Saturday, December 29, 2007

Hallelujah - The Missing Influence of Leonard Cohen

In 1984, I lived in Germany, as I've mentioned ad nauseum here. I was in 9th grade at the time, and was huge into Van Halen and other metal bands.

My dad had two buddies from High School, Ron Getman and John Crowder, who actually got my dad to go to school at Oklahoma State University.  Ron and John were in a band called Carp, with Gary Busey, who was the drummer.  

I don't know how Ron found out that my dad was living in Germany, all I know is that they were playing in Leonard Cohen's band, and Cohen was doing a show in Wiesbaden at a the Rhen-Main Halle downtown.  I had seen the theatre before, as it was by the bahnhof (train station), and actually thought it looked like an upscale place.  I was somewhat in awe that a guy I never heard of (Cohen) was doing a gig at this place.  I was only familiar with a few other venues in Frankfurt, where I had gone to see bands, like AC/DC and Rush.  But I can't, for the life of me, remember the names of those places.  Only that they were big, and that the Rhein-Main Halle was not as big as those places, so how famous was this guy, anyway?  

I remember my dad going right up to the box office with the whole family, buying 4 tickets, and we quietly went to the balcony in the middle of the show and there's Leonard kind of out front with a nice, quiet audience, very different from the general admission shows I'd been to with all the pushing, shoving and jockeying for position.  I thought it odd.  I remember thinking, "Wow, so this is the kind of music old hippies listen to."  The music struck me as very hippie-European.  It just made so much sense.  My dad sent a note to Ron and John, and they came out and talked to him after the show.  I remember them saying, "Yeah, his music is kind of different."  Although, I don't know if that comment was said just to appease my conservative dad, or if Ron and John actually felt that way.  They would later form The Tractors in the early 90's and have a pretty big hit on country-music radio with "Baby Likes to Rock It"

After the show, my dad brought home the "Various Positions" album, and sure enough, there John and Ron were, credited with playing on the album.

It's totally hilarious, when you think about it.  Or at least when I do.  Only later in my life would I find out what a huge influence Cohen had on the music world.  Even Kurt Cobain mentions him in the Nirvana song, "Pennyroyal Tea:"

Give me Leonard Cohen afterworld
So I can sigh eternally

I'm coming home from somewhere the other day, listening to WXRT on the radio, and I hear this song that I think I've heard before.  I know it's called "Hallelujah," but I don't know the artist.  So I get home, go to iTunes, and type it in.  Sure enough, it's Jeff Buckley, which is a perfect example of an artist that WXRT would play.  I had heard of Jeff Buckley.  Died tragically in a drowning in May of '97.

I got an iTunes card for Christmas and was actually thinking about downloading that song this morning.  It's a nice tune.  Very mellow.  Powerful message, lots of biblical imagery.  Nice.  However, something keeps me from pulling the trigger.

We were at the library the other day, and we were in the A/V section, getting the kids a DVD to watch.  I walk in, look at the "new releases CD" shelf, which isn't really new in the sense of the rest of the world, but instead just new to the library.  I pick up Volume 23 of the Have a Nice Day series which is about 20 songs from the 70s.  I find the sports section of the DVD, hoping to find the 4-DVD set of the White Sox 2005 World Series, but only find a single DVD summary.  I pick it up.  I wasn't paying attention to baseball in 2005, so I am curious to see how that all played out since now I totally love going to watch the White Sox.  The wife and kids are checking out, so heading toward the front, I walk throught the A-C section of CDs, and notice the Leonard Cohen The Essential CD.  I grab it as I'm walking by.

And instead of buying the Jeff Buckley tune, I look down at the above-mentioned CD and notice that there is a song on there called "Hallelujah."  Same song?  I put the CD in the computer, and sure enough, it is.  I want to see if there are any songs on this CD from the one Ron and John played on.  Sure enough, "Dance Me To The End of Love" is on there.  I go look up the Various Positions CD, and you know what?  Fucking "Hallelujah" is on Various Positions as well.  

I do a lyrics search.  I'm wondering if Cohen wrote the song.  He did.  I find the lyrics for Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Cohen, and some Canadian female artist.  The site for the female artist credits words and music by Cohen.

I just have to laugh, because, here was this great song all along in my father's record collection that I feel I've discovered over 20 years later.  A song, that appears to me, to have been covered by many people, but also that was originally recorded by friends of my father.  

It's odd, because I will probably share this story with my father, but I doubt he will see the enormity of it.  Maybe I'm just easily amused, but I find this kind of connection, or lack thereof at the time, when I was 16, incredible.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out the book about the song:

7:19 AM


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