The converging lines and voices of “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song”

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Of all the sacred and profane poetic classics that the enigmatic Leonard Cohen embarked on the song tour, none are considered as powerful and poignant as “Hallelujah”. You could say for days that “First We Take Manhattan” is more ironic, or that “Bird on the Wire” is more purely poetic, or that “Amen” is as holy as “Hallelujah,” but more musically complex, but little imported. . The song has become that rarefied thing: a classic that touches everything from cradle to grave, with its mark as the soundtrack to well-secured weddings, births and funerals.

From his original version Hallowed on 1984 Various positions (an album unreleased in America when recorded, with Columbia’s famous label president saying, “Leonard, we know you’re great. We just don’t know if you’re good”) to Cohen’s own more secular versions , to the story of the artists who covered it (from Bob Dylan to Jeff Buckley, from Rufus Wainwright to Brandi Carlile, without forgetting the castings of american idol and The voice), the journey of “Hallelujah” is as epic as the song itself.

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival with a July theatrical release and October vinyl soundtrack, Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s feature-length documentary Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a journey, a song asks more questions, dark and dynamic, than it answers. As Cohen was an artist who never saw a reason to overexplain his mythos or his magic, the enigmatic aspects of his craft are mostly what lives on with his legacy. And with so many opinions about the power of the song, the conundrum grows deeper and more mysterious. Two of the many people interviewed for the documentary—journalist Larry “Ratso” Sloman and singer/collaborator Sharon Robinson— offered their own stances on Cohen and “Hallelujah” when questioned after the documentary screened.

New York-based author Sloman — as famous for his trips with Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue as he is for being a literary instrumental in songwriter/mystery novelist Kinky Friedman’s Manhattan mysteries — was on the case. by Cohen before 1974. New skin for the old ceremony and the interviews shared between them for this album. Their intimate in-person conversations could and should be the basis of their own film, perhaps a My dinner with André– like a docu-drama. How the two got to this level stems from a simple assignment of rolling stone magazine and Jann Wenner, and the fascination has never waned. “I had just come home from the University of Wisconsin, New York, and I was writing some articles that were actually really cool – Lou Reed’s Berlin album, which no one else liked but me, and touring with George Harrison, which Jann wanted to trash,” Sloman explains. “All of that, and Leonard was a plum mission.”

Larry “Ratso” Sloman

Larry “Ratso” Sloman

In 1974, at 40 but with only three albums behind him, the rising Canadian poet and songwriter was a quiet mystery to most. “But we bonded immediately, because we were two workaholic Jews,” Sloman says. “As you can see in the documentary, he had such attention to detail when it came to writing. It’s true that ‘Hallelujah’ took six years to complete. I had the same obsession with my plays. locker rooms of New York’s Bottom Line to coffeehouse stops, to hotel rooms and more, Sloman and Cohen were attached to each other’s words. said something prescient about his life and career after those Bottom Line shows: he wanted to play all night, he was so appreciative of the audience and their response. He grabbed a cold piece of chicken, opened a bottle of wine, and said, “I want to do a lot of work, make songs that will last for this moment, turning 40, this winter season.” Noting the lines on her hands, the crumbling of her fingernails, Cohen said said, ‘How many years old am I? If his health holds up, doing this forever would be wonderful.

“Every man should become an elder in his mind. And that’s what Leonard did: he became an elder to generations of music and lyric fans.

—Larry Sloman

When we know that he toured endlessly and more magnetically than ever between 2008 and 2013 (if only to fill the coffers when his then manager stole everything he earned in his life) and brilliantly recorded until the age of 82 and his death in 2016, Cohen’s words from 1974 rang true. The experience of coming of age is what he strove to pass on for the rest of his life. “Every man should become an elder in his mind,” Sloman says. “And that’s what Leonard did: he became an elder to generations of music and lyric fans. When he wrote “I hurt where I used to play” in “Tower of Song” at the age of 60, I knew exactly what Leonardo meant.

Along with talking about Cohen and Bob Dylan’s wonderful relationship, their shared conversations about the songwriting process, and moments between the literary icons, Sloman seems like a flashpoint when it comes to the song “Hallelujah.” He spoke of its virtues to Dylan – the first person to cover “Hallelujah” – who played it twice on tour in Canada. Sloman told John Cale, then a collaborator and co-creator of Velvet Underground, about it, who recorded it for a 1991 i am your man Cohen tribute compilation titled i am your fan in a uniquely organized edition. Sloman was with the A&R folks at Columbia when Jeff Buckley performed a broken, angelic version of “Hallelujah” at Sin-é in New York.

“I don’t know if Leonard knew who was doing his songs — ‘Hallelujah’ included — at the time,” Sloman says. “I don’t know how much he paid attention to things like that. When Leonard said this thing in the movie that people should give [all the ‘Hallelujah’ covers] a rest, however, that was ironic. He was thrilled to get some sort of retribution for the song his label ignored in the first place.

“I guess he saw a kindred spirit in me. I had this feeling as soon as I met him. There was a warmth that I felt immediately, even as I focused on memorizing my roles.

—Sharon Robinson

Cohen often told Sloman how torturous the writing of “Hallelujah” had been, “sitting there in his underwear banging his head as he worked through his myriad verses”, and “the betrayal of not not have published it”. Ultimately, after reviewing Cohen’s examinations of his devout Jewish roots and all levels of religion and spiritual pursuit (“He once told me there is no afterlife, that the world is a butcher’s shop”), Sloman says it’s this level of sacred and profane self-examination that helps build the power of the song.

Singer and songwriter Sharon Robinson began her affiliation with Cohen as a backing vocalist for tours in 1979 and 1980 and then again during this long stretch between 2008 and 2013. Additionally, Robinson and Cohen have collaborated on songwriting such as “Everybody Knows” and “Waiting for the Miracle” and working together on her 2001 album ten new songs and 2004 Dear Heather. If anyone has a truly unique portrait of Leonard Cohen, it’s Robinson. “Jennifer Warnes auditioned me to sing with her on the i am your man tour for Leonard, and I guess he saw a kindred spirit in me,” Robinson says of continuing their professional relationship. “I had that feeling as soon as I met him. There was a warmth that I felt immediately, even as I focused on memorizing my roles.

Becoming good friends according to her, the chemistry between Cohen and Robinson manifested in various ways, including writing songs based on life experiences and spiritual paths. “Like Leonard, I’ve always been a seeker, with many religions leading to the same place,” says Robinson. “Philosophically, we were a lot alike.” And musically, with his own studio and the ability to write melodies, create beats and provide vocal counterpoint, Robinson was a “one-stop-hop” when it came to collaborating on ten new songs and Dear Heather. “Leonard got comfortable with certain people in his life and liked to stay with them,” Robinson recalled. “He wrote many poems when he was away for five years, on retreat on Mount Baldy, and I took those words home, developed melodies, and we went from there. I knew the person I was writing for and I knew what he needed.

Romantic or not, Robinson muses in the new documentary that Cohen has put women on a pedestal. How Robinson benefited from such a high stature came down to respecting the “spiritual place of women, far beyond men.” What Cohen also held in high regard, as far as Robinson was concerned, was that she had a thorough musical education – something Cohen lacked and a crucial part of her relationship with “Hallelujah”. “When Leonard directed it through me, ‘The Fourth, The Fifth / The Minor Fall, The Major Lift’, he wanted to make sure it made sense to a schooled musician,” Robinson explains. “It was a brief discussion, but he needed to know it was fair. From there, the song evolves, takes on a life of its own, and morphs into something multi-faceted. Singing this song every night like we did for five straight years, I always find new meaning in the words of “Hallelujah.” Florida

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