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Like a Telephone Directory of Hallelujah performers...
on 14 July 2014
The Holy of the Broken - Alan Light ***
Ok, so I am a massive Leonard Cohen fan and have been for a long time. As anyone who is familiar with his music/poetry knows his song lyrics can be very ambiguous and complex. With this in mind when I came across a book that promised to delve into the meanings of possibly his most famous song, Hallelujah, I jumped at the chance and snatched it up.
Alan Light starts off the book very promisingly, deconstructing the song line by line and offering various opinions on what the lyrics could have meant. As part of his research he has contacted an impressive cross section of society. From music legends to journalists to religious leaders, all manner of interpretations are offered and discussed. Unfortunately the great man himself, although giving his blessing for the book, refused to be interviewed.
All this sounds like all a Cohen fan could ever want, so why have I only given the book 3 stars? Firstly, out of the 230 pages (excluding acknowledgements etc etc etc) that actually deal with the song and its various versions only around 50 of these pages actually deal with the song lyrics themselves. The last 80+ pages just gave the impression of reading a phone book, whereby anyone and everyone who has ever so much as hummed the tune gets a mention. Not only do we learn their names, dates recorded and chart position/youtube views but we are constantly told what lyrics of the song they chose to include in their own composition. While this was interesting for the odd few major recordings (Buckley/Cale etc) it began to become very wary and repetitive.
Secondly, even though the cover does claim to deal with both Cohen's version and Buckley's, I couldn't help but feeling that the original was overlooked somewhat. Not so much the lyrics but Leonard's Various Positions album version. For those of us out there that do not by an means see Buckley's COVER of the song as the definitive, all singing all dancing track, it can get slightly annoying the way in which the author constantly rebuffs the original. We are told on numerous occasions of Leonard's 'limited vocal range' that I think Mr Light may have forgotten that primarily Cohen fan's would be buying his book. Light does manage to attempt to convince the reader of Cohen's greatness as a lyricist/poet but I really feel that he fails to capture his greatness as a recording artist.
Anyway, I did manage to learn a number of facts about both the music world and the actual song of Hallelujah, but if I am perfectly honest I think I could have found these with half hour of free time and access to Wiki/Google, although it was handy to have them all collected on my behalf. Not a book I feel I would recommend (at least at the current price), but if you are a completest of all things Leonard then it may be worth adding this to your collection.