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

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