Tracing "Hallelujah" From Obscurity To Ubiquity

The popularity of the song quickly snowballs. It's spotlighted in Shrek, it becomes the go-to anthem during 9/11, every singer-songwriter on the planet--from household names to coffeehouse nobodies--begins covering it live. Even Jon Bon Jovi gets in on the act. "I got the meaning of 'Hallelujah' right away," Bon Jovi says in the book. "I got the irony, got the sexuality." (Light also notes that much to the chagrin of many Cohen and Buckley fans, Cohen himself once told Rolling Stone that Bon Jovi's cover of the song was one of his favorites ever.) Eventually, the song becomes a staple on American Idol and X Factor. Susan Boyle covers it, Justin Timberlake performs it. And here we are.

Light ponders the question of whether we've hit "Hallelujah" fatigue, whether the song has lost its potency through ubiquity. "It seemed like it slowed down for a minute, but then it was fascinating to see Adam Sandler spoof it on the 12/12/12 show [to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims]. As I wrote in the book, it's been taken seriously for so long, it's kind of begging for someone to pop the balloon. Is it gonna be Weird Al? Is it gonna be in a Judd Apatow movie? And then there's Adam Sandler doing it. So I was like, 'Well, maybe that'll slow it down for a while,' and then two days later was the shootings in Connecticut and that's the song everybody turned to again. The Sandler thing lasted 48 hours and then it was right back to, 'Right, that's the song we need in these situations.'

"It was a testament to the fact that the song's reached that place and it's not vulnerable to something like [a spoof], that it's bigger than that and it can take the hit of the joke and still work the way that it's continued to work. When Paul Simon talks about it, that song was 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and he saw 'Hallelujah' come along and become the next song that does that. So now, until something else rises up and takes it away, it's still holding that spot."

Why? At the conclusion of The Holy or the Broken, Light offers his own eloquent explanation:

A venerated creator. An adored, tragic interpreter. An uncomplicated, memorable melody. Ambiguous, evocative words. Faith and uncertainty. Pain and pleasure. A song based in Old Testament language that a teen idol can sing. An erotically charged lyric fit for a Yom Kippur choir or a Christmas collection. Cold. Broken. Holy.

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