It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah

As a tribute to both Clinton’s loss in the election and Leonard Cohen’s passing, Kelly McKinnon, who plays Clinton on Saturday Night Live, performed Hallelujah. It was, of course, depressing, but managed to still be hopeful.  “I’m not giving up,” she said at the end.  “And neither should you.”  She also included a verse that I haven’t heard in other covers of Hallelujah, which fit perfectly:

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

Since Leonard Cohen passed, and Hallelujah was played all over, I’ve been hearing a lot of versions lately.  And I was reminded how much I flipping *hate* “A Hallelujah Christmas”. Taken by itself as a contemporary Christian Christmas song, it’s not bad.  Kind of blah and predictable lyrics, but the chorus of hallelujahs is pretty.  I can see why they wanted to use it as a Christmas song. But as a reworking of an existing song, it bothers me on multiple levels.

First, Hallelujah in its original version wasn’t a Christian song.  It was written by a practicing Jewish guy, and while it was full of religious imagery, none of it was New Testament or specifically Christian.  David writing Psalms, David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah.  So, turning it into a Christmas song seems really disrespectful.  Sure, making popular songs into Christmas songs is a venerable tradition, but the author of Greensleeves was probably a Christian.

“A Hallelujah Christmas” is also just not as good as the original.  There’s no metaphor, no symbolism, just a straight retelling of the Christmas story. It would’ve worked just as well with its own melody (and probably wouldn’t have botched the rhyme scheme).  So, it seems kind of sad to take a song that’s subtle and sad and angry and full of imagery and turn it into something tired and cliched.

It also seems like a cop-out to write something that’s almost a parody but not quite, reusing lyrics in ways that aren’t really interesting. Particularly taking an ironic use of “hallelujah” and turning it into a straight up “Praise God.” Not that there’s anything *wrong* with praise music.  I really like the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  I also like the alleluia version of Amazing Grace.  But those don’t take a song that’s harsh and messy and complicated and dumb it down in the process of Christianizing it.

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