I hate being wrong.
Anybody who’s performed live, be it in a band or as a solo act, suffers through this one universal truth: sooner or later, everybody you know comes to you as says, “I’ve got the perfect song for you to do.” Usually, it’s their favorite song; if you’re lucky, it’s a song you know and like; and if you’re a vocalist and you’re supremely lucky, it’ll be a song in your range (I’ve lost track of how many times someone’s suggested a tune I’d need to take a pair of pliers to my scrotum to reach the high note) – more often than not, however, it’s a song you either can’t stand, can’t sing, or have major reservations about.
My lovely mother brought me such a song, and I didn’t want to sing it.
There are dozens of this song out on the Web. Everyone’s heard it at one time or another – it was in The Watchmen and the Shrek movies; on the singing competition shows, some contestant will pull this out in the later rounds; and much like Memory back in the 80’s, sooner or later every singer of any note performs this tune. I didn’t want to be just another in the crowd.
I also avoided the song because on the surface it sounds religious – the first two verses make direct biblical references, chorus comes straight out of the Bible, and the song itself is written in the AAA style of a church hymn; that is, just like Amazing Grace, it’s just one melody repeated over and over again, telling a story. Anyone who’s sat at my table and had a beer with me knows that’s not the guy I am. I think your relationship with the Almighty is between you, the Almighty, and nobody else – no reason to wear your religious beliefs on your sleeve, and I don’t. If you catch me standing in line at the Post Office and I singing a hymn, I’m performing said hymn at a wedding or funeral in a day or two.
I gave a close listen to the song not too long ago, then I downloaded the lyrics and read the poetry without the music getting in the way – I very quickly realized this song has nothing to do with religion. The song is about making a physical connection with someone you care about that is so intense, it feels like a religious experience; it’s also about not being able to hold on to that intensity because you never learned to express that love and desire in any way other than physical. The simplicity of the melody masks the complexity of the emotional content, and I knew, I KNEW I had to sing this song. The sooner, the better.
While my band took a break between the first and second set, with my mother in the audience and my lovely Lady Fair looking on, I sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah a capella in a biker dive bar. And I’m making plans to do it again for my birthday.
Thank you, Mom, for bringing this song to my attention and not letting up… so sorry I didn’t pay closer attention.
Please enjoy kd lang’s interpretation of Hallelujah. As soon as I get a version recorded, I’ll post it, as well.