In the nearly 30 years since Leonard Cohen first recorded "Hallelujah," it has gone from a largely overlooked album track to one of the most covered songs in recent history. Rock editor and journalist Alan Light traces the improbable trajectory of this now-infamous song from its painstaking birth (it took years to compose) to its enduring ubiquity. The Holy or the Broken focuses mostly on the bard of Montreal and the late singer-songwriter responsible for its most well-known (and perhaps most stirring) rendition.
Since the turn of the millennium, "Hallelujah" has appeared in films, on television programs, as part of globe-spanning tribute concerts, in Olympic coverage, and, most recently, on nearly every conceivable incarnation of reality TV singing competition ever to grace the airwaves. With hundreds of available covers, "Hallelujah" has been performed by everyone (after Cohen, John Cale, and Jeff Buckley) from Rufus Wainwright, k. d. lang, Regina Spektor, and Bono to Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, Susan Boyle, and even Michael Bolton. Following brief biographical backgrounds on both Cohen and Buckley, Light follows the mania that has often accompanied the song, interviewing dozens of musicians for whom the song proved pivotal, poignant, or commercially lucrative.
Composing an entire book about a single song is a lofty endeavor, but Light's work is well-researched and often interesting. In addition to reporting upon the nearly exhausting number of cover versions, Light also considers the lyrical complexity and musical qualities that have made the song so appealing across so wide a spectrum. Apparently now somewhat of a regular at weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, and church services, Light outlines the song's allure in both spiritual and secular contexts. If you've ever referred to "Hallelujah" as "the Shrek song," this is probably a book that you should consider required reading posthaste. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Praised as "brilliantly revelatory...a masterful work of critical journalism" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), The Holy or the Broken is the fascinating account of one of the most-performed rock songs in history--Leonard Cohen's heartrending "Hallelujah."
When iconoclastic rocker Leonard Cohen first wrote and recorded the song "Hallelujah," it was for an album rejected by his longtime record label. When finally released, it attracted little attention or airplay. Today, the song is a staple of movies and TV shows as diverse as Shrek and The West Wing and has been covered by hundreds of artists around the world, including Bob Dylan, U2, Justin Timberlake, and k.d. lang. Written with elegance and journalistic precision, The Holy or the Broken charts the rise of "Hallelujah" from obscurity to phenomenal success.
After ten years of obscurity, the song was reimagined by charismatic newcomer Jeff Buckley for his much-anticipated debut album, Grace. Three years after that, Buckley would be dead, his album largely unknown, and "Hallelujah" still unreleased as a single. After two such commercially disappointing outings, how did one little-known song become an international anthem for human triumph and tragedy, a song each successive generation seems to feel they have discovered and claimed as uniquely their own?
Through in-depth interviews with its interpreters and the key figures who witnessed its original recordings, acclaimed music journalist Alan Light follows the improbable journey of "Hallelujah" straight to the heart of popular culture. "Thoughtful and illuminating" (The New York Times), The Holy or the Broken gives insight into how great songs come to be, how they come to be listened to, and how they can be forever reinterpreted.
Praised as “brilliantly revelatory…a masterful work of critical journalism” (Kirkus Reviews
, starred review), The Holy or the Broken
is the fascinating account of one of the most-performed rock songs in history—Leonard Cohen’s heartrending “Hallelujah.”
How did one obscure song become an international anthem for human triumph and tragedy, a song each successive generation seems to feel they have discovered and claimed as uniquely their own? Celebrated music journalist Alan Light follows the improbable journey of “Hallelujah” straight to the heart of popular culture.
About the Author
Alan Light has been one of America’s leading music journalists for the past twenty years. He was a writer at Rolling Stone, founding music editor and editor-in-chief of Vibe, and editor-in-chief of Spin magazine. He has been a contributor to The New Yorker, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, and Mother Jones. He is the author of The Skills to Pay the Bills, an oral history of the Beastie Boys; The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”; and cowriter of the New York Times bestselling memoir by Gregg Allman, My Cross to Bear.