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Today, “Hallelujah” is one of the most-performed rock songs in history. It has become a staple of movies and television shows as diverse as Shrek and The West Wing, of tribute videos and telethons. It has been covered by hundreds of artists, including Bob Dylan, U2, Justin Timberlake, and k.d. lang, and it is played ...
Today, “Hallelujah” is one of the most-performed rock songs in history. It has become a staple of movies and television shows as diverse as Shrek and The West Wing, of tribute videos and telethons. It has been covered by hundreds of artists, including Bob Dylan, U2, Justin Timberlake, and k.d. lang, and it is played every year at countless events—both sacred and secular—around the world.
Yet when music legend Leonard Cohen first wrote and recorded “Hallelujah,” it was for an album rejected by his longtime record label. Ten years later, charismatic newcomer Jeff Buckley reimagined the song for his much-anticipated debut album, Grace. Three years after that, Buckley would be dead, his album largely unknown, and “Hallelujah” still unreleased as a single. After two such commercially disappointing outings, how did one obscure song become an international anthem for human triumph and tragedy, a song each successive generation seems to feel they have discovered and claimed as uniquely their own?
Through in-depth interviews with its interpreters and the key figures who were actually there for its original recordings, acclaimed music journalist Alan Light follows the improbable journey of “Hallelujah” straight to the heart of popular culture. The Holy or the Broken gives insight into how great songs come to be, how they come to be listened to, and how they can be forever reinterpreted.
Posted April 5, 2013
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.
Posted February 8, 2013
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
Posted February 6, 2013
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2013
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 10, 2013
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