Alan Light has been one of America’s leading music journalists for the past twenty years. He was a writer at Rolling Stone, founding music editor and editor-in-chief of Vibe, and editor-in-chief of Spin magazine. He has been a contributor to The New Yorker, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, and Mother Jones. He is the author of The Skills to Pay the Bills, an oral history of the Beastie Boys; The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”; and cowriter of the New York Times bestselling memoir by Gregg Allman, My Cross to Bear.
The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Asceby Alan Light
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/i>/b>/i>
“A venerated creator. An adored, tragic interpreter. An uncomplicated, memorable melody. Ambiguous, evocative words. Faith and uncertainty. Pain and pleasure.”
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.
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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.
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
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.
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.