Periodically I’ll get in myself a yearning to listen to one song over and over so that I can explore the ways it moves me and why. Writing about music is not the wisest thing, they say, because you can’t capture the essence of what music is and does in mere words. Patrick Rothfuss put a disdain for all poets in his character Kvothe; poets are half-empty. It’s the actual music that moves.
As much as I love some poets–Eliot, Donne, Hunter–they just are half moving without song. Poor Eliot got put to music finally, but the music was showtunes. Still and all, you can’t say that certain of the tunes from CATS don’t leave you humming them now and forever. Hunter is the case that proves my point. As much as I love his poetry, it’s much more moving with the music written for it. Don’t believe me? Read “Ripple” and then listen to Ripple. One makes you think “that’s awesome”. The other will make you cry, smile, remember and hope.
Today the song that I got in my head to listen to repeatedly was perhaps my all-time favourite of all songs.
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
This is a poet’s heart put in music. It’s also one of the most beautiful pieces of music–words and song–put together. Of course that’s probably because the religious imagery, the battle between faith and doubt, the artful combination of sexuality and worship all combine in one perfect five minutes.
I need to go on record as having loved this song to pieces before it started showing up in every movie and TV show. You know this is true because I was an English major with a stereo in the 80s. Leonard Cohen was IT. The song first showed up in 84 but I truthfully didn’t know of it until 1987. From then on I was addicted to it, even though I listen to it sparingly. It’s not a song that you can hear once and say “okay, that was nice. Where’s the pie?” It’s a song that you hear and you think “that is what the word ‘Hallelujah’ means. That mournful joy where you are humbled before God yet joyous with the warmth of love.”
A few weeks ago I found out that there is an entire book about the song and I snatched that puppy right up. If you have a Kindle you too can buy it for $2.99 this month. I’m tickled that it was on sale for my birthday month. That right there is a tangible sign of a Beyond and a More.
Since I’m drattedly superstitious about my birthday* I figured I’d start the day with a binge on Cohen. That was how I spent my devotions today, praising God through this piece of music that found it’s way to me via the public library and scratchy vinyl.
It truly doesn’t matter which you heard or which you utter. The holy or the broken–those are both versions of self–you stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on your tongue but Hallelujah. The word is Hebrew for “Praise God”. And no matter how broken you are, just deliver that praise from deep inside your own bafflement.
*I have a belief that how you spend your birthday portends the way you will spend the coming year. So I try to focus on joy and kindness and love and reading and writing.