Look what they done to my song, Ma!

December 26, 2008

Before you read this piece, I want it to be known that I do not watch The X Factor. I watched the closing stages of it last night, but only because I had been told that one of my favourite songs was to be sung by the finalists. The song is Hallelujah, a Leonard Cohen composition. It is beautiful and moving. More than anything, it is imbued with Judaism.

Knowing something about the pop industry today (for “pop industry”, read Simon Cowell), I had very low expectations for the way the two finalists, a boy band and a girl belter, would render the song, and yet I was still appalled at the way it was butchered and abused. If Hallelujah were a pet, the RSPCA would be calling for Cowell to be banned from keeping animals for the rest of his life.

As I watched the performances, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up at the crassness of it all. Children singing a grown up song like this is just wrong. It was like turning up for the school concert and hearing the choir singing a version of “Je t’aime (moi non plus)”.

Even more upsetting is that the song has now been appropriated as a festive song. It’s almost certain to be at number 1 in the charts this Christmas and it shouldn’t be. Just because it’s called “Hallelujah” they decided to add some bells to it, so to speak, and turn it into a gospel carol. On the set of the show the singers performed before a big pine tree with a star atop, in the shape of a great big cross. They stole it. It’s a Jewish song. Hallelujah is a Jewish word. It’s a song about David and Saul. It’s about Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah and God. And sex. It’s about as far from a Christmas song as you can get.

The only saving grace for this tawdry affair is that Leonard Cohen is set to make about a million quid from it and he deserves it for such a masterpiece. Simon Cowell, on the other hand, ought to be ashamed, but instead he’ll be wringing his hands at a Christmas windfall he doesn’t deserve.Then again, he don’t really care for music, do he?

Originally posted December 14th 2008

The O2 minyan

December 26, 2008

There comes a point in life when a Jew starts to like Leonard Cohen.  It’s not the music, you understand, it’s the name.  It’s the fact that there’s this Jewish guy who’s a successful singer, a pop singer, noch, (OK, borderline pop), who didn’t give himself a new name.  If Leonard Cohen were Bob Dylan he’d be calling himself Robert Zimmerman.  Not only that, he’d be OK with his Judaism.  OK, so Cohen plays around with Buddhism but that doesn’t count does it?  It’s not like he’s converted.

And then there’s the secret code.  While the gentiles are groaning along to “Who By Fire”, we’ve got this Rosh Hashannah thing going.   When they listen to Hallelujah they get stuck on the bondage bit, when we listen to Hallelujah we get stuck on the King David bit.

I went to see Leonard Cohen last week at the O2 – the one in Docklands not the one on Finchley Road. (Am I the only person who finds it sad that a major public building is named after a mobile phone provider?  Before long newscasters will be going over to John Sergeant who’ll be standing outside the HP Sauce Houses of Parliament).  During the interval I played a game with my companions wherein we would award ourselves points for spotting Jews we knew.  I scored 14, including 3 for a rabbi.  That’s more than we managed at Shacharit earlier in the day.  Which got me thinking.  Why an interval?  Who does intervals at rock concerts?  The only thing I could think of is that Cohen wanted to give people a chance to daven Maariv. Great idea.  So why didn’t they sell overpriced cuppels and siddurs instead of overpriced T-shirts and programmes?

The other feature of the evening that proved, if further proof were needed, that this was a Jewish event, it was the number of people who arrived late and wandered in and out as if they were in their own living rooms watching TV.  This confirms my original point:  Jews don’t really like the music of Leonard Cohen, they just go to see him in the same way that they go to T-Mobile Square for Israel rallies.  They feel they need to give their support rather than because they want to be there.

Personally I enjoyed it.  I only wish it had started earlier so I could have davened Mincha as well.

Originally posted November 16th 2008