Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" gets no rest - Macleans.ca

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” gets no rest


Yet another version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” this one sung by Matt Morris and Justin Timberlake on the U.S. Hope for Haiti TV telethon, is now one of the hottest singles on iTunes. This in blatant defiance of Cohen’s request, after countless covers, some of them pretty big hits, that everybody give “Hallelujah” a rest. Given the cause I figure he’ll be okay with the moratorium being broken. (Our Brian D. Johnson probed the lasting allure of “Hallelujah” last year.)


Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” gets no rest

  1. I downloaded the "Hope for Haiti Now" album pretty much on the strength of that cover, and two or three of the other performances. I hope Cohen's okay with it, because it's a great version.

    By the way, there's a hiccup with your "…defiance of Cohen's request" hyperlink.

    • Fixed that link. Thanks.

  2. I held my breath and expected the worst but they did the song and the occasion justice.

  3. Poetic justice! Cohen didn’t just take the name of the lord in vain with his ‘Hallelujah’ which is meant to be a joyful, not a mournful, chorus. He took the name ‘Truth’ in vain, saying “hey, I don’t even know that name. ” And he took the name ‘Musik’ in vain, saying ” hey you don’t really care for music, do ya? It goes like this…”.
    For my part, I am quite tickled that Cohen in his Tower has to suffer the endless performances and parodies that taken as a whole seek to redeem His Name, that seek to keep him in the fold until he writes the True Hallelujah. I don’t think it’s in him. Do you? Oh do not ask…

    Karen Krisfalusi

    • I'm not exactly sure what you're getting at, Karen, but I have a hunch Cohen addressed it in "If It Be Your Will."

  4. Oh thanks for your reply!
    I meant to say there’s no love or praise for God in Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ that isn’t subsumed by irony. So then he shouldn’t have written a ‘Hallelujah’ and he well knows it. Still he profitted from the song, never substituting the verses for truer ones. ‘If it be your will’ is a repudiation responsibility. There he says ‘if it be your will …then…I will sing your praises.’ again, he can’t sing God’s praises now can he? And he clings to the poet’s claim that words can’t express truth. They can, as much as anything, equally with anything, especially when you’ve mastered language. In that case, you may have to leave poetry and music behind, which is the sentiment of ‘if it be your will’ carries best.

    • When he sings "And even though It all went wrong/ I'll stand before the Lord of Song/With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah", does it really sound "subsumed by irony" to you?

      • Yes of course because the ‘nothing’ is a ‘ broken’ Hallelujah and in effect, he’s saying he can live a wrong life, fail and that he still has recourse to God. It’s a black and white challenge — he saying if he speaks he lies, so he’ll say a broken Hallelujah in a mournful chord and all is forgiven! Look, if I was talking to Leonard Cohen he’d have no difficulty understanding my sentiments. I’ll sing his song today and put it on my blog alongside ‘Suzanne’ and ‘If it be your will’. Jesus is broken, I’m broken and the old poet is still broken, OK?

      • I think Cohen doesn't actually regret the irony in his Hallelujah. He regrets the overplay and so I actually give him too much credit. As to that last verse you mentioned, the irony is throughout: "Maybe…" there's a God above.. "But"…all I ever learned from love was how to SHOOT…and though it all went wrong I stand before the Lord of SONG…with nothing but this….__See he's not praising God at all. It's a dark and it's a lying Hallelujah.

      • I was wrong! Some things are hard to understand….
        Now I find that I am not signed in automatically to Macleans from my WordPress account. Do you know anything about that?

  5. Does anyone know who actually gets the publishing money for the song "Hallelujah"? I recall a year or two ago when it was the big Christmas single for the X Factor television show in the UK, it was said then that Simon Cowell's Syco, or, at the very least, Sony gets any money, and not Leonard Cohen.

    As for covers, sure, there are schmaltzy versions trotted out for the Junos and awards shows, but, there are also some very beautiful, genuine, interpretations heard and that aren't milking the song for revenues.

    It's now a folk song loved by people all over the planet. No point trying to put a lid on it. Let it fly.