It’s become a staple of movie and television shows as diverse as Shrek, The OC, and The West Wing. It was the song MTV and VH1 chose for their official post-9/11 tribute video, using Jeff Buckley’s acclaimed rendition, and was the centerpiece of the telethon that followed the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Today, it is one of the most recorded rock songs in history, covered by hundreds of artists, including Bono, Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, Susan Boyle, and Celine Dion.
Yet when iconoclastic rocker Leonard Cohen first wrote and recorded the song “Hallelujah,” it attracted little attention or airplay, not even making it onto his own “Best of” album. How did one unknown song become an 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 with the people who were actually there, Alan Light—one of the foremost music journalists working today—follows “Hallelujah”’s improbable and epic journey straight to the heart of popular culture. The Holy or the Broken not only gives insight into how great songs come to be, but how they come to be listened to and forever reinterpreted.