Andy McSmith: Cohen's verses can be cut to fit
Saturday 20 December 2008
Writing "Hallelujah" cost the Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen a lot of time and pain. He just kept on writing verse after verse, for years on end, until he had completed about 80. Then he threw most of them away.
"I filled two notebooks with the song, and I remember being on the floor of the Royalton Hotel, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, 'I can't finish this song'," he once said. Even what he did not throw away is still immensely long – at least seven verses and chorus, which would take eight or nine minutes to sing. None of the recorded versions contains every verse. Instead the singers pick and choose – and in Simon Cowell's case, he chose enough for four minutes.
The Leonard Cohen version that can be heard on YouTube lasts almost seven minutes, although he leaves out the first two verses that Alexandra Burke sings. But Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and most of the others who have recorded the song include a verse that Burke omitted: "There was a time you let me know what's really going on below but now you never show that to me do ya." Seemingly, the powerful sexual imagery was too graphic for The X Factor. Especially the next line: "But remember when I moved in you and the holy dove was moving, too, and every breath we drew was Hallelujah."
Cohen was 50 when he finally recorded the song, in 1984. It went out to an audience made up mainly of thirty and fortysomethings, who remembered Cohen from their teens. It spawned a huge number of cover versions, including Buckley's from 1994, three years before he drowned aged 30. The song reached a mass audience when John Cale's version was included on the Shrek soundtrack.
The word "Hallelujah" makes it sound like a suitable song for Christmas. It is not short of religious imagery, but the line "If there is a God ..." makes it plain that this is not a hymn. Cohen's version ends with a verse that Burke omits, which begins "I did my best, it wasn't much ..." which makes it plain that this is a song for a middle-aged man coming to terms with life's disappointments. Those words would have sounded very odd being belted triumphantly by a 20-year-old on the threshold of stardom.
TVJamie's Sugar Rush reveal's campaigning chef's new foe
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 2 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 5 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
The Gamechangers trailer: Daniel Radcliffe stars in GTA movie
Star Wars: New action dolls launched on Force Friday ahead of The Force Awakens release
Ricki And The Flash, film review: Meryl Streep's rock'n'roll creation steals the show
Joan Aiken: Today's Google Doodle celebrates life of British fantasy novelist
Photographer captures the beauty and intensity of his girlfriend giving birth at home
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Refugees welcome: More than 250,000 sign Independent petition calling for Britain to 'take its fair share'