Monday, November 14, 2016

The rest of Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Cohen died, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  There's evidence suggesting he might have seen it coming and even been prepared for it.  Better than a sudden death that the person isn't ready to accept.  That's all in the realm of maybe, though.

Of course, even if it was ok with Leonard Cohen himself, the world is now lesser for his absence.  So even if the maybe should turn out to be definitely, there's still reason to mourn.

That's not what this post is about, though.

It has me thinking about his most used (and overused) song again.

"Hallelujah" was first released on his 1984 album Various Positions but people who heard it live often heard a different song, frequently only one verse remained the same.

John Cale, in preparation for the 1991 tribute album I'm your fan asked Cohen for the lyrics.  Makes sense, he wouldn't want to make a fuck up on an album in honor of Cohen.  What he got were 15 pages of lyrics.  It doesn't seem that an exact count has ever been released, but Cohen had apparently written about 80 verses.

I very much want to see those 15 pages, I want to know those about 80 verses.  Unfortunately it seems like only seven verses reached the public.

It's entirely possible that we have the best version of Hallelujah already.  Cale's arrangement is the one that almost everyone uses now, even Cohen himself was using it.

But the versions that have been made are not the only possible versions.  Cohen started off doing four verse versions, that if we take the number 80 as right since it's about right, there are 1,581,580 possible choices of which four verses to take.  For anyone whose eyes glazed over at the number, over one and a half million.

Cale did five verses.  That gets us to over 24 million.

Maybe one of those other possibilities is the Hallelujah that's right for me.  Maybe if it's going to be overused so much it would be better if there were more variation in which verses got chosen.

Or maybe it's because I don't like things being lost, and information kept private is information that disappears from the world.

Whatever the case, I really want to see the eighty-ish verses that were on those 15 pages.

These are the verses I've tracked down
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, she cut your hair.
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

Baby I've 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'd let me know
What's real and going on below.
But now you never show it to me, do you?
Remember when I moved in you?
The Holy Dove was moving too.
And every breath we drew was hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light, in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken 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.
It's not a cry you can hear at night.
It's not somebody who's seen the light.
It's a cold and its a broken hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though / It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah


  1. John Cale's (or something like it) was on a mix CD my parents played a zillion times while I was growing up, so my brain has latched onto it as the One True Version. I actually gave up trying to listen to the Leonard Cohen versions I found on Youtube because they felt so Wrong.

    I do like "There's a blaze of light, in every word/It doesn't matter which you heard/The holy or the broken Hallelujah", though. (It's been playing in my head today after reading this post. My brain is doing better than expected simulating what it would sound like integrated into the John Cale version. At least, I don't *think* I've ever actually heard it sung that way.)

    1. Pretty much with you on both points.

      I want the other verses --to see them, to read them, to think them, to grok them-- but in my head it's like getting the deleted scenes of John Cale's version as that version is what "Hallelujah" is to me.

      I'd add that there's something wonderful contained in "even though it all went wrong".

      "It all went wrong" is unremarkable in itself, but the "even though" changes everything because it implies that that there's something good that survives everything going wrong. It has to be good, because something bad would be more of "it all went wrong" and thus not contain an "even though".

    2. I have always wanted to read all of he verses as well so that I could know the entire poem from start to finish and perhaps grasp the path that Cohen was taking at that moment while writing it. The 5 or 6 verses is still a bit chopped, hard to catch the message or spirit of the write. This is not unusual with Cohen's songs as he, according to his own admission, he wrote lots of verses always, 20 would not be a long poem for him. Some day, I hope his family releases a "Complete Works of Leonard Cohen" omitting no verses because I believe it will allow all of us to understand the true genius of this very mysterious writer. There is so much meat in his words yet to hear him speak, such a tender and gentle soul. I have always wanted to know more about him.