Leonard Cohen is aging, getting ready to make his case to his maker. So, he turns an old love song into more of a prayer. Solomon (the son of David and Bat Sheba) wrote the erotic Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs). The Rabbis included it in the Tanach (Jewish Bible) arguing that it describes the love between G-d and Israel. Cohen rewrote the lyrics saying, “It’s, as I say, a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion…. It’s a rather joyous song.”
Here you can hear the man with his Halleluyah (Praise the Lord).
But is was not the final version that hit the charts but the earlier one, the one focused on love and performed by Alexandra Burke on the X factor. Bloomberg News critic, Norman Lebrecht focuses on the earlier lyrics:
Some may argue that “Hallelujah” is an inappropriate song for Christmas since it is represented in the dolorous lyric as a cry of sexual climax, and romantic failure. Yet the ballad is, in every other sense, unimpeachably educational.It relates the story of David and Bathsheba to a generation illiterate in Biblical legend — “you saw her bathing on the roof/ her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you” — and delivers a moral that adultery is wrong even when “I’ll stand before the Lord of Song/ with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”. . .
Compared with the standard slush of U.K. Christmas hits, anything from Al Martino’s “Here in My Heart” (1952) to BandAid’s fund-raising “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (1984, 1989 and 2004), Cohen’s “Hallelujah” delivers uplift and consolation, enlightenment and the recognition of shared experience. Somehow, it says, we have all been there.
Perhaps. At least we have all may be in one place or the other sooner or later.