10 Dec
The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light

The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light

I had never thought about what makes a song a standard but it must have something to do with the ability of a broad swath of musicians to do evocative covers of the same song. As the story goes Leonard Cohen’s first recorded version of Hallelujah never made it to market. Unknown at the time Jeff Buckley chose the song for his (ignored at the time) debut album. Alan Light’s The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”(Atria) chronicles the ascension of Cohen’s song to the pantheon of musical standards and one of the world’s most performed tunes.

From The Introduction:

In January 2012, Cohen released Old Ideas, his first new studio album in eight years. The record debuted in the Number One position in nine countries, and in the Top Five in eighteen more. In the U.S., where none of his previous albums had ever reached the Top 50 of the charts, Old Ideas debuted at Number Three. Tickets for the tour that he announced for the second half of 2012 sold rapidly across Europe and the States. Propelled in part by the ascendance of “Hallelujah,” Cohen, long considered a cult artist, was finally welcomed into the pantheon of rock stars in his eighth decade…
In a 2008 BBC Radio 2 documentary about “Hallelujah” titled The Fourth, The Fifth, The Minor Fall, Guy Garvey of the British band Elbow recalled watching Cohen perform the song at the Glastonbury Festival. From his spot on the side of the stage, Garvey said that just before starting the introduction, Cohen turned to his band and said, “Let her go!” And that’s just what’s he’s done with this astonishing song—he’s let it go, to find its own way, through one of the most unexpected and triumphant sagas in the history of popular music.

Currently reading The Twelve Tribes of Hallie by Ayana Mathis (Knopf)

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