We were leaving a Winnipeg Fringe Festival performance in Augustine United Church. Two tenors, who were really quite talented singers, had put on a show parodying the whole ‘tenors’ musical genre.
The showstopper was a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that, the tenors promised, would reveal what the song is really about.
Not that Cohen’s song beats around the bush. Consider this verse:
There was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
Pretty clear what’s going on there, right?
But a lot of people just hear the Hallelujah.
So, we were on the way out after the show and the audience was talking about the song, and my companion and I couldn’t help but hear the conversation between two women behind us.
“I love that song.”
“I love it, too. Their version was pretty funny, though.”
“My sister-in-law would have hated it.”
“She refuses to listen to that song.”
“Somebody told her it is not about… something holy… you know? It’s about having sex. Like those guys just sang it. So she went home and read the lyrics and saw that was true. It is about sex. She was so shocked. She won’t listen to it anymore. And she used to love that song so much.”
“Yeah. ‘You shouldn’t write songs about that,’ she told me.”
The woman went on to say that her poor sister-in-law was at the folk festival when k.d. lang sang Hallelujah, and she got up and went to the back until it was over.
Hallelujah is about sex? I was shocked, too. I thought it was about so much more than that.
Yeah. Of course it’s about sex. That story about David watching Bathsheba bathing on the roof that Cohen references early on is pretty sexy. And it’s straight from the Bible. So’s the story about Samson and Delilah. It’s about the things we do for sex. Sometimes bad things. Sometimes things that doom us.
But it’s also a song about how the “Oh, oh, oh God, oh God, OH GOD!” rapture of sex is a mere practice run for the Hallelujah of spiritual rapture.
And I am pretty sure it is about a whole lot more than that.
Probably even Leonard Cohen doesn’t know the full extent of what the song is about, because creative rapture rides the same bus as sexual rapture and spiritual rapture, and all three of those things are pretty irrational.
You say you listened to the lyrics, sister-in-law? Did you really listen to them? Then you must have caught this:
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well, really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
Here on Earth, we’ve got lots of broken Hallelujahs. Earth is a broken Hallelujah. But each broken Hallelujah can take us closer to the holy one.
Hallelujah is about everything. War and peace and love and hate and holy and profane and creation and destruction. And everything between those things.
It’s about life, sister-in-law.
Why on Earth would you want to shut yourself off from that?