from Various Positions

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord,
but you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
the minor fall, the major lift;
the baffled king composing Hallelujah!

Your faith was strong but you needed proof.
You saw her bathing on the roof;
her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.
She tied you to a kitchen chair
she broke your throne, she cut your hair,
and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah!

You say I took the Name in vain;
I don't even know the name.
But if I did, well, really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word;
It doesn't matter which you heard;
the holy, or the broken Hallelujah!

I did my best; it wasn't much.
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch.
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

Copyright © 1988 by Leonard Cohen
and Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada Company

from Cohen Live and
More Best Of Leonard Cohen

Baby, I've been here before.
I know this room, I've walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch,
but listen, love is not some kind of victory march,
it's cold and it's a very broken Hallelujah!

There was a time you let me know
what's really going on below
but now you never show it to me, do you?
I remember when I moved in you,
and the holy dove she was moving too,
and every single breath we drew was Hallelujah!

Now maybe there's a God above
but as for me all I ever seem to learn from love
is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
And it's not a complaint you'll hear tonight,
it's not the laughter of someone
who claims to have seen the light --
it's a cold and it's a lonely Hallelujah!

I did my best; it wasn't much.
I couldn't feel, so I learned to touch.
I've told the truth, I didn't come all this way to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I'll stand right here before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

Copyright © 1994, 1997 by Leonard Cohen
and Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada Company

The following article is from The Denver Post, November 18, 2001.

Leonard Cohen's Unlikely Debt
to a Famous Green Ogre

by Steven Rosen

Movies can bring unexpected fame to unusual songs, making contemporary standards out of tunes too forceful for bland, timid commercial radio stations to ever play.

"O Brother, Where Art Thou's" use of newly recorded versions of mountain-music and traditional-folk tunes found a public hungry for the haunted sounds of "old, weird America," to use writer Greil Marcus' term, in an age of processed teen-pop and redundant rap-metal rock.

The soundtrack, released late last year, became the nation's top-selling country album. And it made a pop star of sorts out of the septuagenarian mountain-music veteran Ralph Stanley, whose chilling and mournful version of "O Death" was its highlight.

But this year has a surprise perhaps even greater - the turning of Leonard Cohen's deeply spiritual and sexually frank song "Hallelujah" into a youth- and family-friendly musical highlight of Shrek. At times dark and melancholy, yet also melodically and emotionally uplifting, "Hallelujah," with its biblical references, is not a typical pop song.

It's also on Shrek's best-selling soundtrack, nestling alongside such bouncy, snappy confections as Smash Mouth's "All Star" and Baha Men's "Best Years of Our Lives."

Since Cohen first recorded "Hallelujah" in 1984, it has slowly become a favorite of both his fans and other singers such as Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan, who have recorded or performed it in concert. But it was never anything close to a hit, nor a beneficiary of significant radio play. It just didn't seem to be connected to the youth-oriented nature of pop culture.

Shrek, a computer-animated "fractured fairy tale" starring a misunderstood green ogre with bugle-shaped ears and his talking-donkey pal, has changed that.

The Shrek CD, containing a version of Cohen's composition by the young balladeer Rufus Wainwright, has sold in excess of 500,000 copies so far. The movie, which features a sonorous and achingly yearning version of the song by veteran singer John Cale, has grossed $267.2 million.

Released on video and DVD on Oct. 30, Shrek immediately became the fastest-selling DVD ever - 2.5 million copies in its first week, according to Zap2it.com. And 4.5 million copies of the video were sold in that same time, too.

In the film, "Hallelujah" accompanies the movie's key scene, emotionally. The ogre Shrek has mistakenly concluded that Princess Fiona, with whom he is smitten, finds him ugly. So he abandons her and also gruffly abandons his loyal talking donkey. So she reluctantly decides to marry the vain Lord Farquaad, whom she dislikes.

Using cross-cutting to create parallel story construction as the (condensed) Cale version plays, directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson show Shrek moping in his barren and primitive shack while a regretful Princess Fiona is fitted with her wedding gown. And the lonely donkey rests by a brook, where he meets a forlorn dragon.

The song begins:

"I heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah."

"The animators and filmmakers loved the song so much that they adapted that scene to fit it," said Marylata E. Jacob, DreamWorks Pictures' music supervisor, in a telephone interview. "We always knew we had to have a scene like that."

Shrek was designed to appeal to the whole family, not just for small children. But, according to Jacob, she didn't fear "Hallelujah" would be too difficult for kids. "I think people underestimate how smart children are," she said. "A lot of kids like 'All Star' because it's so familiar, others like 'Hallelujah' because it's so sophisticated."

Cohen, 67, is a Canadian poet who began composing and recording his own songs in the late-1960s.

Though he has a droll sense of humor, his growly and rumblingly low voice combined with his minor-key melodies and sometimes-despairing view of world affairs and romantic intimacy have made him an acquired taste.

In an online chat with fans after the release of his new Ten New Songs, Cohen said many have regarded him "as a morbid old depressive drone peddling suicide notes."

Still, some of his songs have become contemporary standards when recorded by others - "Suzanne" by Judy Collins, "Bird on a Wire" by Joe Cocker, "Everybody Knows" by Concrete Blonde.

He is also knowledgeable and interested in several religions, having been raised Jewish in Catholic Montreal and later becoming a disciple of Zen Buddhism. "Hallelujah" reflects those religious interests, as well as his ability to combine the sacred with the mysteriously erotic.

He works at a painstakingly slow pace, taking years between albums. Even after recording "Hallelujah" in 1984, he continued to rework it.

By 1988, when he recorded a live version for the Austin City Limits show (it appears on 1994's Cohen Live), new verses had replaced old to give the song an increased secular meaning. But the final verse remained:

"I did my best; it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I learned to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my lips (tongue) but Hallelujah!"

Cohen's record company declined an interview request for this story. But his comments on "Hallelujah" can be found at websites. At a 1985 Warsaw concert, he said this: "I know that there is an eye that watches all of us. There is a judgment that weighs everything we do. And before this great force, which is greater than any government, I stand in awe and I kneel in respect. And it is to this great judgment that I dedicate this next song."

The song began taking on a life apart from Cohen's recordings when Dylan added it to a few live shows in the late 1980s, much to Cohen's pleasure. Then Cale, a singer-songwriter in his own right and original member of the Velvet Underground, recorded his stand-out version for a 1991 Cohen tribute album, I'm Your Fan.

On another Cohen tribute album, 1995's Tower of Song, Bono recorded a raplike "Hallelujah." And this year, Canadian cabaret singer Patricia O'Callaghan recorded it for her album Real Emotional Girl. When she sang it before former President Clinton at a Toronto benefit, and he joined her onstage afterward for photos, it made headlines.

But perhaps the key version in furthering the song's "underground classic" status occurred in 1994, when Jeff Buckley recorded it for his debut full-length album, Grace. His ethereal yet solemn rendition, sung in a voice that was truly hymnlike, has been called "moody, solitary, and sweet" by critics. It came to be identified with Buckley, who subsequently drowned at age 30.

Although his short career rendered him more a cult figure - and the son of a cult figure, the late singer-songwriter Tim Buckley - than a star, his version keeps attracting attention and winning fans. Entertainment Weekly has noted that, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, VH-1 played it repeatedly.

Wainwright - himself the son of two singer-songwriters, Loud Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle - now has recorded the best-selling version. His is lovely and ruminative with a strong piano accompaniment.

"It's such an easy song to sing in that the melody is quite simple and straightforward," Wainwright said in a telephone interview. "The thing with that song and Leonard in general is the music never pummels the words. The melody is almost liturgical and conjures up religious feelings. When you listen to one of his songs, it's purifying."

For Shrek's help in making this song a recognizable contemporary standard, one can only say, Hallelujah!

Steven Rosen's e-mail address is srosenone@aol.com.

The following article is from Canada's National Post, September 2004.

Cohen between the Covers -- His "Hallelujah" Lent Itself to Dylan and Shrek

by Aaron Wherry

There is something quintessentially Canadian about the "songwriter's songwriter"-not simply because of our home and native land's long history with such artists (from Joni Mitchell to Ron Sexsmith), but because of the title's implications of both elitism and inadequacy.

Leonard Cohen might be the epitome of this. For all the ink that will be spilled this week on the occasion of his 70th birthday, popular appeal has never been his. But if there is a back door to the Society of Leonard Cohen Devotees, it is through the insular little idea of the songwriter's songwriter. So revered by his own kind-and those who aspire to be of his kind-Cohen has had his compositions covered by a wide swath of artists, offering both a testament to his talents and a thousand points of entry for those unfamiliar with his back catalogue.

"Hallelujah," though not his most reworked piece, might be the best example of this. On its own, it is trademark Cohen-full of sex, despair, theology, faith and humour. Drawn from a Biblical passage about King David, it both fulfills his reputation as a troubled soul and dispels it with what passes for a happy ending.

Recorded originally for his album Various Positions in 1984, it was later rewritten as a slightly more secular song (see Cohen Live, 1994). In either case, even in Cohen's growl, it is very much a hymn-something the late Jeff Buckley seized upon in recording the cover that appears on his landmark Grace (1994), a remarkable (in hindsight, haunting) vocal performance that would define him when he met an early death shortly thereafter.

Bob Dylan, with a lumbering electric guitar, has performed the song in concert, turning Cohen's ode into a garbled tale from the saddest, smartest drunk. Taking on "Hallelujah" for 1995's Cohen Tribute album, Tower of Song, U2's Bono stripped it down to a sparse, murky bit of ambient electronica for the dankest of dance clubs.

In Canada, both Patricia O'Callaghan and Allison Crowe have lent a feminine touch to the tale of male lust, but it would be John Cale (formerly of the Velvet Underground) who, on another tribute album, I'm Your Fan (1991), would record maybe the most widely heard of "Hallelujah" renditions-his somewhat maudlin version serenading a pivotal scene in the animated movie Shrek (though for the official soundtrack, a slightly bouncier rendition recorded by Rufus Wainwright was used).

Further info at www.leonardcohenfiles.com. More covers to be presented tonight at Toronto's Reservoir Lounge (52 Wellington St. E.) with O'Callaghan, Lily Frost, Maestro Fresh Wes, Reid Jamison, Robbie Roth and Theresa Tova scheduled to perform. For more information call James Greenspan at 416-530-1999.

Much gratitude to Joe Way for providing this article while playing hard.

The following article is from UK Sunday Times, January 9, 2005.

One Haunting Ballad Has Been the Soundtrack to Many Lives Recently. But Why?

by Bryan Appleyard

Songs are everywhere. We buy them and play them, of course, but we are also subjected to them in pubs, cafes, lifts and shops. You see people in cars singing along to the radio, and on trains they nod and rock to their MP3 players. Unthinkingly, we stroll along humming the latest pop pap. A visiting alien might reasonably conclude that we are sustained by songs rather than air, food or water. Songs are thus the dominant expressive form of our time. Yet most of them barely exist in our consciousness at all. Mass-produced drivel, they drift around the charts for a week or two, insinuate themselves into some particularly indiscriminating part of our brain for a while, and then are gone. Some have an afterlife as instant mood music for television shows, films or advertisements. But, by and large, songs are the supremely disposable art form of our time.

The exceptions are obvious. A few songs or performances are good enough to last, and some are just bad but evocative, and are therefore continuously recycled. Abbaís songs arenít as good as everybody says they are, but they work in a way that makes them eminently usable. Equally, almost any rubbish that struck it big in the late 1960s can now be used to sell stuff to the moist-eyed middle-aged, who have discovered, to their infinite sorrow, that they were not, in the event, born to be wild.

All of which brings me to the story of one particular song that seems, through some mysterious alchemy, to have done everything a modern song can do. Leonard Cohenís Hallelujah has been papped, drivelled, exploited and massacred. It has also produced some very great performances, and it is, in truth, a very great song. In a fundamental sense, at least partly intended by Cohen, it is a song about the contemporary condition of song.

Even if you think you havenít heard it, I can guarantee you have. It has been covered by, among many others, Allison Crowe, kd lang, Damien Rice, Bono, Sheryl Crow and Kathryn Williams. Bob Dylan has sung it live, a performance that has, apparently, been bootlegged. It has been used in films and on television. Rufus Wainwright sang it on the soundtrack of Shrek, Jeff Buckleyís version was used on The West Wing and The OC, John Cale sang it on Scrubs, and so on. Caleís is the best version I have heard ó pure, cold and scarcely inflected at all, it sends shivers down the spine.

Other songs may have been covered more ó in Cohenís oeuvre, Suzanne, with 124 versions, and Bird on the Wire, with 78, come out ahead of, at the last count, Hallelujahís 44. And other songs may have made it onto more soundtracks. But there is something unique about Hallelujah, something that tells us a great deal about who we now are. Cohen recorded it on his 1985 album Various Positions. It seemed destined, at that point, to remain in the same memory vault as most of his work. Fans would love it, aficionados would acknowledge it as a fine piece of songwriting, but otherwise it would just be an addition to the repertoire of great Cohen songs, a large though highly specialised musical sector.

Then, in 1994, Jeff Buckley released a version on his album Grace. This sold millions worldwide, and Graceís status was finally and fully elevated to "legendary" when Buckley drowned in the Mississippi in 1997. He was the son of Tim Buckley, an extraordinary singer-songwriter who had also died young in mysterious circumstances. A wild and fatal romanticism seemed to hang over the family, over Grace and over the song that everybody found themselves singing from that album, Hallelujah. It was, unquestionably, Buckleyís version rather than Cohenís that was to make the song universally recognisable.

This is fair enough. Buckley, like his father, had a phenomenal vocal range, and Cohen, famously, has not. Many of Cohenís best songs ó Alexandra Leaving, Famous Blue Raincoat ó are exactly suited to his low groan. But Hallelujah is not. It needs to be sung, and Buckley really sang it, whispering and screaming his way through its bitter verses. His interpretation is a little lush for me, but it was better than Cohenís, and it was exactly that lushness that projected it onto all those soundtracks and caught the attention of all those other singers.

What then became really odd about the song was the utterly contradictory way in which it was used and understood. This was, in part, due to the fact that Cohen seems to have written at least two versions. The first ended on a relatively upbeat note:

"And even though it all went wrong, Iíll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah!" It was this ending, curiously, that Dylan especially liked, as he told Cohen over coffee after a concert in Paris. Cohen sang him the last verse, saying it was "a rather joyous song". (Incidentally, during the same conversation, Cohen told Dylan that Hallelujah had taken a year to write. This startled Dylan. He pointed out that his average writing time was about 15 minutes.) Anyway, for once, Dylanís taste had led him astray, because the bleaker ending in the Buckley version is much better, in the sense that it is more consistent. There is no redemptive Lord of Song, the only lesson of love is "how to shoot at someone who outdrew you" and the only hallelujah is "cold and broken".

Encouraged by this apparently official duality, subsequent covers tinkered here and there with the words to the point where the song became protean, a set of possibilities rather than a fixed text. But only two possibilities predominated: either this was a wistful, ultimately feelgood song or it was an icy, bitter commentary on the futility of human relations.

It is easy to justify the first reading. There are the repeated hallelujahs of the soothingly hymn-like chorus, and there is a gently rocking tunefulness about the whole thing. This, if you didnít listen too closely, was what made it such perfect material for that supremely vacuous show The OC. Young, rich people ó especially in California ó often feel the need to look soulful and deep on camera, and the sound of doomed, youthful Buckley sighing Hallelujah as they all pondered the state of their relationships must have seemed about right.

But, of course, Cohen doesnít write songs like that. What he most commonly does is pour highly concentrated acid into very sweet and lyrical containers. Never in his entire career has he done this as well as he did in the second version of Hallelujah. The song begins with a statement about the pointlessness of art. Addressing a woman, Cohen writes of a secret chord discovered by King David. But he knows the woman doesnít really care for music. Nevertheless, he describes the lost music, as if to Bathsheba, the woman whose beauty overthrew David:

"Well, it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth The minor fall and the major lift The baffled king composing hallelujah."

The art is futile, because the woman doesnít care. Instead, she humiliates and destroys the man, though, even as she does so, "from your lips she drew the hallelujah". Man needs woman more than he needs art. The ejaculated hallelujah ó a cry of praise to the Lord ó is drawn forth not by Davidís secret chord, but by his subjugation to Bathsheba. The remainder of the song brilliantly weaves this theme through a cinematic description of a failed affair, combined with strange but delicate images of a military parade, a "holy dove" and a western shoot-out. The fourth verse comes close to a genuinely optimistic eroticism.

"But remember when I moved in you And the holy dove was moving too And every breath we drew was hallelujah."

But the lover concludes that there is nothing more to love than a "cold and broken hallelujah". Sexual love is, sadly, what we need, but is it what we want? It is hard to imagine a more bitterly subversive and countercultural question.

The aesthetic trick at the heart of this is the undermining of the word hallelujah. It means praise to the Lord, but it is, basically, just a musical sound, like lalala or yeah, yeah, yeah. Describing the chord structure in those three lines in the first verse makes the words, sort of literally, into the music.

Similarly, the chorus, which consists simply of the repetition of the word, is pure song, in which the words and music are inseparable. And it is a pure pop song or contemporary hymn - a catchy, uplifting tune and a comforting word. It has almost a sing-along quality. The words become the happy tune, the tune gets into your head and, once there, reveals itself as a serpent. For what you will actually be singing along to is arid sex, destroyed imagination, misogyny and emotional violence.

All of these have to be gone through to get to the "hallelujah": a romantic affirmation, certainly, but only of the pain of our predicament. After that conversation with Dylan, Cohen compared himself to Flaubert, meaning only that he was a slow writer. But he was more right than he knew. Like Flaubert, he sees the erotic as a kind of poison, deadening the artist and dragging him back to earth; and, like Flaubert, he delights in describing this awful insight. So, the Hallelujah that adorns the flaccid sexual crises in The OC and adds soul to the babbling shenanigans of The West Wing is a brilliant fake. It sounds like a pop song, but it isn't. Like the Velvet Underground's Heroin, Bob Dylan's Leopard-Skin Pill- Box Hat, John Phillips's Let It Bleed, Genevieve or even Frank Sinatra's I Get Along Without You Very Well, it is a tuneful but ironic mask worn to conceal bitter, atonal failure.

Of course, this is such an effective aesthetic trick precisely because of the way songs have seeped into our lives. Instrumental versions of Heroin or Let It Bleed, Genevieve - the first advocating the nihilism of addiction, the second about a man who cares nothing for his girlfriend miscarrying in the basement - would go perfectly well in a lift or clothes shop, just as Hallelujah can slot into almost any television show you can imagine.

These works use familiarity, even banality, as a weapon. They remind us that, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, there is a real world beyond the pap, that perhaps we should try listening rather than just hearing, that words like hallelujah just need a brief touch of genius to be brought back to life, and that Leonard Cohen, who was 70 last year, needs to be with us for a good few years yet.

Check out the Cale version: erotic failure never felt so good.

Thanks to the band of dedicated Cohen fans -- Tom S. and Paula and liverpoolken.


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