The Holy or the Broken – Review

Holy or broken

I picked up The Holy or the Broken a few years ago, at my favourite (now closed) local bookshop. The reason, Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujah is my favourite song, and has been for quite a few years. So, when I saw Alan Light‘s book in the discount section I didn’t think twice about picking it up.

Light, one must assume, is also a fan of the song and so wanted to pay some kind of homage to the Choen’s masterpiece. However, instead of taking much time talking about the song he gives the reader a historical account of the songs assent into the realm of the everyday. As he goes through the history he compares the song to the first two records of the piece. The first, which didn’t really get much recognition until much later in his life, Leonard Cohen’s original. Jeff Buckley’s take on the song, the one I believe Light holds in the highest regard. Below is Buckley’s rendition of the song.

Overall I enjoyed the account of the history of the song, and how each rendition influenced popular culture. With that said I must also note that there were two aspects of the book that bothered me. First, Alan Light has no issues mentioning when he helped influence the world with this song. This was as an editor of a magazine I didn’t even know existed, but I’m also no one to read magazines on the subject of music. The other issue I have with the book is that it doesn’t really talk about the song itself, and what it says to the general population. It touches on this but doesn’t spend the time on it I would have liked.

Finally, I will say Light does talk about the importance of two other versions of this song. Cohen’s original and the other by a noted Canadian during the opening cerimonies of the Vancouver Olympics, k.d. lang. These are my favourite versions of the song. So, I’ve added them below for you enjoyment.


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