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March 2017



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twain & tesla

the baffled king composing hallelujah

So how old are you, and what's your favorite version of "Hallelujah"?

In continutation of the Gross Leonard Cohen Earworm (apparently "Hallelujah" is the meme that will not quit this week) of the last few days, inauroillium just posted an an interesting link about the evolution and major versions of the song in a comment thread on cvillette's journal.

It is here, at clapclap.org.

I read it with interest. It's really fascinating.

In full disclosure, I should mention that I have... 14 versions of "Hallelujah," by 11 different artists, including three Cohen versions. (I would like the k.d. lang live versions and the Imogen Heap, but haven't tracked them down yet. Really though, I think the jewel of the collection is the Willie Nelson. He also does a bangup job with "Bird on a Wire.")

And I'm also going to talk in sweeping generalities here, and please be aware that I am talking about observed trends rather than categorical truths here, and that I'm aware that sweeping generalities are bull puckey.

But I think I really disagree with the reviewer's conclusion. I suspect that what's going on here is actually the opposite process, in which a bunch of forty/thirty/twenty-something musicians who grew up as part of far more ironical generations have found this amazing song seemingly neglected by their elders, and are covering the hell out of it.

And being limited by not being what Cohen is--which is to say, a mad freaking genius of irony and layering and evocation, the musical prodigies in my peer group are just not managing to get into it what he does. But in simplifying it they are making it more accessible to a wider range of people.

I have no idea how old the critic is, but the important data point he's missing is that a statistically significant chunk of my generation (I'm 36) and that of my immediately younger peers (in their twenties) love Leonard Cohen. Adore him. And, well, listen to his albums. Or songs, because we're often not so much an album-listening bunch.

I am going off anecdote here, and we all know what that's worth, but it seems to me that it's often baby boomers I hear calling the Buckley version "the definitive" one. (There are of course exception to this.) I think Cohen was just too ironical and fucked up for my parent's generation, who seem as a group (again, there are exceptions) to tend to prefer music that is more sincere. Cohen is not sincere. Cohen is yanking your chain, and that's a trick more commonly employed by people my age. (And the musicians of our parents' generations (because our parents span two generations) we've held on to--David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop. I had a great discussion with some friends at the climbing gym a couple of weeks ago regarding what the cutoff line for really, really, really liking Bruce Springsteen was. Determination: it's somewhere between me and the 39-year-old, and he may in fact be the line.)

So I would gess that that is a contributing factor in why metric tons of musicians (and music fans) in Gen X and Gen Y are obsessed with "Hallelujah," while our older compatriots prefer "Suzanne." Which is a perfectly nice song, don't get me wrong, but by contrast, you should hear my twenty-something friends talk about "Famous Blue Raincoat" and how they are trying to write stories around it. (Also a heavily covered song, these days. It used to be "Bird on a Wire" that got all the love.)

I'm not going to make any case that bitter ironicism is somehow more genuine than sincerity (because actually, I suspect it's a generational defense mechanism and the opposite is true). But we like "Hallelujah" because it's layered in irony and self-contradition and comes at the same thing from twenty angles. (Also, as a generation, we love weird-ass covers. Love them. When I heard Patti Smith was doing a covers album, I danced in the streets.)

Interestingly, because I don't watch enough TV to stay at all hip to current pop cultural trends, the first time I heard a cover of "Hallelujah" used in a TV show was at the end of an S1 episode of Criminal Minds. Where it is used over a brutally ironic montage of man-on-the-street interviews responding to an officer-involved shooting. Which is a good (legal) shoot, but may or may not have been engineered by the shooter--with or without his partner's knowledge. Oh, and they never tell you, either. You're left to construct the narrative on your own.)

I told the truth.
I didn't come to fool you.

I'm going to be out for most of the day, so feel free to amuse yourself arguing or agreeing in the comment threads. ;-)


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the first time I heard a cover of "Hallelujah" used in a TV show was at the end of an S1 episode of Criminal Minds. Where it is used over a brutally ironic montage of man-on-the-street interviews responding to an officer-involved shooting.

And of course, that was one of the ones that they only got--or could only get--broadcast rights for, not reproduction rights for the DVD. So the song over the montage on the DVD is not "Hallelujah" in any of its possible forms. (Sigh.)

It makes me sad.
The original Cohen version; I'm 58. [Confession: I also really like Suzanne, but more to sing, with guitar, than to listen to.]

My second favorite is the k.d. lang version.

(Mostly, I listen to classical; favorite composers are Bach and Mozart - hey, I started organ lessons when I was 7 - but then there's the shimmery loveliness of Debussy, and the heartbreak of Tchaikovsky, and Puccini opera and and...)
My favorite versions would be Cohen's and John Cale's, but honestly, it's never been one of my favorite Cohen songs. Those would be "Sisters of Mercy," and most of New Skin for the Old Ceremony (especially "There is a War"), which I always think of as being a sixties album but is from 1974. Oh, and I'm 42, and didn't hear any of this stuff until I was at least seventeen (which was before his "comeback" in the mid-80s).
I didn't see that you for-sure had a link to the live lang version, but here it is. I ripped that from the YouTube version of it so I could listen to it over and over.

It was the first version I ever heard, and I think, as someone else said, I "imprinted" on it. I like Buckley's version as well. I adore Cohen's poetry and his lyrics, but his music remains pretty impenetrable to me.

This is a version of Dace Me to the End of Love by Kate Gibson that I love. Off the Strange Days soundtrack.
Thank you!

Strange Days is a movie I love....
I'm 40. My fave version is by John Cale, on the fab tribute album "I'm your Fan."
I discovered Hallelujah via the version appearing on Shrek, so the Cale or the Wainwright are usually my go-tos (Cale did the version which appears in the movie, but Wainwright's near-perfect cover of that one is on the soundtrack, according to the comments on the clapclap piece). I didn't know it was a Cohen song until I read that piece, and I promptly downloaded both the original and the live Cohen versions, along with the lang studio and live versions (available on iTunes), Willie's version, and Buckley's live version, for a current total of 9 versions from 6 artists. I expect that will expand.
And I agree with your conclusions far more than the fellow and clapclap. Cohen's version never got this kind of popularity because it just wasn't accessible to people. Cole and Buckley made versions that really touched people. It's not that there isn't irony in them (because lord knows our generation wouldn't put up with a lack of irony, and anyway the irony's built into the lyrics: "Your faith was strong but you needed proof"), it's that the irony compliments the emotion.
Can you suggest any more versions I absolutely need to add to my collection?
I suspect this may already have been linked somewhere here, but have forty-odd covers including the Heap one.

Personally, I (age 26) don't especially like Cohen himself; his voice doesn't do much for me (except Tower of Song, which is awesome *g*). But the Buckley cover - and kd lang's, too - gorgeous. Buckley's guitar work on that is just amazing.

Because covers are my s00per sekrit anti-drug

If you (or anyone else) wants the Imogen Heap version, have it: Imogen Heap - Hallelujah (Cover).mp3.

I sort of have a secret fascinating for covers, especially covers which reinvent a song that I know well and have heard lots of times.

Frankly, I think her version might actually be the best cover I've ever heard. Rufus Wainright did a credible cover for the Shrek album, and some other people, both obscure and well known, have also done good covers.

But Imogen Heap? Really owns the song, not only with the expansive, haunting quality of her voice - but she also strips down all distractions, all the instrumentation. It's just her and the song, basically. I still get chills from it and iTunes says that the playcount for it stands at 47 (more if you count iPod playage).

Re: Because covers are my s00per sekrit anti-drug

Thank you!
There's a sax version out there -- I can't for my life recall who it is, but maybe the Chris Botti one linked on that massive list? -- which I really enjoy. Yeah, the words aren't there, but we all know them by heart now, so...

(22 here, and let me also disclaim that I really enjoy most of the other versions I've heard as well.)
I'm thirty-three (for another couple of weeks), and "my" version is the 1984 Leonard Cohen one (four verses, beginning "Well, I heard there was a secret chord/ That David played, and it pleased the Lord ..." and ending "... I'll stand before the Lord of Song/ With nothing on my tongue but 'Hallelujah'"). Those four verses are now hardwired into my singing brain, because after I made the mistake of singing them to my then three-year-old, I had to repeat the performance four or five times every night at bedtime for most of a year.

And still I love it, and listen to it in my head at odd moments -- although my all-time favourite Leonard Cohen song is the rather wacked-out "Closing Time".
I'm a year or two older than you, I think, and I have no idea what you're talking about. To me, "Hallelujah" is a nifty piece of not-my-holiday choral music.

And Leonard Cohen is a musician you talk about a lot.

P.S.: Springsteen's okay.
I am 39-A years of age (I know a number comes after 39, but cannot yet bring myself to say its name).
Of those I've heard, Cohen, then Lang, then Wainright.
I got turned onto Cohen when I was maybe fifteen...My mother is English/Irish living in a small town in Iowa. The company my father retired from brought a lot of folks (Engineers, mainly) from England in the 80's, because they couldn't get American engineers to move to a hog-processing town in Iowa for any amount of money. I babysat one summer for a young couple who had three boys (about six, four, and one...I was very brave then), and spent much time with her record collection (you whippersnappers remember records, right? Looked like frisbees with grooves in, music came out of them?). She had seceral of the older Cohen albums. The Partisan is the song that stayed with me the longest.
I also like Springsteen, but only before "Born in the USA".
I'm 34, and my favorite version is Brandi Carlile's cover, which has not (sadly) yet been recorded, but she closes almost every concert with it. It's straightforward, and yet heartbreaking.

Also, I was not actually exposed to leonard cohen to know who he was until 2 years ago; I realize that I heard the song "Everybody Knows" well before then, but never knew who did it (vaguely thought it might be Warren Zevon. oops.)
I do believe it's on iTunes, though. And you can get a recording of on Tucson's 92.9 The Mountain Studio C album (Vol 1). (I was there for that recording due to amazingly lucky chance and yep, wow!)

So I would guess that that is a contributing factor in why metric tons of musicians (and music fans) in Gen X and Gen Y are obsessed with "Hallelujah," while our older compatriots prefer "Suzanne." Which is a perfectly nice song, don't get me wrong, but by contrast, you should hear my twenty-something friends talk about "Famous Blue Raincoat" and how they are trying to write stories around it. (Also a heavily covered song, these days. It used to be "Bird on a Wire" that got all the love.)

I think this sweeping generalization about us boring old farts preferring "Suzanne" and its like is somewhat askew. Most of the doddering, phthisic Cohen fans I know rate highly the same songs you young slips of things are -- what's the withit term? ah, yes, "bopping" -- you young slips of things are bopping to.

'Scuse me while I go find my teeth.
Actually, i think my fave this week is "There is a War."

Brandi Carlile

As someone about to turn 30, my husband and I have our favorite version as the one by Brandi Carlile. It's not on any of her albums, but is available on iTunes and our local radio station's CD of songs done by artists when they come to town.

The first time we heard it was when Brandi opened for Tori Amos about 3 or so years ago. It was just her, a guitar and the microphone. I've heard her do it at every concert of hers we've been to since (about 5ish) and she channels something great into that room and leaves everyone just limp with emotion.
I came to the song from Buckley's version, at the beginning of my marriage and that's the one that can still make me cry. But that's at least as much about having seen him do it live. Damien Rice's version is the one that haunts me next, due to his being an obvious tribute to Buckley, usually embedded in that damn "cold water" song, and the fact that I saw him perform it at the same venue we saw Buckley.

As far as taking my personal experience out of it, the one that moves me without context is Cohen's version with the set of lyrics buckley/rufus/damo didn't use. "I'll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah" laid me out the first time I heard it. In one variation or another, it is always my absolute favorite song, and that and Famous Blue Raincoat led me to the rest of cohen's work. which I couldn't be more grateful for.

I'm 33.

Also, but no Hallelujah

If It Be Your Will, Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), from the soundtrack of "I'm Your Man", which if you haven't seen I will buy a copy.
I've been a Cohen fan for 40 years, but for this song, hands-down, the k.d. lang version -- from the Sydney Opera House.
(On You Tube: http:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlXV19TykLY&feature=related)

When I was finishing the first draft of my novel, last summer, I played that clip over and over, a couple of times a day. It got me through, it nourished me, it made me sing.

Her version on the Candadian CD, and the CBC version on YouTube just don't have the same feeling.

Don't know why...
It's got more bottom, I think. She sounds like she means it.

Which, the other two are too light. Or something.
31. So far, the live Cale version with the String quartet has all the others I've heard beat (His studio version seems a bit more emotionally flat, though the excerpts they snuck into Shrek were effective in their place.), but I haven't heard K.D. Lang or a couple of others cited above, and it's too late at night to wander youtube. Jeff Buckley is good if you can't get to the other versions, or you're feeling especially like a melodramatic pretty-boy.

Both the Cohen versions are a lot higher up than they used to be. I went through a long phase of not understanding why one of our family friends was gaga over this guy who couldn't sing. Then I started getting into him via most of The Future (Except the title track, which I find too bitter even for me.) And I started to figure out what he was doing with that voice, and that it wasn't exactly accidental.

And mom is probably an outlier on Springsteen, since she certainly LOVED him for a long time before many. (I grew up on Springsteen, Bowie, Beethoven, Mozart, and Dire Straits. We wanted to marry her off to Mark Knopfler, but never could figure out how.)
Man, if you were married to Mark, he would sit on the couch and practice guitar.

That's a good enough reason to marry.
Well, I've just found my teeth, so I can agree that us old farts aren't as easily stereotyped as all that. I've been fascinated by Leonard Cohen since I read "Beautiful Losers" in 1969, and started to listen more carefully to the lyrics of "Bird on a Wire" and "Sisters of Mercy". I like just about all of his songs, and (despite how bad his voice is) can listen to him singing them for extended periods of time (though 3 days sounds extreme). I have trouble choosing between covers; there's so much in almost every one of his songs that yet another singer can usually find a new angle that hasn't been done before. But if I had to I think I'd pick the Wainwrights, partly I suppose because I've been a fan of them and their Dad for a very long time (and, yes, I recognize just how different they are).

Listen, there's nothing new about irony. We been ironin' now for quite a long time; please to remember that the word "hipster" was invented in the 1950s. Not to say we did it any better or worse than you guys do it now, but I don't think you can really see it as an attribute of an entire generation (or not); there are ironists and there are those of the "realist" persuasion. Sometimes there are more ironists than others, true, but the motives ("that which pushes") are the same. And you can hang out on the lawn as long as you like.

Speaking of covers, did anyone else see the film "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man"? It's built around the tribute concert in 2005, but has some interesting interstitial material, including interviews with the man and some of his admirers (and proves thereby that with a man and an artist whose work is that complex even smart people can be led astray to thinking that he is an enigma. Complex I'll give you, but his motives are clear). It may be the single best concert film I've ever seen; I'd really like to stand the director a beer of two for not having his camerapeople wandering all over the stage during a song. And the result is that it concentrates on the singers and the song, and not on the "experience" of the concert.

It occurs to me to say what moves me most about Cohen: he searches for and brings us back beauty, but his definition of beauty is as wide as the universe.
Just a quick sidenote, the word "hipster" was around in the 20s, see Mezz Mezzrow "Really the Blues".
I like Sprinsteen, I'm going on 41. Friends of mine (at 44, 44, and 45) like Springsteen. Maybe not the raging fanboy sort of love, but we are fans.

I recall being exposed to Cohen (would have been in the late '80s. IIRC it was Joan Armatrading covering, "First We Take Manhattan".

I was in love. That Album (I'm your man) is full of the sort of layered irony (Take this waltz is just wonderful, and touching, poignant, vicious, notalgic and bitter). The sexual innuendo was subtle, and blatant.

Perhaps, however, I (and my friends) aren't typical.

mmm. Yeah, "I'm Your Man" is hard to beat.


It's raining 300 men...
I haven't read the (wow!) 195 comments yet, likely it's all bin sed. But I don't agree that Leonard Cohen wasn't sincere (at least, as sincere as he knew how to be, which gets into areas of innate goodness and whatnot); nor that irony is an opposite of sincerity. I see him as very self-involved, and rarely is anything more sincere than that. *g* Forgive me, I'm still reeling from the impact the phrase "my parents' generation" had on me. I'll be 60 in July.

But then, I also don't see the others on your "yanking your chain" list that way either, except Bowie of course. You undoubtedly know their work better than I do. Willie Nelson on the other hand, I'm not so sure! *g* *Man* the guy knows how to do it! I was so stunned when I heard his "America the Beautiful" in that 9/11 special. But where exactly does the line fall between knowing what you are doing and insincerity... always a puzzler.

I think my own all-time Cohen fave was "Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye". But there's no doubt "Hallelujah" is a great song. I think the first show I heard the cover on was "West Wing", since then it's been used on just about every show where anyone ever died. *g* Always the same guy, Buckley I guess. He just has a smoother simpler voice than Cohen so tv would go for it. Also I'm not sure some of those whippersnapper musical directors *knew* there was an older version. *g*

A line in the clapclap article that stonkered me: "But wasn't the whole point of the 90s that things shouldn't be commodified, especially culture?" Er -- it was? I thought, from listening to its music, the whole point of the 90s was "Sell out early, sell out often." But then, I fail to see the radiant beauty of "The OC", also. *hangs head*

I disagreed with him also about the 60s lukewarm recognition of Cohen. He was a god to some of us, along with John Fahey and the Velvet Underground.

And "Pre-corporate past of the music industry?" The 60s? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! ah, kids these days, they say the darnedest things.
I'm firmly in the Buckley camp because his voice is so damn beautiful, it gives me goosebumps and breaks my heart at the same time. His Grace album is one of my favorites, ever. But I do think, too, that the first version we hear of a song, whether or not it's the original, tends to stick with us.

Cohen is a genius, as is Bob Dylan, but their voices are like nails on a chalkboard to me. My definitive version of All Along the Watchtower is Hendrix's, not Dylan's. Blasphemy, I know.
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