Friday, February 26th, 2010

It Goes Like This

"Watching performances of 'Hallelujah' by people who aren't Cohen-whose original take has an archness that's wiped away by the clear-eyed sincerity offered up by his successors-you see one common thread: each singer really feels the song, closing their eyes at least once in every performance to properly communicate that what they are singing is Serious Business."

23 Comments / Post A Comment

I'll take Jeff Buckley's version on *Grace* any day. Sorry, Leonard. I love you, but the Buck(ley) stops with Jeff.

NicFit (#616)

So sick of bad versions of that song.


SemperBufo (#1,849)

True. But I still like Buckley's version. The archness question is slippery- Cohen can distance himself a bit from it all, and it's convincing; but another singer (Buckley for example) can be convincingly overcome by it. Anyway, a singer's reading is always somewhat in the eye of the beholder.

mike d (#61)

"…depending on what verses are employed. (Cohen apparently wrote about 80.)"

I want to see the other 75 or so verses that no one ever covers.

libmas (#231)

And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah…

Jesus Christ, If I hear Buckley's version one more time, I'm going to stab someone in the neck.

At 7 minutes, it's overlong, overwrought, overly-sentimental drivel.

What do you listen to; an all Hallelujah sung by Jeff Buckley station, all the time? I rarely hear that song. Now, if I have to hear another fucking hipster play anything by Huey Lewis and the News (particularly anything from *Sports*) at the bar tonight–ironically, no less, because no one fucking likes that band seriously– I'm going to go full-on Knife Island on an ironically moustachioed manlady.

lbf (#2,343)

"an all Hallelujah sung by Jeff Buckley station, all the time" describes the graveyard shift of French alt-rock radio to a T, actually.

djfreshie (#875)

Buckley version is a piece of serious shit. And I like all Buckleys. Just because I like someone's voice, doesn't mean their cover songs are all relevent. Had this discussion before on one of the million Hallelujah threads on this site…Buckley missed the point of the whole song.

Re. Huey Lewis: Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercial and artistically.

djfreshie (#875)

And Huey Lewis and the News rocks, incidentally. Dude can sing. Didn't you ever see DUETS?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Lordy mercy, if you want to bitch about the alt-rock radio, please come to Norway and bitch with me. (The one CD you can count on every right-thinking Norwegian to own is called "Cohen på norsk". You talk about humorless seriousness at work.)

rj77 (#210)

Huey's got soul. For realz.

lbf (#2,343)

i always try to place Norwegian artists on the dansband-to-Burzum continuum before i listen to them.

Considering how dramatically his voice has changed over the years — seriously, it's like he's spent the last 30 years gargling carpet tacks soaked in Pure Liquid Heartbreak — Cohen's later live-album versions are basically covers of his own work. And he just demolishes anyone else.

mike d (#61)

This. This guy right here.

sixlocal (#296)

Are you talking about that one song in Shrek?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I have a hard time sympathizing with the purism or even understanding the very concept of a "cover version" because I only every listen to country music and classical music. Songwriters are people who write songs for people to sing. Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and Willy Nelson are songwriters who somehow get to sell their demos in record stores, God bless 'em.

djfreshie (#875)

Ooooh, I debate that argument hardcore. I'm a recovering Jazz musician…I totally respect the concept of songwriters writing for people to both listen AND perform. Not everyone can write and not everyone can play. Fine. Same as sports, coaches rarely get to play, players rarely get to coach.

BUT that simply isn't always the intention of the songwriter. I write songs, and I write them for ME to play and sing. I have absolutely no problems with anyone performing those songs live in any scenario, and I would hope and love someday to hear that, I think that would be amazing.

However, performing live, and recording an album with the intention of marketing and selling it…it's a different thing, and it's permanent.

And if someone else took something I wrote and turned it into a jingle (Black Eye Peas, fuckfuckfuck) or simply regurgitated everything I did replacing my voice with theirs (STP's Revolution) well that's just super negative and worthless to me. And as the owner of that intellectual property (not that that means much anymore) I'd like to have a say in what PERMANENTLY happens to something I wrote.

I think that's where the purism comes from. Cohen had a vision of his song…Buckley's vision is different. Same words, but the intention – the meaning of the song – is totally altered by the treatment. So someone who likes the original and has a connection to the content might be affected by the cover.

beatbeatbeat (#3,187)

Jeezus, I didn't know Cale's version (aka the best version) was on the SHREK SOUNDTRACK…!

cherrispryte (#444)

I agree, in general, with one caveat: Amanda Palmer. Bowery Ballroom. 5am on January 1, 2009. Fucking incredible.

Otherwise, overdone, losing it's meaning, etc.

Perhaps bad form, but I simply must revert to Awl-circa-September 2009: Google ads on this page for a Christian girl group. Hollah.

iplaudius (#1,066)

We can talk about the vagaries of covers, and Leonard Cohen covers in particular, but Hallelujah is really not a fair example. You can't win. The music is sincere and heartstring-tugging, to a fault, while the lyrics are evasive and even fatuous, to a fault.

In the first verse, it's moving. But then, by the time the (melodic) climax arrives a third or fourth time, our initial response to the climax, as to the musical devices that engender it, is ironized, is shown to be a kind of mechanism.

The lyrics mix "high" humanizing emotion and "low" physical need. At first, we may think it's serious poetry ("Your faith was strong but you needed proof" and so forth). But by the fourth verse (the same time we should be "sick" of the predictable strophic progression), you have to wonder: is the poetry all just inflated lust? "There was a time you let me know / What's really going on below / But now you never show it to me, do you?"

Looking back, the first verse tells us all about it: "It goes like this / The fourth, the fifth / The minor fall, the major lift" — it's just the mechanisms of music, fourths and fifths and what not — the mechanisms of the body, of the heart, that lift us up and bring us down. The same is true for the mechanisms of love and lust: you can't separate the music from the intervals (fourths and fifths), any more than you can separate love from genital desire.

The people who cover the song are overly seduced by Cohen's music. They need to take a step back and listen to what he's saying, the distance of it, the irony.

[OK -- basta, drunk and disoriented here. Peace.]

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