The Holy or the Broken

Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah"

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About The Book

Praised as a “thoughtful and illuminating” (The New York Times) work of music journalism, this is the unforgettable, fascinating, and unexpected account of one of the most performed and beloved songs in pop history—Leonard Cohen’s heartrending “Hallelujah.”

When Leonard Cohen first wrote and recorded the song “Hallelujah,” it attracted little attention or airplay, dismissed by both fans and critics alike. Today, it is one of the most recorded songs in history, having been covered by a variety of music icons including Celine Dion, Bon Jovi, Willie Nelson, and, most famously, Jeff Buckley. It’s been featured on soundtracks as diverse as Shrek to The West Wing. And in the days after major tragedies, it has brought comfort to thousands after being featured in the MTV 9/11 tribute video and the telethon for the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

So how did one relatively unknown song become an unofficial international anthem for human triumph and tragedy, one which each successive generation feels they have discovered and claimed as uniquely their own?

Through in-depth interviews and expansive research, longtime music journalist Alan Light follows the captivating and improbable journey of “Hallelujah” to the heart of popular culture. Discover how great songs come to be, and how we as listeners have the endless ability to project a succession of meanings onto a cultural artifact, forever reinterpreting art through the lens of current events and the latest trends.

“A combination mystery tale, detective story, pop critique, and sacred psalm of its own” (Daily News), The Holy or the Broken is a revelatory and masterful exploration of the overwhelming power of music.

About The Author

Photo credit: Mary Ellen Matthews

Alan Light has been one of America’s leading music journalists for the past twenty years. He was a writer at Rolling Stone, founding music editor and editor-in-chief of Vibe, and editor-in-chief of Spin magazine. He has been a contributor to The New Yorker, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, and Mother Jones. He is the author of The Skills to Pay the Bills, an oral history of the Beastie Boys; The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”; and cowriter of the New York Times bestselling memoir by Gregg Allman, My Cross to Bear.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (July 28, 2020)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982141363

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Raves and Reviews

"Thoughtful and illuminating... [Mr. Light] is a fine companion for this journey through one song’s changing fortunes."

– The New York Times

"A combination mystery tale, detective story, pop critique and sacred psalm of its own."

– The Daily News

"Brilliantly revelatory... A masterful work of critical journalism."

– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A deeply researched mixture of critical analysis and cultural archaeology."

– Los Angeles Times

"Keeps the pages turning... A well-constructed, consistently enlightening book, which should have Cohen devotees and music fans alike seeking out their favorite version of the song."

– The Boston Globe

"Fresh and compelling."

– Entertainment Weekly

"Reverentially details every stage in the [song's] evolution—and along the way, he reveals the compelling stories behind some of its most iconic interpretations."

– The Atlantic

"Absorbing…Eloquent... Light expertly unpacks the song's long, strange journey to ubiquity."

– The Village Voice

"A must for music fans."

– Booklist (starred review)

"Reads like an investigative oral biography of a song. A true songography."

– Pop Matters

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