Music Monday: Hallelujah

The song for today’s Music Monday (thanks Emily) is Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (as performed by Rufus Wainwright). It’s a beautiful, haunting, sad and joyful song. I don’t know when I first heard this song but I rediscovered it of all places in the Shrek soundtrack. I’ll have to watch Shrek again sometime just to see how they work it in. There are a number of versions available on YouTube and there’s a good article on the song on Wikipedia. (The YouTube link here is to the version used in the final episode of the first series of the OC).

Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen, performed by Rufus Wainwright)


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


Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, 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, and she cut your hair

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah


Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Baby I have 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

Love is not a victory march

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah


Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, 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?

And remember when I moved in you

The holy dark was moving too

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah


Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Maybe there’s a God above

And all I ever learned from Love

Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you

And it’s not a cry you can hear at night

It’s not somebody who’s seen the light

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.


Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah 


I love the way the first verse describes what happens in the music: “the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift”. The baffled composer is David but it’s also Cohen himself. Later on, two lines really stand out for me: “Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.” My immediate association was with the Obama victory. I suppose all the excitement about Obama is starting to wane a little now and I see some anxiety creeping in. Will he disappoint like so many of our other heroes in the past? Dick Jones reminds us that we should be naturally suspicious of anyone who seeks power. One blogger that I saw even made a connection with Fascist leaders like Hitler and recalled how they were initially received with adulation. Obama seems so far removed from those leaders that I think the comparison is completely misplaced. (I would rather go with those who see a paradigm shift in politics.) But I think the point about being wary of those in authority is a good one.

And I think I’m being perverse in seeing the Obama victory slowly turning into a “cold and broken Hallelujah”. I mean, give the guy a chance! He’s not even in office yet.

I’d love to know other people’s reactions to this song. One powerful association, for Americans anyway, is with the 9/11 tribute documentaries. And which version do you prefer? I like Rufus Wainwright’s performance (although not the YouTube version) but I have to admit that KD Lang nails those Hallelujahs.


10 Responses to Music Monday: Hallelujah

  1. Litlove says:

    I haven’t commented on any of the other song lyrics as I haven’t known the songs and somehow that’s mattered a lot. This song I love and it’s wonderful to see the lyrics written out as they’re never clear. I would never have thought of the Obama dimension. I thought it’s about love and the divine, about idealising the person you adore but having to come to terms with the fact that love, proper love, is something that’s been through the mill and out the other side. Maybe it’s not the best or the most vivid kind of love, but love broken and in submission ties individual intimacy into a kind of Christianity where sufferers turn to a savior. Oh I don’t know, I’m rambling this morning, but those are the kinds of links I would instinctually make.

  2. Pete says:

    Litlove – I like those rambles. Proper love as being more than adulation but rather having to do with surviving the brokenness. I never thought of the “cold and broken hallelujah” as a good thing but I see how it could be. Thanks for the associations – this helps me not to feel guilty about liking this song!

  3. Courtney says:

    Admittedly I am not as familiar with Cohen as I should be but this is a beautiful post and I know we have a couple of his albums sitting around here so I am going to listen to them this week. As for fear of being disappointed in Obama, what I am feeling more from my friends and family is an urgency to get him into office. We aren’t scared he’ll disappoint nearly as much as we just want him to get started. Bush is a lame duck and our country feels so very perilous…we just want him to be able to begin. We’ll go from there…

  4. Pete says:

    Courtney – I think Leonard Cohen is a bit like Bob Dylan in that he’s a great songwriter but not always the best person to sing his own songs. So I hope you’re not too disappointed. And that sounds like the right line of thinking on Obama too.

  5. openpalm says:

    there’s a fabulous version of this by k.d.lang.

  6. Emily Barton says:

    I wasn’t familiar with this, but loved it as I read it. I thought it was all about the imperfection of love, even a “religious, hallelujah” sort of love. But the imperfections don’t matter when it’s that sort of love. I’m not sure he’s really saying that, though. I think the imperfections are bothering him.

    The Obama question is an interesting one. The man certainly is poised to fall (or at least to disappoint), just like a mad love affair. How could he not be? However, often what develops after that initial rush and fall is a beautiful, long-lasting, and meaningful friendship that is far deeper than the initial rush. That’s what I’m looking forward to right now.

  7. Pete says:

    Openpalm – the k.d. lang version on YouTube is very good, although I prefer the slightly faster versions. She does have an amazing voice.

    Emily – I like your take on the Obama question. That’s a lovely way of thinking about it, that after the mad love affair there will be a beautiful, lasting friendship. And your interpretation of the imperfections of love in this song seems spot on. Thanks.

  8. Dick says:

    I’ll go for the old groaner’s original version any time, strong though the Wainwright and laing versions are. With Cohen’s vocal limitations and consequent lack of ornamentation, it’s a lot more about the song, not the singer.

    And my anarchist’s scepticism concerning those who seek power notwithstanding, isn’t it best to watch and wait before passing judgement of any kind, benign or negative?

  9. doctordi says:

    I’m with Dick. I love Leonard Cohen’s version of this song. But then again, I would, because I can’t even read the words without all the hairs on my arm standing up, I think it’s verging on transcendental, so my preference is all bound up with the words being his. The other version that is so lovely it’s painful is Jeff Buckley’s. You must listen to that – I can’t believe I’m comment no.9 and no one’s mentioned it yet.

    As for Obama, yes, he’s only human, he’s bound to disappoint, we all must, but his election allows the whole of the US to shrug a few things off its shoulders, and that’s a feeling that’s going to last.

  10. Pete says:

    Dick – good points but I think I’ll still stick with the version I heard first and thus liked first. I do like Cohen’s unornamented singing though. It’s got an honesty about it (which is what I also like about Dylan).

    Di – Thanks. Will check out the Buckley version. As for Obama, I’m amazed at all the ripples that are reverberating around the world, and will continue to do so for some time to come.

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