It's hard to sustain an entire book based on an analysis of one song, but if there's a song to write a book on (other than perhaps one by Dylan), it'd be Hallelujah
. Although Cohen sanctioned the writing of this, he did not participate in it - and his voice is notably missing. Then again, something might be lost if Mr. Cohen himself commented in any kind of a definitive way: as part of his thesis, Light repeatedly comes back to the idea that Hallelujah
has enjoyed the slow build to popularity - many would say oversaturation - because it is so rife with multiple, layered meaning and therefore can be interpreted in so many ways to fit so many occasions by so many different artists.
Light gives almost every one of the major artists who've covered the tune (and even some of the minor ones) their due, but is clearly a fan of Buckley's. A surprise (for me) was Bon Jovi - whose version has been appreciated by Leonard Cohen himself as one of the stronger interpretations. While I'm not a fan of JBJ's rendition, I did appreciate his obvious depth of understanding of the lyric, the irony and the tension between the religious and secular meanings of the verses. (That said, Richie Sambora trying to put "Livin' on a Prayer" in the same category with Hallelujah kind of made me howl.)
For any of us who've listened, analyzed, compared and/or witnessed the performance of the song in any of the contexts that Light describes, there's not much new here (although I did finally get how the various verses, from the 80 that Cohen started with to the five included in Buckley's version, have been combined and recombined to different effect over the years). At the macro level, though, there is much to ponder in the journey of a song by a relatively obscure poet-songwriter becoming an iconic piece of popular culture.