Field Commander Cohen's most popular song, Hallelujah, appears three times in the UK singles chart as a result of an amateur singer, Alexandra Burke, winning a Simon Cowell TV talent competition, The X Factor, which I have never seen and hope never to see.
Ms. Burke, who looks and sounds much like a junkie transvestite Donna Summer impersonator, seems to think that the song, perhaps concerning sex and songwriting, has a religious premise. Therefore she gives it the full shop assistant-in-a-gospel choir treatment. This vulgarity gained her the Number One position in the Brit charts and has allegedly given her sales of over half a million.
The song has previously been butchered on American Idol.No doubt Leonard Cohen will be only too pleased to get the money mountain which will eventually filter into his coffers. I see that Burke recently performed at the Millies ceremony. The Millies are Oscar-style awards doled out to members of the British armed forces and supported by right-wing tabloid The Sun, Prince Charles, and a cross section of far right/Tory eminences such as TV's Jeremy Clarkson. Since the British currently have forces of occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and my native Ireland, I regard Burke's involvement as being tantamount to collaboration with war criminals.
At Number Two is Jeff Buckley's rendition. This, until last month, was the best known version, sometimes referred to as "the original version." It reached its contemporary chart position as after a campaign orchestrated by Buckley's legions of yeasty moustachioed female fans. Putting aside his death-cult and his pretty face, Buckley was just a third rate Freddy Mercury impersonator who played the NYC fag community like a Stradivarius. Some say he was offed because he was throwing a leg over Natalie Wood but, be that as it may, if I'd been in the sea when he got into difficulties I'd happily have dived underwater to hold him down. His fame and posthumous sales laid the foundations for a thousand high pitched faggy nobodies like Rufus Wainwright (who also recorded Hallelujah) or Antony and the Johnsons.
It's not unusual for fine songs by fine artists to be successfully covered by mediocrities who can't come up with their own material.
Happily the third charting version of Hallelujah is Cohen's own. But perhaps the sharpest and most rewarding take on it is John Cale's - and Cale is neither mediocre nor incapable of creating beguiling music. As far as I know he was one of the first to do it on his live Fragments of a Rainy Season album. It is this version which was used on the Shrek soundtrack and which "inspired" Jeff Buckley.
(photograph by David Boswell)
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.