Speaking of Music . . .

The use of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" to promote religious videos/messages has always puzzled me in the extreme.

Cohen's "Hallelujah" is the mirror image to the Song of Solomon and passages by Old Testament prophets who use romantic images to discuss religious themes. In "Hallelujah," Leonard Cohen uses religious iconography to discuss romantic love.  David and Samson are evoked as confused and uncertain lovers who are overwhelmed by their beloveds. The song is about heartbreak (which makes it particularly odd when played at weddings). Specifically, the song is about how heartbreak can echo the pain or disillusionment of spiritual doubt.

Spiritual doubt is evoked to make the point about love, not love to make the point about spiritual doubt.

It is a magnificent song and requires a powerhouse voice to deliver its meaning. K.D. Lang's rendition (see above) defies orientation, speaking as it does to men and women. And it gets the meaning right.

As for context: the song is about romance yet it has been applied to multiple settings from weddings (mentioned above) to Shrek, the Winter Olympics, an episode of Without a Trace, and an episode of Numb3rs, which last uses it entirely appropriately.

The episode from Numb3rs is "Provenance" about the provenance (history) of a painting that was looted by the Nazis. The song plays in the background when the original painting is restored to the Jewish family who went to court to retrieve it; the scene is well-acted by the magnificent Gena Rowlands. The song works because the music itself carries an underscoring of triumph, yet the painting, like the lyrics, represent heartbreak: Gena Rowlands' character lost her entire family to the Holocaust. The music, lyrics, and scene echo the loss of family and race rather than the loss of an intimate relationship, yet, in this case, it works.

The song is meant for popular culture--transcendence within secularism--not religious ceremonies.

MOST RECOGNIZED LYRICS (combination of 1984 and 1988 versions; nearly all versions are cut or combined):

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 and 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 her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby, I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
But love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me, do you?
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Maybe there's a God above
All I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

1 comment:

Katherine Woodbury said...

"Hallelujah" has also appeared in Blue Bloods and Cold Case and CSI—apparently, the song is popular with mystery shows. Actually, according to several online sources, it is popular with everyone; “almost all [shows] use it that don’t use ‘Amazing Grace’”—Gail Upp :)