Today on the Virtual Book tour there are three stops (at least in theory). I’m interviewed at Broowaha (though they jumped the gun, date-wise). There’s a nice interview at As the Pages Turn, and a very short item at The Plot, where I’m scheduled to show up in more substantial form tomorrow.
Occasionally I blog about music here, on the strength of no expertise whatever. Although I was in a musical group for several years in my tragically well-spent youth, and am reputed to have a pretty nice voice, I never comprehended music theory, and have a lousy ear and very little sense of rhythm.
Nevertheless, sometimes a song hits me, mutates into an earworm, and won’t leave me alone until I blog about it. And so I’m going to meditate on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I’ve poked around YouTube looking for a cover I really liked, and frankly none I’ve heard has entirely satisfied me. All in all, I’m least disappointed in Rufus Wainright’s version:
I hardly need mention that I’m way out of the cultural mainstream, so I didn’t first encounter this song in “Shrek,” or on “Scrubs.” I first heard it on “House.” But once heard, never forgotten.
One of the least noted aspects of the sin of idolatry is that it’s sad. A person invests his worship and existential longings in an object that is not God. As the Bible says (somewhere), “Why do you work and labor for that which is not bread?” The idolater is left starving in the end.
That’s what I see in “Hallelujah.” It’s clearly a song about human sex and romance, in hymn form. Theoretically that would seem blasphemous, but I think Cohen’s doing something deeper here (though he wrote 80 lyrics for the thing, most of which none of us have ever heard, so it’s problematic to try to figure out his intentions). What Cohen is saying, it seems to me, is that he has approached, and continues to approach, love and sex as a religious experience, but all the time he knows he’s laboring for that which is not food.
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?
An act of worship for one’s lover isn’t really the same thing as worshipping the Lord. And yet, he tries—
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
The story starts in self-mockery, and ends in disillusion.
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
I make no claim to deeply understand Cohen, who is clearly a genius and one who plays his cards close to his vested suit. I’m a theological-critical outsider, observing love as a spectator, while he’s a man who’s gotten his contusions in the actual game. Even though Cohen is (as I understand) a practicing Jew (with a Zen Buddhist sideline), I’m not saying I’m doing more than guessing his intent.
But I see here a sympathetic critique of the modern mindset that seeks the transcendent in the flesh. It’s not a judgmental critique, but a heart-cry from the core of the tragedy.
Hey, I found a Norwegian connection! Here’s a video of a Norwegian group that had a big hit with a cover in their own country. I actually think it’s one of the best I’ve heard.