I heard there was a secret chordI've heard the song many times in many iterations. There's the original Leonard Cohen version, of course, and the Jeff Buckley, which is phenomenal. I remember the song played over the final credits of Julian Schnabel's movie Basquiat (a flawed but good movie, I still contend, despite the historical irregularities and art hysteria. For more on Schnabel see this post.) I once heard a Balkan gypsy band cover the song at the Ukranian National Home in the East Village, and I have sung it myself, looking out at Manhattan and at the river, when I could still see those things from my living room windows, while my boyfriend accompanied me on his classical guitar. Our audience was ourselves, some unwitting neighbors, and my cat who, if asked the question at the end of the stanza quoted above would answer if she could: No. No I don't care for music. Thanks for asking.
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music do ya?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifthThere's a long tradition of Jewish songwriters writing Christian spirituals. Summertime was written by a Jew, after all.
The minor fall and the major lift
Its a cold and its a broken Hallelujah!
I always loved this part:
Baby I have been here beforeI used to live alone before I knew you--we're in a world, as my last writing teacher would say. And the world has things in it that are hard to understand, things like The Lord of Song and oblique sexual references and the problems of songwriting. But it also has people who know rooms. People who sit on chairs. People who have histories that are filled with things we all understand like loneliness. I used to live alone before I knew you.
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew 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
It is a beautiful song, which is why I've heard it so many times in so many ways. And there is something so therapeutic about singing Hallelujah over and over again, unapologetically, as if speaking to the Lord of Song or love or something or someone equally big and important. But there is something that is also sad about it. I think it is the quietness of the droning repetition that makes it seem like whomever the singer is addressing is not listening, is gone.