When we were in the Berkshires last week, my wife recommended that we go to the Images Cinema in downtown Williamstown, MA, to see the documentary Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song. She knew this would be the type of film I would be interested in seeing. I didn’t even know of its existence.
It is, the New York Times called “a definitive exploration of [the] singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen as seen through the prism of his internationally renowned hymn.”
It starts off with the poet and perhaps dilatant songwriter too shy to go out on stage. His then-new friend, Judy Collins, who had just covered his song Suzanne, went out on stage with him. He developed some confidence in performing, but developed some bad, though not uncommon, habits.
Leonard and his producer created an album containing Hallelujah and other good songs. In 1984, his label, Columbia, initially rejected it! (Yet they released an overdone album produced by Phil Spector.) The path of the song, involving perhaps 150 verses, Bob Dylan, John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and far too many versions from American Idol and similar programs, is a fascinating tale.
Then in his seventies, Leonard has a musical resurgence. I have two albums of his from the 2010s, which I enjoy. He died in 2016 at the age of 82.
“Approved for production by Leonard Cohen just before his 80th birthday in 2014, the film accesses a wealth of never-before-seen archival materials from the Cohen Trust, including Cohen’s personal notebooks, journals and photographs, performance footage, and extremely rare audio recordings and interviews.” The film’s copyright is 2021, but the release date was July 15, 2022.
At some point, Leonard considered changing his first name to September. It’s not only his birth month, but it is also the month that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur often fall. I was particularly fascinated with him negotiating with his religious beliefs.
As luck would have it, Kelly has already written an essay about the song and has linked it to a Cohen version of Hallelujah.
The documentary is recommended if you can find it.