Hallelujah is one of the most famous songs ever written, but a new movie reveals it Leonard Cohen 180 attempts over a decade to perfect it – only to be rejected by his record label. It was almost 20 years before the animated ghoul, Shrek, turned the song into a hit.
documentary film makers, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, Journey, Song, had unprecedented access to Cohen’s many notebooks, showing and omitting his written handwriting. “We were given an ‘implicit blessing’ for Leonard shortly before his death in 2016,” says co-director Dan Geller.
Cohen had begun his fateful meeting with the president of Columbia Records, Walter Yetnikov, who rejected the album, different positionsHallelujah, which was the main track.
One day in 1984, John Lesauer, coordinator and producer for many years, got a call. Leonard asked if I wanted a record as he had some new songs, including a song called Hallelujah. I never asked for the lyrics or for him to explain because that would be insulting. I simply wanted to be the audience. I really thought Columbia would love him Boy, was I wrong. Yetnikov hated it.”
But he offered no explanation except for some vague comments about “not liking the mix”. Geller and co-director Dina Goldfein attempted an interview with Letnikov. “But his wife said he had dementia,” Goldfein says. He died last year.
“How could Columbia get it wrong?” Lissauer asks.
The rejection was devastating to Cohen. “He was absolutely crushed,” says French photographer Dominique Isermann, who lived with Cohen while he wrote the album and sat on the recording in the studio. While Cohen never spoke stingingly about the public hit, in one of the film’s clips, he spoke of being said by Columbia: “We know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re good.”
Hallelujah began her life with a religious slant, reflecting Cohen’s Jewish heritage, with allusions to King David and Bathsheba (“the secret chord David played”) as well as Samson and Delilah. Later versions were more spiritual, and sometimes sexual. Lines such as “When David played, his fingers bled” appear as deserted.
Cohen recorded the date of his first encounter with Isermann in his notebooks. She remembers: “We used to have coffee together in the morning before he started working on it [Hallelujah]. He was playing with different versions in front of me. But it is such a puzzle. This is a symbolic poem. Yes, it is mysterious – like a bird flying across the room. ”
After being rejected, Bob Dylan sang a Hallelujah at a few concerts, but without much acclaim. Cohen performed it himself at the end of the 1980s, again without real success. She needed John Cale with a slightly different version of the song to gain more recognition, and then Jeff Buckley, who was signed in 1993 by Columbia Records, albeit under a different boss.
In 1994, Cohen, who was suffering from binge drinking and depression, moved for five years to a Buddhist monastery in California. Soon after leaving the resort, he learned that Dreamworks was making a computer animated movie, partner, where they plan to use the Alleluia, with a partner bemoaning the captive Princess Fiona. It seems an unlikely option. “I thought it was a good fit for a complex mix of feelings, not often found in a family movie,” he says. partner Director Vicki Jenson, who used Cal’s voice in her film. “I also chose it to keep ‘seat butts’ because it was a popular song. But I cut out the naughty bits, like ‘I Tied You on the Kitchen Chair’ and ‘I Saw You Bathing on the Roof.’”
Goldfine says: “Hallelujah has been activated by partner. This led to more cover versions for the likes of kd lang and Brandi Carlile. Hallelujah has also become very popular on TV talent shows, winning Alexandra Burke The tenth factor in 2008 with its delivery, and later topped the charts. However, Cohen never seemed angry because others did so well with his song. In a rare reflection on their success, he simply spoke in one clip in the documentary about it being a “paradox”.
A rejuvenated Cohen toured the world in 2008-2009, and in his late 70s, Back in 2012-13. Hallelujah he was always singing, usually with Cohen on his knees near the end. “It has become, effectively, an international hymn—religious or non-religious,” says Gellar.
Alleluia was performed at a Covid memorial service in early 2021 in Washington, while it is played regularly at parties, weddings and funerals. In the documentary, which was shown in cinemas this weekend, singer Regina Spector cites it as a “contemporary prayer” and “a guide to modern survival.”
“There is no doubt that Hallelujah helped rejuvenate Leonard’s career,” Goldfine says. “Finally, after a quarter of a century, he got it back as his own song.”