Cyberwanderer’s Blog

December 22, 2008

Meaning of Cohen’s Hallelujah Song Lost to Pop Idol?

A song composed by Quebec born, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Leonard Cohen is garnering entertainment news headline the past couple of days because it was about to be declared UK’s number 1 Christmas hits. The song is Hallelujah, the latest cover version done by British Pop Idol Alexandra Burke. It created a bit of a ruckus. A viral internet campaign by Leonard Cohen and Buckley’s fans was launched to try to stop Alexandra Burke from winning, for fear that her version would not do justice to the original meaning intended by Cohen.

The song was a lamentation of old testament stories with sexual overtone. It talks about King David lust and murderous act. It also includes reference to Samson’s hair being cut. The song is more about the fallibility of humans. The cry of hallelujah is not of someone praising the lord (“it’s not a cry from someone who has seen the light”, “it’s a cold and broken hallelujah”). I am not going to go deep into interpreting the lyrics. As most poems can’t be interpreted word for word. There’s no shortage of interpretation even among Cohen’s fan. But one thing for sure, it is not meant to be festive. As an aside, Cohen was born Jewish and adopted the Buddhist religion. It took him about a year to finish the song “Hallelujah”.

Some Cohen fans fear that the pop idolized version does not appreciate the real meaning of the song. Fans voting for Alexandra Burke version most likely are responding to marketing hype and a “follow what hip at the moment” impulse or attitude. Or As The Killers had said on their latest pop hits single “Human”, “being a dancer” (follower) instead of having a thought of their own. One news article went so far as to call it mass hysteria. Just hearing the word hallelujah, Alexandra Burke fan think it’s a Christmas tune. That might be a bit harsh. After all, some people just want to enjoy the music without getting too tangled up in the lyrics.

The internet campaign have not succeeded in unseating Alexandra Burke from the top spot (Burke’s version was declared number 1 and Buckley’s number 2, with Cohen’s version making a comeback at number 36). But as a result of the campaign, a lot of people have stopped and think for a second on what the song is really all about. On that count, I think Cohen fans campaign could be said to have succeeded. Perhaps the song is not festive enough for Christmas, but it could make people stop and reflect on their faith, irregardless of whether that was the original intent of the song or not.

Here are the different versions in youtube. Leonard Cohen version followed by Jeff Buckley’s (with lyrics) and Alexandra Burke.

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