K.D. Lang, Leonard Cohen, and "Hallelujah"

[A little longer than usual, apologies, but you will see it's worth it]
I listened again to KD Lang's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. (Lyrics at the end). You might remember Lang performed the song for a live audience of 60,000-plus and some three billion television viewers worldwide at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The Vancouver Sun reported k.d. "reminded the world that she is one of the best in the business, with a stirring, spiritual rendition of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' that literally hushed the crowd."

What is it about those lyrics, about that song which makes the world listen? At my squash club the other night, several guys were talking about Lang and her mesmerizing effect on them, especially "Hallelujah."

Maybe it's her soulful voice. Maybe it's Cohen's lyrics.

So I read them again. And again. And I hear references to the Older Testament. I hear references to modernism. I hear an aching and a pain in Cohen. I'm no LC expert, by any means. I'm a latecomer to his fan club. Some were around when he began in the 1950s. He was dark and Greenwich Village to me then. Now he's almost a guru to some. Some disavow his Jewishness because of his strange philosophies, to which he replied in 1997, "Anyone who says I'm not a Jew is not a Jew I'm very sorry but this is final so says: Eliezar, son of Nissan, priest of Israel;a.k.a Nightingale of the Sinai, Yom Kippur 1973; a.k.a Jikan the Unconvincing, zen monk; a.k.a Leonard Cohen"

After his Sydney concert in 2009, first in 24 years here, a woman/disciple named Irene wrote on his official page, "There were about a dozen full standing ovations through the show. At least. From tears to rapture to deep gratitude - all I am and belived and knew and lived was found manifest tonight. To say I love him just doesnt do it. THis isnt Love. Not as we usually know it. The G_D I KNOW , not one of religions, not one that was historical , biblical, causal, etc etc . HE was there in us around us in the music in each sound , in the Presence and in the story of life through all facets of being a human and Divine That Leonard brings as the Gift."

I think Irene was being poetic. And that's ok, although I prefer Cohen's poetry. He wrote in 1998 in classic Zen commitment, "But please do not follow, I've nothing to teach: except that the goal falls short of the reach."

But let's think about the song of conversation, though, "Hallelujah." The story begins with a praise to another song/hymn/psalm writer, King David. He lived about 1000 BCE in Israel and was originally a shepherd boy. He was the youngest of 8 brothers. (Found in the Bible in 1 Samuel chapter 16) And our introduction to him in the Bible is replete with a 'gee, shucks' kind of humility. Maybe that's why Cohen starts this poem with David. Although later on David is the sweet singer of Israel and known to play his kinnor, his harp, to soothe the king's troubled heart (King Saul), his beginnings are inauspicious. I think Cohen is projecting his own humility. And not badly at all. Maybe the capacity David/Cohen had/have to make people enjoy the music and to be calmed in their difficulties brings the word "baffled" to bear.

OK, next stanza.

The reference is to the sunbathing beauty on the roof, next door to the king's palace in Jerusalem. (Found in the Bible in 2 Samuel chapter 11) David has now become king and is at home in springtime. That's the usual time when kings go to war. David is not at war that year, that is, he's not leading the troops out. So he's on his roof and checking out the Israeli scenery and sees Bathsheba lying on the roof next door, and he's very attracted to her beauty. Long story short, David commits murder and adultery and practices lying...all to a very bad end. Not something you want recorded for yourself or about yourself in the Book of Books. But it's there. Stark, clear, detailed.

The details about tied up in a chair, though, that's poetry and not in the text. The cutting of the hair is a synthesis with another 'wrong woman' activity by another Bible hero, Samson. This one is found in the Bible in Judges chapter 16. Samson is the Jewish hero of the day, a judge he's called. And he falls in love with Delilah and she's from the wrong side of the tracks. She gets him to reveal his secret of his strength, in his long hair, and she cuts it and he loses everything he ever had. It's a sad tale, and stands equally stark in the Bible.

Even so, in David's case as well as in Samson's, they still gave thanks to God, and prayed to the last. The Hebrew word, Hallelujah means "Praise the Lord." It's an affirmation of His goodness, not ours. Samson's last prayer is “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” (Judges 16.28) David ended the penitential psalm, Psalm 51, after the repentance over Bathsheba, with "Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Thy righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Thy praise." (Psalm 51.14-15)

So Cohen's "from your lips she drew Hallelujah" makes sense.

I skip to the final stanza.

Maybe there's a God above. Yes, Leonard, and yes Virginia, there is a God above. Whether you or I or Donald Berwick or Julia Gillard or anyone says yes or no. But that's for another blog.

But the cold and harsh sounds of the final stanza are inconsistent with God-fearers. "But all i've ever learnt from love,
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya,
It's not a cry that you hear at night,
It's not someone who's seen the light,
It's a cold and broken hallelujah"

OK, so if we take it at face-value, the cold is based on people's antagonism to each other. People shooting each other, people living in darkness, silent. That's cold, that's broken.

In other words, the only way to really sing an unbroken Hallelujah is to be a believer. I think I agree with Cohen yet one more time.

Do you enjoy the singing of KD Lang? Do you enjoy the praise word "Hallelujah?" God certainly does. He loves to hear us praise Him. He loves to have us live in light and live in the pleasure of good music and His good company.

Why would we go anywhere else? He loves us. He wants us to enjoy life today and each day. I think KD's singing of Hallelujah rang a chord in our hearts too. Let's sing it loudly. Praise the Lord!

I heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
You don't really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah (repeat)

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew Hallelujah

Hallelujah (repeat)

Baby i've been here before,
I've seen this room and ive walked the floor,
I used to live alone before i knew ya
But i've seen your flag on the marble arch,
Our love is not a victory march,
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

Hallelujah (repeat)

Maybe there's a God above,
But all i've ever learnt from love,
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya,
It's not a cry that you hear at night,
It's not someone who's seen the light,
It's a cold and broken hallelujah

Hallelujah (repeat)
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Seeing is believing.百聞不如一見............................................................
Anonymous said…
Dear Bob,

Is it true that K D Lang is gay (lesbian)? If it is, what is your take on that? How can we appreciate someone singing the praises of GOD while we are aware that he/she is sexually "perverted" from the Bible's perspective? (Romans 1)
Bob Mendelsohn said…
Hi Anonymous,
Yes, I'm sure KD is gay. And who knows what kinds of errors Leonard Cohen himself perpetrated and in which he resided? I don't know. So I'm not proclaiming these musical folks as saints. We are all flawed. We all need the fixing by the Lord. You need His love and forgiveness, as do I.

Does that help?

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