Here is a video I have made of Leonard singing Hallelujah using an audio file from the November 29th 2012 show in Montreal and using photos from only this song that I took at concerts in Ghent, Dublin, Montreal and Toronto in 2012.
When I am asked by people my favourite Leonard Cohen song and I answer with Hallelujah I sometimes get the reaction of raised eyebrows. It is sometimes conceived that answering with a major artists most well-known song as your favourite as a sign that you are not someone who has a great knowledge of the artist in question. I’d like to think while I don’t know everything about Leonard’s music that I do have a good knowledge of most of his work as a singer-songwriter.
So why Hallelujah? Well I will now attempt to answer that question. The first time I heard Hallelujah and indeed any of Leonard’s songs was the Jeff Buckley version of the song. It was August 23rd 2004 and almost midnight. I was listening to the radio, almost asleep when the DJ announced that as it was the 10th anniversary of the release of Jeff’s album Grace he would play his version of the song. I’ll never forget this moment as long as I live. I remember thinking how amazing the song was and it gave me goosebumps. While the DJ had said it was a cover he didn’t mention who the original singer and writer were so as soon as the song finished playing I picked up the phone and rang him and asked him. He said it is Leonard Cohen, adding knowing I was (and still am) a huge fan of soft rock that I would not like Leonard Cohen. I told him well I loved this song! For me at that time while I appreciated good lyrics the music was the most important, I had to enjoy the music before I could appreciate the lyrics. Hallelujah was the start of that scale changing for me and I now find myself drawn more and more to well written lyrics. Of course the music is still very important too.
I then made it my mission to get my hands on a copy of Leonard singing this song on CD. The DJ not a fan of Leonard’s refused to play his version for me. This proved a tricky mission. At the time I used to get most of my albums in either HMV or an on-line music store called CDWOW. CDWOW didn’t stock any Leonard Cohen albums at the time and while HMV did have some of Leonard’s albums it proved tricky getting one with this song on it. After a bit of searching I finally got my hands on a copy of The Essential Leonard Cohen in a HMV store. As soon as I got home I straight away listened to Hallelujah. On the first listen to Leonard singing this song I admit I was very taken aback as it is so different to Jeff’s version. I immediately listened to it again and something inside me clicked and I instantly felt I was listening to what in my opinion was the greatest song ever written and I still feel like this.
Trying to pinpoint exactly why I felt like this and still do is difficult as I’m not sure I even know the answer myself. I just knew that the lyrics and melody to my ears were just magical. I see Hallelujah as a conflict between religious beliefs and human desires. Trying to pick a favourite line from the song is impossible for me but two of my favourites are “Baby I have been here before I know this room, I’ve walked this floor” and “I did my best, it wasn’t much I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch”. I often quote these lines in conversation as well as many other lines from the work of Leonard.
After listening to Hallelujah on repeat a few times I went back to the start of the album and listened start to finish. How wrong that DJ proved to be. I instantly loved everything I was hearing and on that first listen the other song to really hit me was So Long Marianne. This song is very close in my affections to Hallelujah to this day. I couldn’t believe it had taken me around 27 years to discover Leonard Cohen and his music but maybe I wasn’t ready to discover him before this. I have mentioned to people that I discovered Leonard and his songs at a time in my life when I most needed it. I was going through a dark time and slowly listening every night to his songs I felt myself coming out the other side.
A few months after getting The Essential I finally found a copy of Various Positions in HMV and slowly starting adding all his CDs to my collection. When the 2008 world tour was announced the Dublin concerts were already sold out and I hadn’t yet discovered the Leonard Cohen Forum so put not having a ticket down to bad luck. I never have and never will use a ticket tout to get tickets to a concert. I’d signed up for notifications after this so I was finally able to witness the magic in 2009 for the first time. Hearing Hallelujah sang live for the first time was special moment for me. After the Lissadell concert in 2010 I was heart-broken to think I might never see Leonard live again so for the first time in my life I left Ireland and went alone to see him in Katowice, Poland and also to Las Vegas for the final two concerts of the tour. I’d never gone to see the same artist two nights in a row before but then Leonard isn’t like anyone to me.
When I met Leonard in Las Vegas I asked him to sign Hallelujah lyrics for me and on the plane home the following day while writing a review of the concerts I listened to Live in London on my mp3 player. As soon as Hallelujah came on I was in convulsions of tears. This song had literally changed my life forever. It had taken me 32 years to travel outside Ireland and had I never heard that song that day who knows what path my life would be on. Since seeing Leonard in Poland and Las Vegas I’ve also seen him in Belgium and of course the dream trip to Canada. Not only have I witnessed the magic of Leonard many times but have seen some wonderful places completely different to Ireland. Of course when everyone and anyone started covering the song I would have heard it at a later date anyway but that doesn’t mean I would have been able to hear the magic underneath to same level as I had done with Jeff’s cover which inspired me to find the original and for me the best. That night started me on a wonderful adventure in terms of first and most importantly discovering Leonard and then discovering the Forum and through it and Facebook connecting with many other wonderful people, some now who are my closest friends. I say Hallelujah for the song and Hallelujah for Leonard Cohen.