Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Misguided Hallelujah


It happened after 9/11. Jeff Buckley's haunting version of the Leonard Cohen standard began to fill the airwaves. Maybe it was the word Hallelujah that got people. It sounds religious.  It has been used countless times for tragedies and sad endings to TV shows. My problem is that, although beautiful, to me it is not a song for mourning lost lives, it is a sensual song about love and love lost and even a song about ones relationship with God. I have to agree with Jeff Buckley on this one. Although there are religious references, I have never been able to separate myself away from the overtones of this song. Hell, I love this song but I would not want it played at my funeral.

So let us dissect this song -- shall we?

Leonard Cohen wrote this in 1984  and uses Biblical references as studiously as Bono. Although it may never be known exactly how many verses he wrote, the usual suspects are typically sung - so I have chosen to reference those. It really was not until Jeff Buckley covered  Hallelujah that it was finally, truly discovered. Jeff's death, almost certainly, propelled it into the song it has become revered.

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

Could it be David the Psalm writer and King writing a love song for someone who does not love and appreciate music as he does? Is it the music that she doesn't care for, or him? Is he trying to write a song for his favorite wife, Bathsheba and she rebukes him? (Remember, David had eight wives). Or, is he playing to please the Lord because he upset him by his actions he takes to win her?

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you

Again, David falls madly in love with Bathsheba from this one sighting of her  from his palace roof. Bathsheba becomes pregnant but there is one problem - her husband has not been home from battle. Confused, in love, scared for her and wanting her all to himself, David sends her husband to death on the front lines. Finally, she is his and so is the child.

She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

You remember the story of Samson and the woman he loved, Delilah? Did she really love him or his power? She tied him again and again yet his strength was never ending. Finally, she found that if she has his hair cut, his strength would leave him. He trusted her, loved her. She betrayed him. The Hallelujah he draws seems one of disbelief and sadness.

Baby I have 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

Love - there it is again. This love has been abused and shattered.  Where he has learned from being scorned, she treats it as conquering and owning. 
And I quote my muse Jeff Buckley: Whoever listens carefully to 'Hallelujah' will discover that it is a song about sex, about love, about life on earth...It's an ode to life and love. Thoughts? He truly sang the words with longing, passion, want of physical closeness. Maybe that is what convinces me that this is not a death dirge.

There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
Sweet, desperate bid for what once was. Longing for the passion. Again, true for physical love and true for spiritual love.

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve 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 has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

This guy is scorned. It is as if the hallelujah transforms throughout the relationship or even throughout life. At first sensual, then comfortable and finally, it is said almost in disdain and contempt and want of what once was. 

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 hear The holy or the broken Hallelujah

The tipping point of the relationship possibly. Or if you twist it back to the Bible, did he take God's name in vain? His lover's name in vain? A fight and it doesn't matter between who,  but he's seemingly given up. 
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
Acceptance of what the relationship has become. Acceptance of the relationship with God. I can still stand before you and say Praise God. I won't shame you. I won't hate you. I won't forsake you.
So,there you have it. My take on the song. So why has it become a song of mourning? I cannot answer that. I just know if anyone asked my opinion I couldn't justify using it after devastating events. But, this is my opinion. Maybe it is the way it is sung, the highs, lows, climax as if the singer is holding out for hope.
Also, I must warn you, I am the self professed queen of ruining songs for people. I study the lyrics, move into the words, dissecting them until I discovered every symbolic element. Yes, Ash I am still sorry if I ruined Love Is Blindness for You. It was about love, just not that kind of love.
I have asked people their opinions of the song - most of them were on the same vibe with the love and faith. Best reply was [It was my] wedding march - boom. Hands down winner.

Bon Jovi

Hallelujah Jeff Buckley

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No Retreat, Baby, No Surrender...

January 1, 2012 seems like such a forever ago. When I promised you the year of music I had no idea what a crazy year it would be.  It has been filled with music, beaches, achievements, surreal events, action figure shenanigans and more music. I will try and re-cap as much as possible without writing a novel.

Polar Bear - Dixons Vixens style
So let us start at midnight of this fine year - shall we? The year of music kicked off with Ukrainian gypsy punk heavy metal polka accordion madness. The first half of the year was spent going to see Levon Helm at the Ramble, Umphreys McGee, Primus, The Lt. Dan Band, a Levon Helm Tribute at the Brooklyn Bowl and Dana Fuchs. The first half of the year was also spent with the crazy notion that I could actually run a marathon (ha!). Looking back at my life through May 12th - this seems laughably so simple.

Post - Pittsburgh Marathon was spent seeing From Good Homes, becoming fast friends with a four year old at the beach because we both love action figures and gummi bears and the Carlson Bethel to the Beach Dave Matthews and Umphreys McGee tour extravaganza (complete a late night taco binge on the Asbury Park boardwalk. There was MacBeth at Lincoln Center and Roger Waters at Yankee Stadium where meter maids became the topic of conversation somehow on the way home.  And  to end out July, my beloved children's burn survivor camp was another year of accomplishments, candy and wishing more young adults good luck as they embarked on a new adventure in life. I couldn't imagine a year without such inspiring children and counselors.  

After camp, it was supposed to go like this: train for the marathon. Run the marathon. Relax. HA! I tell, you HA!

The second after I finished my first Guinness following the Pittsburgh Marathon - before the endorphins wore off, I pledged to run the NYC Marathon any way I could. The thought of what I had accomplished in a city I adored so much made me want to run the city I LOVE even more. The Team Leary Firefighters Foundation was my answer. The first race I ever ran was the Worcester 6K for the six firefighters lost in a 1999 fire. The Foundation was born to memorialize those firemen.

Fundraising was quite humbling and I cannot thank everyone enough for their generosity. $3000 raised for the Leary Foundation with thanks to friends, family and some wonderful Dixons Vixens. Training, equipment, resources - priceless if it saves one life. My training runs were focused on those who gave monetarily and those who gave inspirationally. The thought of running the streets of NYC and with my NYC specific running play list gave me chills. The thought of hearing the wall of sound at First Avenue gave me strength to make 10 miles 20.

August 18th marked the 5th anniversary of the loss of two firemen from Soho's Engine 24 Ladder 5. It marked the fifth year without seeing my friend Bobby's enigmatic and cheshire smile. I can only wish I live the rest of my life as giving as he was (and as mischievous as well). Time does really fly by when you get older. It still seems like yesterday that I spoke to him.  

My favorite month of October began and the reality of the 26.2 began to set in. I have one more long run to complete before taper time. Time to get serious, not get injured and focus on the finish line. So, I treated myself to an amazing tribute to Levon Helm on October 3rd. With acts such as Gregg Allman, Roger Waters, My Morning Jacket, Grace Potter and so many many more - the love that filled the Ramble Studios in Woodstock invaded the Meadowlands of Jersey. Up to this point I thought it would be the high point of entertainment of the year.                                

I flashbacked to the 1990s to see Adam Ant at the Best Buy - not to be disappointed at all. He had been battling demons and I am proud to say he is back. He sounds better than he did in the 1990s (Although apologies that my video did not sound as good).

The month of October also brought the five year anniversary of being married to my best friend. I never realized how much I could not only love someone, but how much two people could go through together and grow as a couple. We celebrated with a long weekend in the North Fork of Long Island with food, wine and some Walking Dead watching. Little more than a week away, who know how a storm in the ocean would change everyone's lives.

 So put yourself in my shoes. You've committed the last three months of your life training  -  people have donated money to help you achieve this goal. But off in the distance, a cloud appears. A cloud of doubt. At first nagging, then it becomes a permanent fixture in the frontal lobe. While everyone is wishing you well on a race that is a week away. All you can think about is the forecast. Its the one you've trained for, been warned about and know will impact lives like never before. I could not allow myself to get excited about running when I knew all of my energy would be needed for a superstorm. I knew I would have to make a major decision.

All of the things that go into a perfect storm - did. The right phase of the moon, the landfall location, low pressure systems and cold fronts and for all I know, the belt of Orion aligned with Jupiter. It was happening. The sea was going to get angry. As the storm became more and more evident to be more of the monster that they promised, I truly believe I had made up my mind. There was no way I was going to selfishly ask for days off to run 26.2 miles. This I had decided when I heard the tidal departure 24 hours before the storm was to hit was already at phenomenal levels. Yes, I decided I wasn't running the NYC Marathon.

I was assigned to days and decided (because I knew) that I needed to listen to music before I wouldn't have a chance, before the long days and short sleeps. As people were sleeping in shelters and the lights began to go out, midnight rolled around and I settled in my sleeping bag. I also knew that to sleep in a buzzing office, the headphones would be necessary.  The final song I heard before Sandy crashed into our shores was INXS, To Look at You

Breezy Point Beach 206 Street As the first notes echoed, I grabbed my blackberry to see what was going on outside. My heart sunk as I read about the dozens of houses on fire in Breezy Point.  Then I saw tweets from people being trapped in flood waters. Flashback to 2005 - New Orleans. The only difference was this time - we were the ones needing to be rescued.

The next eight days are a blur. The few things that do stand out are the following: 1) Seeing the first images of Breezy Point and the Rockaways 2) Seeing Lower Manhattan without power 3) Being ok with making a beer my dinner when I got home after the fourth day 4) Tweeting my decision to defer my 2012 NYC Marathon entry. 

It was and wasn't a big deal. I think people thought - how could she - she trained so hard. But I couldn't - not with what I knew about how much pain and suffering the city was going through. Little did I know that a simple tweet -- really just to get it out of the way and to let those who supported me know that I wasn't giving up -- a tweet that found its way into the hands of blogger for Runner's World.

 The reaction I got was mixed between Yeah, you did the right thing and Oh, I am so sorry. I was sorry that they had not cancelled. It was just not the right thing to do. We did not hold the Marathon less than one week after 9/11. It was two months. Holding the marathon so soon after Sandy would not show resilience but greed. I was happy it was cancelled -- and even happier that so many runners got on the Staten Island Ferry as planned on the morning of November 4th, armed with shovels, and hammers and food and water to help those who needed it most. 
Like I said, I knew music would be hard to come by and I was even too tired to enjoy it. When I did have that first moment to breathe - on the subway home on night - I decided it was time.   I chose Coldplay - Don't Panic. I wanted to listen to it based on a memory of Rockaway from the show Rescue Me. It was how I felt actually. We do live in a beautiful world - it was just all broken up and scattered around at the moment.
  Friends had lost their homes, bars we spent many a summer night were no longer there, the boardwalk that appears on pictures in our home - simply a memory. Driving out to Rockaway and Breezy for the first time were beyond humbling. The devastating power of water was beyond belief. Cement walls crumbled like cookies, houses perched on 1/4 of their foundation and blackened foundations proved to me how blessed I was that all I lost was Halloween, a marathon and a couple of days of sleep.

Music and writing would get me back to semi-normalcy. Right before the storm, I vowed to finish my screenplay (yes, the one I have been working on for 15 years). I was so close. I could totally through Cory in front of the bus for not finishing reading it - but it is totally on me. David, Abbi and Liam will have to wait and see what happens to their lives in 1998 Belfast until 2013.

Music, well, many saw the promise of a music year ... or as I like to now call it (totally stealing from U2's 1988's Rattle and Hum - It was a musical journey). First up, The Who. Damn, not a bad start back. I only wish the Robert Plant's body had aged as well as Roger Daltry's (Robert baby, I love you, you know that). It still strikes me when I am in the same room with rock and roll icons. Pete Townesend - I got to see the windmill live!  

On the concert high, I vowed to go see the 12.12.12 Sandy Benefit concert. How could I not? Decades of musical greatness and for benefit? I would have stood on my head all night to see those performers. Biggest shock of who stole the crowd - Bon Jovi. Hands down, the Jersey boys had everyone singing like they were 17 again. Biggest disappointment - where were all the women? Alicia Keyes was phenomenal but what about some more women next time to show those boys we can rock it too! Biggest surprise was Michael Stipe singing Losing My Religion with Coldplay's Chris Martin                          . You could tell his presence surprised everyone. I shrieked. I cried. This was the night I needed. Six hours of music, the heroes, selfless and the neighborhoods became the stars of the night. (Eric Clapton)  (Roger Waters and Eddie Vedder)

What, you think I am done? I had an upcoming birthday to celebrate so of course - more music (since I could not longer count on the Steelers to beat the Cowboys, I needed all the happiness I could get). I witnessed my first Bitter End midnight jam - with musicians that should be the ones selling out the Garden and Roseland. They love their craft, something very evident as soon as they take the stage. I believe I heard the best version of Into the Mystic I have ever heard live, sung by five people who had never before played a note together. Do yourself a favor - take off a Tuesday night and check out the midnight jam session at the Bitter End.

As if I had not tired of Sandy enough, more benefits were to be had! A Love Letter to NYC - A Sandy Benefit was to be held at the City Winery (let the Winery part be highlighted). Dinner at Walkers moved along to a very close seat to the stage. Nicole Atkins, Matisyahu  Joan Osborne and some new artists that are on my iTunes wishlist played heartfelt tributes to the city and shore still marred by devastation. The highlight was definitely getting to hang out with a truly inspiring woman - who (not sure if I told her this) gave me the best compliment of the year on a review I wrote for her. Highlight - even after four bottles of Spring Street wine.

Birthday week was sponsored by a man I have been supporting for 20 years - Dave Matthews. Even though we saw him in Bethel, seeing him in Brooklyn was pretty damn special. Dave, you put on one of the top shows of my year. Grey, Jimi, and Two Step were energized,heartfelt and powerful. And starting with When the World Ends on the December 21st show - pure genius.

Daryl Dixon and Elf on the Shelf
 (Liam Greenberg, Suzie's Brother)

Christmas was spent with friends, feasting and drinking moonshine (I see a new tradition). The year was finally coming to a close, but of course the year of music would have to not whimper but go out with a bang. New Year's music marathon was going to be spectacular.

December 29th was at Madison Square Garden to get my Phish on. Nervous about the previous night's review, I was not disappointed. They were tight, the crowd was totally into it and I got Suzy Greenberg - that is all I wanted.

So - confession - I had never seen Coldplay live. My husband's ringtone has been Yellow since 2004. Don't know why I never went but it was time to cross them off the list. By the time song number two, Hurts Like Heaven,  was played, I was sold. Between the amazing light show we were a part of and the energy and absolute humbleness of frontman Chris Martin, this was one of the best shows I have seen in years. I also have to brag that we had 21 songs and they only played 17 on New Year's Eve. Highlights were Yellow, Clocks and Chris trying to find a word to rhyme with Brooklyn. (Yellow)

 To round of the year, the trifecta of spending the New Year's with our friends Dark Star Orchestra. With family and friends in tow, we danced our way into the New Year. Franklin's Tower propelled out the old. Hard to believe that the year was over. Sad times, happy times, surreal times - history. Time to begin again.  2013 will again, of course, be the year of music. I am most looking forward to seeing the boys from Basildon, Depeche Mode, in the new year. As a matter of fact - they might be the one I travel for this year. 2013 also promises to be the year of running (again) as I have signed up for the Pittsburgh Half and will register for the NYC Marathon. I also promise to be more diligent in writing, if not my blog, my stories. I was able to finally allow Jory and Ileana to be finished this year and it is time to allow others to also enjoy a sense of fimality and allow others to be born.

Giving credit to Donnie for the idea -- here are the top ten live performances of 2012 that I caught in no order:
  • Clocks - Coldplay December 30
  • I Shall Be Released - Grace Potter October 3
  • You're Time is Gonna Come - Dana Fuchs May 18
  • The Song Remains the Same - Umphreys McGee July 28
  • Losing My Religion - Chris Martin and Michael Stipe December 12
  • Grey Street - Dave Matthews Band December 21
  • Goody Two Shoes - Adam Ant October 6
  • The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down - Roger Waters and My Morning Jacket October 3
  • Miami 2017 - Billy Joel December 12
  • Yellow - Coldplay December 30

Happy New Year!!!! 

You need to work hard, show up everyday and be positive ~Lauren Beam