photo & text by nacrowe
the first time i became cognizant of the LEONARD COHEN song "HALLELUJAH" was a few years back when i learned that singer CHESTER BENNINGTON (of LINKIN PARK fame) sang as a eulogy at the private funeral service of his friend and mentor singer CHRIS CORNELL (of SOUNDGARDEN fame) in 2017. CORNELL had committed suicide a week before and BENNINGTON himself would perish similarly two months later. so given the circumstances there was a certain weight that i attached to this song as it seemed to be used to verbalize and channel this deep well of intense PAIN and SORROW from one close friend to another.
i had owned and was familiar with the first few COHEN releases from the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the popular resurgence surrounding this obscure track from this 1980s track in the 2000s was something i was unaware of. partly due to the fact that i was overseas. so i read ALAN LIGHT's book THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN: LEONARD COHEN, JEFF BUCKLEY, AND THE UNLIKELY ASCENT OF "HALLELUJAH" (ATRIA, 2013), which examines the unlikely trajectory of the song to a modern standard, largely unbiased by personal sentiment toward the song.
what drew me to the narrative surrounding "HALLELUJAH" is the unique FLUIDITY to which the song as a construct has lent itself. it really is incredible that such a well-known song has, in fact, no definitive version. there are lyrical variations with regards to the verses, as COHEN shortly after its release on the VARIOUS POSITIONS (COLUMBIA, 1984) record was still very much tinkering with it in live settings. famously JEFF BUCKLEY recorded a version on his celebrated GRACE (COLUMBIA, 1994) record, which itself was a cover of a previous JOHN CALE cover. to make things even more interesting, the CALE version utilized an expanded "alternate" set of lyrics. most modern covers from the likes of RUFUS WAINRIGHT, K.D. LANG, BON JOVI, IMOGEN HEAP, DAMIEN RICE and BONO are based on this BUCKLEY cover of a cover, so you can see how this game of telephone gets extended indefinitely. the song has been covered over the years by everyone from REGINA SPEKTOR, NEIL DIAMOND, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE and THE OSMONDS to BOB DYLAN, JOHNNY MATHIS, BRANDI CARLILE, MICHAEL MCDONALD and even ADAM SANDLER. its an incredibly unique phenomena that has allowed the song to be utilized by a whole trove of artists and institutions, in both SECULAR and RELIGIOUS settings.
as a former secondary english teacher, this responsive MULTI-INTERPRETATIVE relationship audiences have developed with this song is incredible and utterly unique. it raises questions about the nature of AUTHORIAL INTENTION, as COHEN's original version is just that: a version. it is unlike other modern standards like "IMAGINE" by JOHN LENNON, "LIKE A ROLLING STONE" by BOB DYLAN or "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER" by SIMON & GARFUNKEL in that new renditions of those songs inevitably become compared and measured to the original. with "HALLELUJAH" the original recorded version is perhaps one of the more obscure versions as it was on a commercially unsuccessful record that relieved little airplay. later iterations are the one's that captured the popular imagination. i cant think of that ever happening elsewhere outside of the GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK songwriters like IRVING BERLIN, JEROME KERN, COLE PORTER or GEORGE GERSHWIN (among many others) who wrote with the intention of public performance. its a very interesting phenomena.
and then there is the song itself. "HALLELUJAH" utilizes references from several the TORAH narratives to draw out the spiritually redemptive power of SEX, INTIMACY, and ultimately, LOVE. he very much is interested in the idea that SPIRTUAL, some would say RELIGIOUS, power embedded in LOVE is when we suffer and are DEBILITATED and DEBASED by it. when one throws up their hands in the air with confoundment and deep FRUSTRATION at the PAIN and SUFFERING it brings and in defiance look up and say screw it, hallelujah. that "broken" hallelujah is the point of the original iteration of the song. what makes the song so FLUID and PLIABLE is the degree to which interpreters play up the various aspects of the lyrics (its SENSUALITY, CELEBRATION, FRUSTRATION, AMBIVALENCE, etc.) and minimize other aspects. coupled with the variated lyrics and multiple established versions of the song and you have a song that is able to be played at both WEDDINGS and FUNERALS, CHURCHES and SYNAGOGUES, COFFEE HOUSES and ARENAS.
attached below are but a few noteworthy iterations of the song. again, its a compelling trajectory of a lost song, on an album initially rejected by his label, that found a second life as one of the most popularly appreciated, and commercially viable, songs in modern history.
its really mind-blowing. id recommend THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN for anyone interested in the delicate interplay between AUTHOR versus AUDIENCE and AUTHORIAL INTENTION versus INTERPRETATION. it is worth reading for those interested in the CREATIVE PROCESS as well as LITERATURE in general, since COHEN very much was a TRANSCENDENT literary talent.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.