Tag Archives: christmas

on leonard cohen’s “hallelujah”

I didn’t want to write this post. I thought I wouldn’t need to. I thought our collective listening comprehension was better. I should have known.

Let me be clear: I really like this song. All of its many verses. I like it a bit less when it’s belted by some aspiring diva who doesn’t understand subtlety, but it’s still a great song. It’s a song of profound heartbreak and honesty. It is beautiful in its strophic simplicity. It is not, however — as so many people apparently believe — a religious song. I know, I know. Hear me out on this.

It started last year when I heard several (mediocre) renditions on holiday radio. Even when any song even vaguely referencing holidays or winter qualifies as a “Christmas song” or “holiday song,” this references neither. I rhetorically wondered to a coworker why this song was so heavily featured in the radio station’s rotation, and he replied, “Well, isn’t ‘hallelujah’ something they say in church?”

I… wow. Sure, yes, but… really? First off, “hallelujah” is traditionally more associated with Easter than Christmas (please, please don’t get me started on the “Hallelujah Chorus”). But more importantly, that line of reasoning qualifies Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” for liturgical inclusion. And last I checked, Madonna (the singer, not the mother of Jesus) was still verboten in church. (Please do not correct me if I’m wrong.)

I figured this coming holiday season I’d have to write something on it. As you know, I have a special place in my heart for holiday songs of all kinds, from liturgical to super-secular. This is simply not one of them. So I had it on my brain’s back burner. Until this morning, when someone sang it in church.

I couldn’t believe it. Whoever decided it was okay for inclusion in a church service apparently fell for the same reasoning as my coworker and paid zero attention to the actual lyrics. Let’s review, shall we?

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
that David played, and it pleased the Lord,
but you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth,
the minor fall, the major lift;
the baffled king composing Hallelujah!

Your faith was strong but you needed proof.
You saw her bathing on the roof;
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you.
She tied you to a kitchen chair,
she broke your throne and she cut your hair,
and from your lips she drew a Hallelujah.

Maybe there’s a God above
but all I ever learned from love
was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
It’s not a cry that you hear at night,
it’s not somebody who’s seen the light,
it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

These were the three verses performed in church this morning, probably the most popular. And thank heaven for that, because the other two popular verses are much more suggestive. Here, we’ve got several historical biblical references — including to Samson, brought down by his love for a woman — but nothing that even remotely qualifies it for inclusion in any church service. Which made me seriously wonder how the performers didn’t realize this is completely inappropriate. Worse, the congregation didn’t notice either. They loved it.

I am not bashing this song. On the contrary, it’s one of the better pop tunes out there. But without getting into a screed regarding the theological soundness of modern worship music, I pray we can all agree that this does not belong in a church service. Ever. Sing it at home, sing it in the car, sing it at the talent show. Don’t sing it during church.

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Filed under guerrilla pop musicology, this actually happened


We just got the notification that class is cancelled until 11am tomorrow due to weather. This time it’s because of the cold. This morning it was the cold. Yesterday was snow. The first two days of classes were snow and frigid cold. Having grown up in Central New York and lived in Potsdam, copious snow and brutal cold don’t bother me much, but I can understand how Ohioans are not at all prepared for this. Heck, we’re on Kentucky’s border – officially The South.

For instance, yesterday morning a semi truck – yes, one with 18 wheels – was stuck on a slick patch right in front of my house, spinning his tires only feet from my car. It had been snowing for hours. Not a single plow came through, because it doesn’t snow enough to warrant having a whole fleet. And nobody around here is prepared for below zero windchills. Pea coats and scarves are usually plenty.

So naturally I’m always That Person who’s telling horror stories about the cold I suffered in Potsdam and the snow I grew up with in Mills. Yes, I know what -35 plus windchill feels like (it’s really, really painful). I’m sure they’ve all heard me say that my high school didn’t close until more than 18″ of snow had fallen. If it was 8″-18″ they just called a 90 minute delay so they could get the plows out. Under 12″ was business as usual more often than not. You don’t see grass from Halloween to Easter. It snows on Mother’s Day. Lake effect is a cruel mistress. I don’t know how many of my friends believe me and how many think I’m super exaggerating. Let me assure you: I don’t need to exaggerate 3 feet of snow between noon and 4pm on Christmas Day 2000, then another 2 feet on New Years Day.

So yes, I know we got a lot of snow. And sure, it’s a lot by pretty much the whole country’s standards, but I didn’t think it was in a league of its own. It was just a lot. Then on the drive to school today, I heard on the news that Cincinnati is already having one of the snowiest winters on record – the sixth snowiest, with 28″ already – and if we get just 6 more inches by March, it’ll be record breaking.

And I thought, alright, I know I’m used to it, and I know I’m still real close to the south, but… that’s not a lot of snow. In Utica that’s “lake effect starting Tuesday evening and tapering Wednesday morning, so get up early to shovel out your car.” So either it really isn’t a lot, and they’re even less used to it than I thought, or Utica gets waaay more than I am approximating and is in an entirely different category.

So I looked it up. And even I was floored. Cincinnati gets 22″ on average. Utica… gets 108“. 108″. That’s a lot. That’s nine feet. That’s the fourth snowiest in the country.  Behind Syracuse (down the street from us), Syracuse’s largest suburb, and Anchorage. THAT’S MORE THAN BUFFALO WITH THEIR FAMOUS 8′ LAKE EFFECT STORMS.

So now I feel completely justified in telling my war stories about driving in white outs and shoveling for hours. I kind of like being That Person. I do, however, always defer to my Canadian brethren. Because as battle-hardened as I may be, I know a champion when I meet one. Toques off to you.

(Also, I’m not unique: we take our snowfall very seriously.)
(Also, a special message for Buffalo: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.)

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Filed under story time, this actually happened