Welcome to the fifth installment of BAMusic! (I’m not putting BAMusic! in the title anymore because it’s redundant and hurts SEO.)
Let’s cut straight to it.
There are tons of covers of this song, and it’s easy to hear why. A masterpiece. Not to mention, David’s story is compelling. Likely my favorite biblical story. Seriously, read you some Bible. It’s not all boring. Also, this isn’t an endorsement of religion. Read all sorts of books from all sorts of backgrounds.
But, back on track, the original Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen, gets overlooked. And his is the version I love, for its lyrics. As far as listening goes, honestly, I prefer the covers.
You’ve got Jeff Buckley (above), Rufus Wainwright, Pentatonix…
And it’s not unlikely that the first version you heard was John Cale’s, the cover they used in Shrek. (A shame to admit, that’s where my obsession with the song began.)
But not one of them keeps to the lyrics of the original. Except for maybe Willie Nelson’s. It’s hard to tell, because it’s such a small (but significant) difference.
A single word…
In Leonard Cohen’s version, he sang the following line:
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
The word that every other cover has changed (assuming it was a mistake, I suppose) is that solitary “and.” Perhaps he sang the “and” mistakenly but it’s a clear and strong “and.” So, if mistake, glorious mistake.
Compared to the line in every cover ever:
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you.
Why is this such a travesty? Because the latter, Cohen’s version, is the shining example of hendiadys.
Hendiadys: A subtle rhetorical trick/technique where you take an adjective-noun pairing and turn it into a noun-noun pairing.
Noisy city, for example, adjective-noun.
Noise and city, noun-noun.
I can’t take credit for the observation (or the example). I never knew why I loved the lyric in the original Hallelujah so much until I read Mark Forsyth’s Elements of Eloquence.
He shares my opinion on the beauty of Leonard Cohen’s original lyric, and put words to why it draws such a response. (So I won’t expound. You want his words, read his work.)
His whole book is more of the same, putting words to, quantifying, rhetorical techniques that we’ve likely been exposed to in the writing of the greats. That we’ve likely used ourselves (to lesser effect) countless times.
But understanding what you’re doing, and why, goes a long way. It’s a great read. Witty. Funny. I flew through it.
So now you know…
I’m a full-blown fucking word nerd. The type of person who will listen through a single song dozens of times over just to hear whether they used “and” or “in.”
Tell anyone and I’ll grind your beauty and bones into dust, which I will then mix in with cement, immortalizing you in some grand structure. Like a bridge or patio.