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Bruce Springsteen. . . . with those brooding brown eyes, eyes that could see through America. -- Bono, induction speech for Springsteen at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Leonard Cohen

by Angela Pancella

Leonard Cohen

Bono wants to be Leonard Cohen. I'm quite sure of it. Moreover, he never can be, and that's a good thing. One Leonard Cohen in the world is quite enough. 

Leonard Cohen is a poet, a singer, a novelist, a ladies' man, and until last year, he was working for a Japanese monk in a Zen Buddhist retreat house in California. His voice is earthquake-deep and his songs are very sacred and very profane, often at the same time, with imagery drawn from his Jewish background as well as the predominant Catholic culture of his birth home, Montreal. 

I first heard him, gosh, it must've been about the time his album "The Future" came out in '92, which would have made me 17...that's strange, I would've thought I was younger than that. But I was very young when I was 17, naive, with a belief that the world was fundamentally pure and beautiful. My older brother Paul played a bit of "The Future" for me in the car. "Waiting for the Miracle." 

"I dreamed about you, baby.
It was just the other night.
Most of you was naked
Ah, but some of you was light." 

His voice scared me. The sound of the song scared me. The words scared me. It was a song one could drown in, and it felt fundamentally dark, like the shadowed corners of a low-lit room. I told Paul I hated it. I was too young. 

Needless to say I love him now. The whole album "The Future," the Jewish mystic sense of the holy in the broken in "Anthem": 

"Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in." 

Earlier songs I learned from an "Austin City Limits" performance of his, songs like "Joan of Arc," where she is romanced by fire: 

"It was deep into his fiery heart
he took the dust of Joan of Arc,
and then she clearly understood
if he was fire, oh then she must be wood." 

Other songs of his I only discovered after I heard other people sing them. "Sisters of Mercy" (and yes, the group took their name from this song), done a cappella by Cris Williamson and later by Sting and the Chieftains: 

"...Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
Well I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned:
When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned." 

"Ballad of A Runaway Horse" (originally "Ballad of the Absent Mare") sung by Emmylou Harris (remember her? ): 

"So I pick out a tune
and they move right along
and they're gone like the smoke
and they're gone like this song." 

Or "Suzanne," which I didn't even hear of until I found out my favorite R.E.M. song on "Up," "Hope," owed a great deal of its structure to this first song on Cohen's first album, released in 1968: 

"...They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind..." 

But here's why I think Bono has much in common with Cohen -- descriptions like this one: 

"In trying to marry Babylon with Bethlehem, in reading women's bodies with the obsessiveness of a biblical scholar, he has been trying, over and over, to find ceremony without sanctimony and discipline without dogma." 
-- PicoIyer, in an article about Cohen in the Utne Reader 

Or, even more so: one of his backup singers says, "He'll give the same attention to the president of the country and to someone who has just walked up to him on the street." The first time I ever saw Bono in person, that was the sense that came off him; he was willing to treat everyone with equal respect. That's one of the best traits to have, really. 

Or how about their similar tendency to place women on pedestals? A few lines from "Light as the Breeze" should prove my point here: 

"She stands before you naked
You can see it, you can taste it...
It don't matter how you worship
As long as you're down on your knees..." 

For a direct link, of course there's Bono's extraordinary version of "Hallelujah" on "Tower of Song," one of several tribute albums to Cohen. I could spend years talking about this song and (again) its Jewish-mystic feel; the references to the secret name of God ("You say I took the Name in vain/I don't even know the Name" -- the line that made Bono laugh in "U2 at the End of the World"), and the power/sacredness of words ("There's a blaze of light in every word/it doesn't matter which you heard/the holy or the broken hallelujah"). I love its music theory puns ("The minor fall, the major lift"), the references to David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah ("You saw her bathing on the roof...she broke your throne, she cut your hair"). I love Jeff Buckley's version, which I've heard Bono commenting on as well, mostly in jealousy of Buckley's ability to stretch a note to its limit. I love Bono's version because of the way he speak-sings it, in a husky lover voice that gives it a very fitting intimate feel, and the way he sings in falsetto on the choruses chills the blood in my veins. Yeah, he's got a pretty good falsetto... ;) 

I wonder if this song had anything to do with "Hallelujah" being Bono's Word of the Day for the last few years, I mean, the tag at the end of the ZooTV "Running to Stand Still," the new tag on "One"...probably not, but it's interesting to speculate. 

There are many different versions of this song. Here's all the lyrics I could find. 

Now 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: 
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. 
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and 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 the Hallelujah... 
You say I took the Name in vain
I don't even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah... 
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah... 
Baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
But love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah... 
There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me do you?
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah... 
Well, maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
It's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not some pilgrim who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah: 
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. 

"All men delight you 
If you ever read this
Think of the man writing it 
He hated the world on your behalf" -- Leonard Cohen 

"Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld so I can sigh eternally" -- Kurt Cobain