Last night the nation witnessed a moving ceremony hosted by President-elect Biden and VP-elect Harris at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the over 400,000 people who have lost their lives to the pandemic. This is my entertainment blog so I will refrain from making political commentary about that event. But I want to talk about the choice of music.
We were treated to a very moving rendition of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah”. And as moving and has touching as the performance was, like most performances of that song it was completely inappropriate for the occasion.
Did you ever really listen to any of the words of the song other than the refrain “hallelujah”? It is not a hymn for a solemn occasion. It’s a song about a bad romantic breakup and a romantic rival. Listen to the damn words! What is God’s name does that have to do with honoring people who died in a pandemic or any of the other solemn occasions in which we’ve heard this song performed?
Can you imagine what Mr. Cohen might feel to have written such a beautiful song with a specific message in mind and then to hear that song performed by people who are clueless as to the meaning of the words he wrote.
By the way the version sung last night came from the Jeff Buckley version of the lyrics which is different from the original Leonard Cohen recording. I’ve heard the Cohen wrote as many as 80 versus but only recorded four of them. In live performances he used various versions of the lyrics.
While we’re on the topic of misuse of solemn songs let’s talk about John Lennon’s “Imagine”. While its message of peace, love, and understanding is indeed appropriate for many solemn occasions and has been appropriately used by performers during times of national tragedy such as 9/11, it surprises me the extent to which that song is used in a religious context and in a patriotic context.
Did you not listen to those lyrics said “Imagine there’s no heaven”, “Imagine there’s no countries… Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too”, “Imagine no possessions.”
Is that patriotic? Is that a religious hymn? Is that appropriate in a capitalist economy?
Don’t get me wrong it’s a beautiful song. The message of peace, love, understanding, brotherhood of man… All very laudable goals. But on the other hand you could argue its communist, anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism, anti-religion. And people sing it like it’s a hymn.
Being wary of copyright infringement I will not reproduce the entire lyrics of the song is here but here is a link to another site that has the complete lyrics of these songs.
Read them. Words matter. Pay attention to them and use them appropriately.
- Leonard Cohen original lyrics for “Hallelujah”
- Jeff Buckley version of lyrics for “Hallelujah”
- John Lennon’s lyrics for “Imagine”
Yes, thank you for putting this out there. I have long felt the same about both songs. Those who program these songs for lyrically inappropriate uses must either not pay attention to the lyrics, or feel that the sombre sentiment of the melody prevails in importance. In any case, how could it not be jarring to hear a church choir piously intoning “Well, there was a time when you let me know /
What’s really going on below /
But now you never show that to me, do ya?”?