Montreal-born Leonard Cohen picked up Artist of the Year at last weekend’s Juno Awards. Who would have thought? Cohen’s — slow, very, very slow — rise to the rank of international superstar has been quite the show.
Back in his youth, his poetry didn’t sell. His earthy novel, Beautiful Losers (1966), was called “revolting” by reviewer Robert Fulford, himself a journalistic legend. And Cohen’s album, Various Positions, was such a shock to record executives that Columbia refused to release it back in 1984.
And yet ‘Hallelujah’ is on that album – one of the most beloved songs in the Western world.
It’s even inspired a book, an appreciation and history, of a sort, titled The Holy Or The Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley And The Unlikely Ascent Of ‘Hallelujah’, by Alan Light (2012, filed in New Arrivals).
‘Hallelujah’ has been covered by kd lang, Bon Jovi and Justin Timberlake. U2’s Bono apologized for massacring it, and the kids know it from the movie Shrek.
Five years ago, Leonard Cohen asked people to stop performing it, then changed his mind. He had, after all, spent years and years writing it, editing out and adding in verses that go from the profane to the spiritual to the orgasmic.
This is a great book for those who consider ‘Hallelujah’ to be a modern standard.
Every age has its big names. For a previous generation, it’s the von Trapps, whose story has lived on in the popular musical The Sound Of Music. A Benedictine novitiate, Maria, is sent off as a combination teacher and nanny to a large, motherless and extremely rich family in rural Austria. Maria is desolate, feeling like she’s been exiled by Mother Superior, and finds Capt. Georg von Trapp’s household a bit severe (he did indeed call his children with a whistle).
The first half of this memoir, The Story Of The Trapp Family Singers (1955, filed in non-fiction), tells of the children, the courtship and of the slow run-up to World War II and the German invasion. The family refused to treat Jews like dirt and received a request to perform for the Fuhrer. “You can’t say no three times to Hitler,” warns Georg von Trapp. And on that third time, the family flees.
The second half of the book honestly showcases the many false starts that beset these Old World aristocrats in the brash New World — their poverty, the difficulty in adjusting to life as immigrants in the United States (from their own personal arrogance to the intestinal shock of being served mayonnaise on pears). The von Trapp’s (eventual) flexibility and their Christian faith helped see them through.
Even further back, consider the fame of Johann Sebastian Bach, born in 1685. A young man named Pablo Casals discovered the music to Bach’s six lost cello suites in an old music shoppe back in the 1890s, and years later, finally, timidly, recorded them. The book The Cello Suites: JS Bach, Pablo Casals, And The Search For A Baroque Masterpiece, by Eric Siblin (2009, filed in non-fiction), is a historical detective novel, music appreciation and memoir. It looks at Bach’s complicated life as well as that of Casals.
Casals, one of the modern world’s greatest cellists, was a Catalan nationalist who also refused to perform for Hitler, and also lived. He died in 1973, in his nineties, still performing those stunning six suites.
– Eleanor Brown, April 26, 2013