In the past 50 years, only a handful of songs have attained truly iconic status and become cultural touchstones that transcend artist, genre, and even language. Think “Imagine,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Born in the U.S.A.” Despite that its genesis has been frequently misattributed, add to that list “Hallelujah,” the plangent yet hopeful ballad by Leonard Cohen, the legendary poet and singer-songwriter.
“Hallelujah” is the subject of the latest book from Alan Light, former Vibe and Spin editor in chief. In “The Holy or the Broken,” Light demonstrates his prodigious critical abilities, deconstructing Cohen’s song and its mushrooming popularity. As he writes, the song “has persevered, mutated, expanded over the decades, accruing more and more attached memories through all of these interpretations and deployments.” Featured in the blockbuster movie “Shrek,” in addition to a host of TV shows, a version of the song even served as the backdrop for VH1’s post-9/11 tribute video.