Commentary on Hallelujah
It is indisputable that Leonard Cohen has written a Masterpiece in his Hallelujah song. The blending of lyrics to music, and music to lyrics, is pure beauty, and skillful beyond all words. There is enough mystery in the lyrics to cause all kinds of interpretation, and then, of course, the use of a sacred word like hallelujah, used repetitively with a haunting melody easily brings on interpretations of a religious nature.
I will suggest that while the lyrics may be complicated, and the word hallelujah may suggest something religious, the song taken as a whole is actually not religious, unless you just must think of it that way. It's just a very simple message of love that has gone wrong. It's a heartbreak song. Only not in the Country venue.
Hallelujah is a Jewish word, not Christian
Jewish tradition at passover is to recite verses at the table before eating, with all participants uniting in a "Hallelujah" between each verse
Leonard Cohen has written a hauntingly, beautiful masterpiece in this song. It is rare indeed, that the lyrics and music of a song are as perfectly matched and blended as in Cohen's song. The song touches people at a profound emotional level.
That it touches people so profoundly, probably misleads us in the interpretation of the lyrics, possibly reading too much into interpreting the lyrics. Dylan's followers craved to understand his lyrics, but Dylan was actually writing paradoxical and catchy phrases that would fit well with his music, and not trying to unravel the deep secrets of life. He actually told reporters, "I don't know what they mean. They mean whatever you want."
Cohen is different than Dylan in that the lyrics to "Hallelujah" have continuity from start to finish. Dylan's lyrics rarely had continuity, and while Dylan's music is widely respected, Cohen's song has hit the pinnacle of mastery in blending lyrics with melody about as perfect as it gets.
Because the song is such a perfect blending of words to music, the lyrics should not be interpreted alone, but rather the song, the melody, should be interpreted in combination with the lyrics.
Taken alone, the lyrics are simply the classic human story of falling in love only to lose it. Everyone knows that pain. That's what he's writing about. Any biblical or spiritual reference is strictly for analogy or metaphor. The chorus and melody of the repetitive "hallelujah," the highs, the lows, the soft tones, the dramatic tones using a usually holy word is what gives the overall song it's mystique, and takes the story to a more profound level.
Every verse ends by rhyming with the center piece "hallelujah," and then we are taken into the beautiful melodic highs and lows of the "hallelujah" chorus, which is very risky in writing music, to recite a word over and over, but we don't tire of hearing the chorus because of it's beautiful melody. The chorus illuminates the story. It adds the deeply human element to one of the mysteries of life, why fall in love just to have it go away?
And, through every verse of saying something about a love gone wrong, in the chorus, we find that life has this underlying affirmation that we all must live with. Life will go on, whether you are singing a passionate Hallelujah, or a painful and "broken Hallelujah." Each life, each of us will sing, through all the ups and downs. We may sing dramatically or we may sing painfully, or we may sing unbelieving, or with resignation, but Cohen's Hallelujah is the current beneath life itself.
The versus aren't meant to be taken verse by verse, as in the phrase "She tied you To her kitchen chair. She broke your throne, and she cut your hair." This doesn't mean anything by itself, but the entire set of the verse simply says, he fell in love strongly once, even though he didn't start out believing in love, love was a force unresistant, and one cannot turn away from it. All the following verses simply say that the love went bad, but all the way there is this underlying "hallelujah" in everything we do. He's not using the "hallelujah" as praise, but as inspiration, an affirmation of life itself.
The use of that particular word is the ultimate irony. The word is sacred, and usually used in a context of praise. Cohen, dares to use it not only for praise, but for disappointment, pain, resignation, as if to say the word was placed within us all, and as long as we are living we will sing some version of Hallelujah, reaching from the heights of praise to the lows of hopelessness.