Tuesday, March 11, 2008

But you don't really care for music, do you?

My brother-in-law, L, never listens to music. He says it holds no attraction for him; in fact, he finds music a public annoyance because it's always destroying his train of thought. When he's not listening to music (ha!), L is one of the foremost philosophy scholars in Canada. He's also the National Champion for his age group in track cycling. Oh yes, my husband's genes are of the intense, purist variety. Of the four boys, two are professors, one's an anesthesiologist and the other's a stay-at-home dad. The SAHD dad is a Birkebeiner racer (that's x-country skiing for 55 kms while carrying a baby, fyi) and, as you know, MadDad is a marathoner. Like I say, intense.

I got to thinking about L's disdain for music last Tuesday night when my attention was briefly captured by American Idol. I used to be an Idol-head but the show has long since lost its brassy shine for me. In the few minutes the TV was on, I saw a frightfully inarticulate pretty-boy with dread locks do a passing karaoke imitation of Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah (ok, Cohen's Hallelujah but no one would ever try to imitate Cohen's vocal stylings, now would they?). The song was trimmed down, of course, to meet time constraints and wouldn't you know it the verses that were removed were the sacred and profane ones. The song became nothing more than a neat break-up song with Old Testament overtones.

The judges were very much pleased with Dread Boy's performance. In fact, Simon Cowell commended it saying, "That was brilliant. The Jeff Buckley version of that song is one of my favourite songs of all time."

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Yes, Simon Cowell, our greatest pop culture arch-villain, the man who gave us The Spice Girls and Hunky Tenors Who Sing Air Supply (aka Il Divo), the man who packages cult of personality entertainment and formulaic pap tunes, actually lists Buckley's version of Cohen as an all-time favourite. I need not mention that neither Cohen nor Buckley would have ever got a record deal under Cowell or that a 7 minute song of delicate timing and ethereal precision would never cut it in the Cowell industrial complex. Why, Dread Boy's version on YouTube is only 4 minutes and 24 seconds and that includes his pre-song interview and the judges comments. There's no grace in that. Yet, Mr. s'Cowell loves this song. As do I.

The Cohen version was on one of the first CDs I ever bought. I picked up Buckley's Grace in the mid-90s and, then, just before Miss M was born I treated myself to kd lang's Hymns of the 49th Parallel. When Miss M was a newborn, we would frequently dance together to lang's version of the song. While I suffered the psychic gashes brought on by lactation and all manner of deprivation, my daughter wooed me with her own cold and broken hallelujah. Her fathomless infant eyes never left my face as we swayed around the room.

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Then one day, when she was three weeks old, I looked up from one of these dances and saw my husband looking at me enraptured. My sister was there too, having traveled a great distance to initiate me into the rituals of motherhood. It was there that I found grace: in love, in family and in a simple pop tune well executed.

I am no philosopher. The things that I have faith in need no proof. I can live without intensity or purity of purpose. I cannot, however, live without poetry, without music, without art, without veiled glimpses at all that is sacred and profane. Last night, Miss M and I listened to Buckley's Hallelujah while she brushed her teeth. She danced away from the sink wearing nothing but a pj top, her pale bum in the lamplight overthrowing all that I am.



47 comments:

flutter said...

Mad. Good God woman, how you can move me.

mek said...

Oh - that's a beautiful post! I love the image of you and Miss M dancing - then and now - and I love that song, too. It hit me so hard the first time I heard it, so Cohen's version is the one for me.

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mek said...
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painted maypole said...

hmmm... seems as if my first comment didn't work. let's try this again...

this was a lovely, lovely post.

my favorite line from that song:
"it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah" kills me. to be able to still sing Hallelujah in our brokenness....

Christine said...

i too cannot live with out music in my life.

i have to admit i have had that song on my mind quite a bit since hearing it on idol last week. i almost wrote a post about it and some of the media reaction to it, but it got too complicated and the words didn't come out right. and, no, i never had heard it before that night. shame on me i guess.


Running on empty

Mad Hatter said...

There was media reaction to it? Now I have to go searching...

Christine said...

i guess i shouldn't put something like that out there and not give references. basically i read some things on yahoo music and many comments on some of the you tube videos of the various versions of the song. basically they were bashing people who knew so little about music that they had never heard the song at all. others so cruelly bashed the young man on idol that they came off worse than cowell ever did. i just felt a little annoyed by it all.

Mad Hatter said...

Ah, I get ya. Knowing Hallelujah is a Canadian rite of passage b/c Cohen is ours--our own little Montreal poet-pop star. The song was, I think, done once on Canadian Idol although I could be wrong.

Mouse said...

I couldn't live without music. In fact, I was just thinking the other day that I don't blog much about music because it is something that is so intensely interwoven with my being that I fear it would reveal too much of myself.

I'm shocked that I don't think I've heard k.d. lang's version of that song and now wish I had that CD (how do I not have that one?).

Lisa said...

huh... one of my favorites of all time as well. i discovered the Buckley version when I was living in Tokyo, courtesy of my Australian room-mate. I used to listen to it over and over again while rambling all over that vast city, lonely as clouds, thinking of P. and wondering if we'd ever find our way back to each other again.

And strangely, I also have a memory from my lactation woe-days of holding little Z in my arms, listening to this song together and crying my eyes out. Something to do with brokenness I expect.

jen said...

i have a deeply personal experience associated with Cohen's version - so deeply so that talking about it can't do it justice but what i'm saying here dude is i relate to this.

Alpha DogMa said...

WTF? Is kd wearing a skirt? kd? My kd? Wow. And it's not even a wedding dress! Maybe kd should do something for 2010? Maybe a Reclines reunion is in order?

Birkiers are all crazy. My dad is one (and a marathon runner). He 'graciously' visits us every December so he can get in his early season training (five hour sessions daily). He's off to Norway next year to do the original. The man knows nothing of moderation.

I can't watch American Idol, not for a millisecond. I like a vacuous pop song as much as the next person, but I can't stand the flash and the glitz and the fact that the voting audience knows shit about talent (vs. style). And while I don't care for the show I have to give Cowell his due. It takes more than luck to churn out a hit TV show, even if it doesn't spawn hit music.

Do you like the Be Good Tanyas? They were the soundtrack of my early days with boy #1. I must've sung the Littlest Birds a eighty three million times to that child.

nomotherearth said...

You know - both Mr Earth and I love that song, but neither of us liked the dread-locked version of it. I really liked the version of Hello that one guy did, though.

I honestly didn't think there was someone out there who doesn't care for ANY kind of music. Really??

niobe said...

It's precisely because I can't begin to fathom the joy, the pleasure, the meaning that other people find in music that I love reading posts like this one. It's a glimpse into a shimmering world that I know exists, but that I can never enter.

cinnamon gurl said...

I can live without intensity or purity of purpose. I cannot, however, live without poetry, without music, without art, without veiled glimpses at all that is sacred and profane.

Yes. I hadn't heard kd's version, though I love Buckley's and Cohen's. Thanks.

Pgoodness said...

disdain for music? with that song in the world? how is it possible??
this post is fabulous; and the song amazing.

wheelsonthebus said...

FOrgive me. I know this is not the point of the post, but I am baffled. I thought the contestants actually SING on American Idol.

Bea said...

"Our love is not a victory march" - so true, of motherhood.

Sass E-mum said...

A very lovely post. I'll be ituning the Buckley/Cohen versions tonight... though I might discover my husband already has them. Always happy to broaden my (dire) knowledge of music.

Kyla said...

Ooooh, I love this. The words, the song...all of it. I haven't heard her version before.

deb said...

I love this song, especially how KD Lang sings it. I don't get Simon's praise of the dread guy either. I don't think he's that good of a singer and I get distracted by his face. To me, he looks like a young John Travolta in dreads. The whole thing is kind of disturbing.

I never really understand music as a young person but I'm coming to appreciate it more as I get older.

Bon said...

oh, the sniffity sniff, the secret chord...you've just twanged me, Mad. or if i were the Lord, you'd have pleased me...but really, let's not get too big for our britches, huh, Bon?

i love kd's version of this song, and am always awestruck by Buckley, but the purist in me comes back to Cohen every time. Buckley does the holy part beautifully, but Cohen reminds me of the broken and the profane and makes it sacred.

and i thank you. today needed a soundtrack.

Janet said...

I love that song, which I only have in "Shrek" and that one is performed by John Cale. I'll check out the other versions. What a beautiful story to go with it.

alejna said...

That was beautiful and moving. I need music and art in my life, too. I can't imagine a day without music.

I love that song, as well, though I am most partial to the John Cale version. (I know it from the "I'm Your Fan" Leonard Cohen tribute album, which has some other gems on it as well. Like REM doing "First We Take Manhattan.")

Gwen said...

That "I'm Your Fan" album alejna alludes to was my introduction to Cohen, whose poetry I dig, even though I can not claim a home country with him.

Your description of Idol and Simon Cowell made me laugh. It's a strange show, and I hate the way the music is performed--so not my thing, poppy Pop music--and still I watch it, like a trainwreck.

Gwen said...

Speaking of music, because you were, I have been loving the soundtrack to the movie Once. Good stuff to listen to over and over every day, which is, I believe, the only way to enjoy the music you are going to adore.

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh gosh, me too. But you said it far better than I did.

Julie Pippert said...

I have been so perplexed this season with American Idol. The judges and their comments...are we watching the same show???

That comment by Cowell about that song struck me oddly too. Okay surprised me, that's what I mean.

Jenifer said...

This is my first time watching Idol and while it find it awful on so many levels I am strangely hooked.

I love that song and had not heard it in years. I do that over and over, I forget about my favourites and then discover them again. I just don't seem to be in one place long enough to really enjoy music the way I used to.

kgirl said...

that performance made me love dready boy even more than i already did (surprise, surprise), and this post made me love you even more.

Aliki2006 said...

Oh, this was so beautiful--so moving. All of it--and you.

Aliki2006 said...

Oh, and Cohen, too--don't get me started. My uncle introduced me to him years ago on a scratchy old LP and I'll never forget it.

Janet said...

Gorgeous post, Mad.

I've never seen the kd lang version before. I kind of dig it.

Emily said...

The thing about music, for me, is that it is poetry with sensible shoes. It walks around in the ordinary days leaving footprints and memory and saying things I couldn't say as eloquently. I have used those footprints to find my way home some days, and other days, I've used those footprints to stay lost for a little while, knowing that they'll lead me out when I'm ready.

This is so moving, Mad.

Angeline said...

When I first heard it sang over at the American Idol, I didn't quite like that song (it was my first time hearing it), I don't find any depth in that song.

now that I heard the original version. I love it! and its singing in my head now. Thank you, if not I would have missed a great song.

Susanne said...

Beautiful, beautiful post.

And please don't sell yourself short, you know a lot about intensity.

I'll be coming back for the youtube videos some other time.

I don't know the song, by the way. (Hello, my name is Susanne, I'm a musician but I don't listen to music much.)

Sober Briquette said...

a post beautiful enough to touch the heart of this philistine.

kittenpie said...

Beautiful. Simple. Laden. Kind of like the song.

and I don't understand either how someone can live without the rolling of words, the lilting of note, the swirling of lines on a page.

Jennifer said...

I couldn't imagine how my soul would survive if I had to live without music. I just couldn't imagine.

This was a beautiful post. I did watch AI last week when the version of Hallelujah played. I was ready for the judges to slam him. I was so surprised when they loved it (?) and when Simon listed it as one of his all-time favorites. Hmmm. Is there more to Simon than we think?

This was a beautiful post. And, yes, Hallelujah is a song I consider sacred, one I hold close to my soul. I've listened to it 1,000 times, every version I can get my hands on. If you have not yet, go to iTunes and get the Brandi Carlile version of it. It is incredible. My favorite version. (I've seen her sing it live too -- goosebumps.)

Beck said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous post.
Leonard Cohen was pretty much ruined for me by some early 20's cad of a guitar-playing boyfriend.

crazymumma said...

Yes. Hymns of the 49th Parallel. And KD doing Halleluha. Beautiful. And Helpless. Neils Helpless. Gets me every time.

crazymumma said...

...and I come back hours later because this writing of yours stuck in my brain to tell you that I find a kind of halleluha in being blessed by my girls. Its extraordinary this kind of redemption. at least for me. Now go and listen to the John Cale version.

MichelleK said...

I first heard the KD version just after my son was born on the good ol' CBC radio. It brought me to tears, and I will never forget that moment.

Thanks for helping me re-live it now.

NotSoSage said...

What a gorgeous post, Mad.

I have a special, special place in my heart for the Buckley version that no one else could ever match. After all this good music all last week, I found myself on the drive home lamenting the artists I admire that I would never see. Ever heard Rufus Wainwright's version?

Anonymous said...

This song and KD's Hymns is wonderful! I remember hearing it first on a rough car trip with my hsb and infant son summer of 2005. This album had me silently weaping but since then it has become a favourite bedtime CD for both me and my son. I had forgotten how much music meant to me until my Dad gave me an IPOD at Xmas. I loaded it up with all the CDs that I had not been listening too... Joc

DaniGirl said...

Oh Mad, another gorgeous,evocative post... I have the Cohen version on my iPod, but I think I need the Buckley version, too.

I'm choked up reading about you dancing with infant Miss M... simply lovely.