Coachella: On Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah," and Sunset

He's our man.
He's our man.
Timothy Norris

It's always amazing to me when lyrics and other sounds beget tears, when a thought in someone's head transmitted from his neurons to his vocal chords (which propel sound waves through the open desert air) land on the thousands of eardrums awaiting the message, whatever it may be, with hope and openness. That thought vibrates in heads, sends a stereo feed to the brain via billions more neurons. They wend through our heads until aligned into some sort of mysterious order: "It goes like this/The fourth, the fifth/The minor fall, the major lift," our baffled brains composing "Hallelujah."

Next thing you know, our eyes start to get foggy. "Your faith was strong but you needed proof/You saw her bathing on the roof/Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you" as the transmitted Leonard Cohen message drifts across the Coachella pitch. Eyes now watery. "She tied you to a kitchen chair/She broke your throne, and she cut your hair/And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah." The sting of salt overtakes you. That graceful melody. The eyelids can't contain the rising water, the dam's about to burst. The thin line between joy and sorrow is breached, and the tear rolls down your cheek. "Hallelujah ... Hallelujah ... Hallelujah ... Hallelujah."

Coachella, 8:15 p.m. We're within inches of the perfect distance from the moon, and Leonard Cohen, having already spoke of seeing The Future (it's murder), of stuff that "Everybody Knows" (such as: "Everybody got this broken feeling/Like their father or their dog just died"), has started playing his breakout hit of Christmas 2008, "Hallelujah," which has rumbled in the collective unconscious for fifteen years, ever since Jeff Buckley crafted a perfect interpretation on Grace. Since then, the song, less known to casual Cohen fans than "Bird on a Wire," "Suzanne," and "Famous Blue Raincoat," has emerged as a classic. Rufus Wainwright did another perfect rendition that drew out the melody and grace.

Last night Cohen's tattered vocal cords and smoke-stained throat delivered "Hallelujah" as only the creator of the song could. The singer, who wrote the song 25 years ago, phrased it with a casual consideration, each line a sentence to be accepted, each a foundation that the next stanza builds atop, going up and up into the heavens like a polo-field Tower of Babel. The difference is, by the end of the song, we were all standing at the top of the Tower singing "hallelujah" with the creator.

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Tears falling to the ground. A couple next to me weeping, a sniffle in the profound silence that this respectful audience has offered the man in the perfect black suit and the perfect fedora:

I did my best, it wasn't much

I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch

I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you

And even though

It all went wrong

I'll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Sunset. The light fading, and the people repeating over and over, "hallelujah." The Lord of Song, if there is such a thing, better be listening. You can maybe see it in the sky. In the soft breeze that carries Cohen's thoughts into our heads, builds a tunnel to our tear ducts, and sets the act in motion. Pure beauty. Hallelujah.

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