How Leonard Cohen mined sacred texts for lyrics to his songs | Leonard Cohen

“She tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she or he reduce your hair, and out of your lips she drew the Hallelujah…” Nobody listening to these lyrics from the music Hallelujah may doubt that Leonard Cohen knew the way to write and sing about love, intercourse and want. However followers of his music may very well be forgiven for not realising precisely what he was attempting to convey about faith and the intricate references he was making to biblical tales, Talmudic legends and the Mishnah, a third-century Jewish textual content.

Now, an evaluation of Cohen’s work units out to disclose how extensively the revered songwriter used each Christian and Jewish tales and imagery to precise concepts in his songs.

The guide, Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius, explores the various completely different religious sources and the spiritual folklore the musician was drawing upon when he wrote masterpieces like Hallelujah, Suzanne and So Lengthy, Marianne.

Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius. {Photograph}: Bloomsbury

“I believe he sees himself a little bit bit as a prophet,” says Harry Freedman, writer of the forthcoming guide, which will probably be revealed later this month, simply earlier than the fifth anniversary of Cohen’s loss of life on 7 November. “He’s attempting to raise folks’s considering. Most rock music is concerning the world we dwell in. And I believe he’s saying: there’s stuff past that, suppose extra deeply.”

Cohen, who was introduced up within the Jewish religion, was “deeply realized” about each Judaism and Christianity.

“His lyrics are filled with references to the Bible, the Talmud and Kabbalah [a Jewish mystical tradition with its roots in the late Middle Ages] however they’re simply missed – he wove them so skilfully into his songs earlier than reinterpreting them in fully new erotic, religious or mystical methods.”

In Hallelujah, for instance, Cohen refers back to the biblical story of King David who, in accordance with Talmudic legend, delights angels and sages when he privately performs his harp at night time. He’s examined by God when – on his roof – he sees Bathsheba bathing. After committing adultery together with her, David has her husband killed. “That results in a sequence of disasters in David’s kingdom. There are rebellions in opposition to him, his son will get killed, his kingdom is damaged – horrible issues occur, due to the horrible issues he did.”

Importantly, it’s David who, in accordance with historical Jewish folklore, composed the Ebook of Psalms and invented the phrase “Hallelujah”, that means “reward God”. “David is any person who, like all people, is usually good and generally dangerous. He’s trapped within the center. And though he writes Hallelujah, which is a holy phrase, he’s additionally very, very damaged.”

There’s a reference within the music to Samson, who loses his energy when his hair is reduce by his lover Delilah, as a result of – like Samson – David’s troubles start when he can’t management himself round a lady. “I believe Cohen is opening himself up in his songs. I believe he’s attempting to say: love could be great. And love could be horrible. It may well go horribly incorrect and smash your life.”

Cohen suffered from melancholy and, Freedman believes, would have recognized strongly with David, a fellow musician. “David tousled. David’s kingdom was destroyed. And but he sang Hallelujah. As a result of if you don’t know the way to make sense of something, if you’ve failed, when issues go incorrect, all you are able to do is sing Hallelujah. All you’re left with is ‘reward God’. It’s a really spiritual thought.”

For Cohen, there is no such thing as a battle between in style tradition and profound considering, and no distinction between Judaism and Christianity, says Freedman. “He sees them as all a part of the identical factor.” Intercourse and faith are additionally typically intently intertwined in his songs: “Within the Kabbalah, intercourse and procreation are holy acts. They symbolise the union of human and divine.” In a single model of Hallelujah Cohen wrote, the narrator recollects: “I moved in you, and the holy dove she was transferring too, and each single breath we drew was Hallelujah.”

Leonard Cohen in concert at the O2 Arena in London in 2013.
Leonard Cohen in live performance on the O2 Enviornment in London in 2013. {Photograph}: Brian Rasic/Getty

Cohen, Freedman says, noticed the imagery of faith as one thing he may use in lyrics to precise himself and his distinctive, mystical manner of wanting on the world. “His vocabulary is certainly one of spiritual myths and legends. That is what he is aware of and the place he will get his metaphors from.” In Suzanne, for instance, Cohen casually refers to an historical Christian legend about Jesus rowing the apostle Andrew to a metropolis, performing miracles and changing everybody from cannibalism to Christianity. “And that’s simply in that one line in Suzanne: Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water.”

So Lengthy, Marianne is among the earliest songs Cohen wrote which has a mystical, religious aspect, Freedman says, and marks the start of the musician’s quest for religious that means. “He sings ‘Come over to the window, my little darling. I’d wish to attempt to learn your palm.’ That’s most likely the primary time he mentions home windows, which – afterward in his work – are going to be a extremely vital trope for him.” In Cohen’s work, a window is a liminal area, a spot between two worlds or two states of being, he says. “He’s utilizing the window to learn her palm. He’s expressing one thing about future, about desirous to see what the long run holds.”

When he tells Marianne that he forgot to wish for the angels, Freedman thinks he’s confessing that he has uncared for his spiritual duties and religious aspect for her. “His love for Marianne has pushed every part else out. And perhaps that’s one of many causes he says ‘so lengthy, Marianne’. It’s time we moved on. You’ve made me neglect an excessive amount of. And now I’ve obtained to get again to my religious core.”

Hallelujah: the primary two verses

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David performed, and it happy the Lord

However you don’t actually look after music, do you?

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth

The minor falls, the most important lifts

The baffled king composing Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your religion was sturdy however you wanted proof

You noticed her bathing on the roof

Her magnificence and the moonlight overthrew her

She tied you to a kitchen chair

She broke your throne, and she or he reduce your hair

And out of your lips she drew the Hallelujah


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