There's a whole of talking going on about Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen's much covered song. Books Inq mentions Dorian Lynskey's article in the Guardian, online today, where a lot of different artist's versions are given the once over and yet, for me there is only one version: the master's voice. Even the Times has covered the phenonmenon in a leading article.
I caught five mins of the BBC's Breakfast show this morning (yes, I am having a strange day) where the topic of discussion was the 'battle' for a Christmas #1 between Jeff Buckley's stripped down guitar and vocals version and the X Factor winner Alexandra's power ballad version. The BBC website has also produced this, er, helpful guide to the lyrics: Smashed Hits by Alan Connor. You can even take a quiz to see how well you think you know the song.
I've often wondered about the power of Cohen's song to resonate so strongly. I think it's down to the fact that Cohen uses an ancient story to stand, perhaps as allegory (but so much more than that) for feelings that cannot be wholly expressed, or satisfactorily expressed by our modern lexicon of mythology as well as language. It reminds me of how well Michael Longley's poem Ceasefire worked too: taking the story of the retrieval of Hector's body, Priam's grief and the appeasement of Achilles, and telling the story in a new quiet way; but the modern context in which it is written (N. Ireland, 1998) gives it a whole new slant.
Longley spoke about how he snatched 'from the narrative flow [of Homeric Greek myth], moments of lyric intensity in which to echo my own concerns, both personal and political.' The particular moment in 'Ceasefire' worked because it spoke both to the moment, behind the moment and beyond the moment. And that's what I think happens with Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah,' and why it is that so many artists cover it. Dress it up, dress it down, take it all round town, the words and the music line are still the same: it's a spun thrill that speaks to the emotional moment that we all carry inside us - humanity and, dare I say it, love.