The Holy or the Broken

Malcolm Gladwell recorded a podcast about creativity, contrasting artists who revise and refine with artists who appear to produce their work whole.  It was Episode 7 in his Revisionist History series, published July 27, 2016. He illustrated his big idea with references to Elvis Costello’s revisions to The Deportee’s Club and the development of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah by Cohen, by John Cale, by Jeff Buckley before it became a pop standard and a secular hymn.

Gladwell mentioned the fact that the song was an obscure song from 1984 until 2001, and the variations introduced by Cale and Buckley, but passed over the uses of the Buckley cover on MTV and in television, the use of the Cale cover in the movie Shrek, the Rufus Wainright cover (for the Shrek soundtrack recording), the k.d. Lang cover and her 2010 Winter Olympic Concert, and the singing contest show television performances on The Voice and X Factor. The information is on Wikipedia in the entry Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen song).

Gladwell cites his sources on the Episode Web page, usually including books available from one of his sponsors.

One of his sources was Alan Light’s 2012 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”, which is also the a principal source for the Wikipedia entry. As the title implies, Light explores the tension between the religious exclamation and the biblical allusions, and the vivid, graphic memories of love experienced in sex acts.  Light comes close to saying that Cohen followed the Quebecois pattern of using the name of sacred objects as  obscenities.

Addendum: if you can get through the paywall, David Remnick’s October 2016 biographical article in the New Yorker on Cohen at 82 is worthwhile

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