Leonard Cohen is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, novelist, and artist. Cohen published his first book of poetry in Montreal in 1956 and his first novel in 1963. His work often deals with the exploration of religion, isolation, sexuality and complex interpersonal relationships.
Musically, Cohen’s earliest songs (many of which appeared on the 1967 album, Songs of Leonard Cohen) were rooted in European folk music. In the 1970s, his material encompassed pop, cabaret and world music. Since the 1980s his high baritone voice has evolved into lower registers (bass baritone and bass), with accompaniment from electronic synthesizers and female backing singers. Over two thousand renditions of Cohen’s songs have been recorded. He has been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. While giving the speech at his induction into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008, Lou Reed described Cohen as belonging to the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters.”
Cohen was born in 1934 in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, into a middle-class Jewish family. His father was of Polish ancestry. His mother, of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry, emigrated from Lithuania. He grew up in Westmount on the Island of Montreal. His father, Nathan Cohen, owned a substantial Montreal clothing store, and died when Leonard was nine years old. Like many other Jewish families with names like Cohen, Kahn, and Kagan, Cohen’s family claimed descent from the Kohanim: “I had a very Messianic childhood,” he told Richard Goldstein in 1967. “I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.” He attended Herzliah High School, where he studied with poet Irving Layton. As a teenager he learned to play the guitar, subsequently forming a country-folk group called the Buckskin Boys. His father’s will provided Leonard with a modest trust income, sufficient to allow him to pursue his literary ambitions.
“Hallelujah” is a song written by Canadian recording artist Leonard Cohen, originally released on his album Various Positions (1984). Achieving little initial success, the song found greater popular acclaim through a cover by John Cale, which inspired a cover by Jeff Buckley. Buckley’s version is the most enduringly popular and critically acclaimed cover of the song to date. It is the subject of the book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” (2012) by Alan Light. In a New York Times review of the book, Janet Maslin praises the book and the song, noting that “Cohen spent years struggling with his song ‘Hallelujah.’ He wrote perhaps as many as 80 verses before paring the song down.”
Following its increased popularity after being featured in the film Shrek, many cover versions have been performed by many and various singers, both in recordings and in concert, with over 300 versions known. The song has been used in film and television soundtracks and televised talent contests..
Hallelujah – Cohen
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
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
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
- Audio from the 1984 album, Various Positions: