley's young life ended, a cult fol­low­ing was estab­lished around the singer and the song.

    "Hal­lelu­jah" gained a mas­sive audi­ence from, iron­i­cally enough, a children's film. Dreamowrks' Shrek, the mas­sive block­buster, fea­tured the song in a key moment (sang by Rufus Wain­wright) and helped gal­va­nize it in the minds of young and old alike. From Shrek, the song's ascent was mete­oric as it became the "go to sad song" for TV sta­tions and movies, espe­cially after the 9/11 aftermath.

    "Hal­lelu­jah" was over­done and overused, but enter the age of the tele­vised singing con­tests and the need for a song which can make almost every­one sound good. Again, the song was drummed into the heads of another gen­er­a­tion, albeit at 90 sec­ond clips which the con­tests allow. Another twist in this fas­ci­nat­ing saga involves Mr. Cohen's finances, or lack thereof. Hav­ing spent five years in a Cal­i­for­nia monastery, Mr. Cohen dis­cov­ered that he has been lib­er­ated from his sav­ings but those he trusted and was forced to tour again after a 15 year inter­mis­sion. Soon Mr. Cohen dis­cov­ered that his beloved song has took on it's on life and mean­ing with each indi­vid­ual listener.

    The Holy or The Bro­ken is a thought­ful, illu­mi­nat­ing book writ­ten with style by a fan whose enthu­si­asm flows off the pages. The book is a plea­sure to read as the song plays in your head page after page.

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  • Posted February 8, 2013

    This book reads as though it began as a long magazine article on

    This book reads as though it began as a long magazine article on  the phenomenon of "Hallelujah".  Mr. Light's Jeff Buckley  obsession
     bloated  it into a (230) page book replete with minutiae that added little to his primary subject

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  • Posted February 6, 2013

    It's a pleasant, informative history on the song. It touches on

    It's a pleasant, informative history on the song. It touches on several artists who covered it, not just Cohen & Buckley. Being a huge JB fan, there was nothing I was particularly unfamiliar with on his end of things, but it was a nice walkthrough of the song's origin and development over the years.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    A Must read for Chen & Dylan fans

    Occasionally I read a biography and this one is very insightful. I was totally amaze to read the history of one of my favorite songs Hallelujah. Then I bought some of the CDs to go with it. I liked it enough to buy a 2nd copy as a gift. It is perfect for any Dylan or Cohan fan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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