I can safely assume that many people didn't know Leonard Cohen wrote the song Hallelujah until last night's Saturday Night Live, because I didn't even know that until earlier this year. That's when I ran into this episode of the podcast Revisionist History which tells the story of how we've come to know the song we know now, the one popularized by Jeff Buckley. The short story is that Buckley happened to have heard it in the living room of a friend who had a copy of "I'm Your Fan," a relatively obscure Leonard Cohen tribute album on which John Cale (of the Velvet Underground)'s version first appears.
There's a longer story told by Alan Light, author of The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah." In the book and in the podcast, Light romanticizes the parts of the Hallelujah story that shares kinship with how I've come to talk about & romanticize the idea of "artistry": a long and convoluted attempt to articulating one's complex and conflicting experience of the world, all in a beautiful form that (most importantly!) matters to others. Here's one tiny way in which Light tries to capture it:
"Cohen was chasing an idea with this song but he couldn't find it...he just kept writing and writing, and writing—depending on when he tells the story he wrote 50 or 60 or 70 verses for this song...and I don't know how much of that is variations on verses or entirely new verses or how much of it is exaggeration...but it doesn't matter because it's on a completely different level."
Honestly, I was only first introduced to Leonard Cohen in the opening title of True Detective's 2nd season. Say what you will about what many people felt was a disappointing follow-up to the series' first grand iteration—Cohen's work in the title credits is a rich and complex blend of both conflicted introspection within and twisted negotiation without. A tortured reflection on the question of how we might ever possibly navigate dark & difficult inner and outer worlds.
Which of course what also is expressed in the majesty that resonates with so many people in Hallelujah. And it's this story that I want to continue romanticizing through my work with Composure: that we're all just hoping to navigate a complex and conflicting world, that maybe we can only do so by understanding our conflicted, confusing selves. And that all of it is incredibly difficult. And that all of it is incredibly worth it.
...For what it's worth, if there's one line I'd romanticize as one of the most beautifully conflicted expressions of the kind of self-awareness that is maybe felt only in coming to terms with the multitudes of this complicated world, it's the peaceful understanding of: "...but you don't really care for music, do ya?" And the way he goes on to share it anyway—my god as the very rare tears streaming right now might indicate, that kind of rare and deep understanding of the world is one of the very few things that gets me to lose my composure.