The “Hallelujah” Problem

Just looking idly through the Top 40 this morning, I can’t see any sign of Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah”, which apparently turned up in the midweeks as a result of some X-Factor shenanigans.

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Just looking idly through the Top 40 this morning, I can’t see any sign of Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah”, which apparently turned up in the midweeks as a result of some X-Factor shenanigans.

I’m proud (and perhaps not a little pompous) to say that I’ve never watched anything more than about five minutes of The X-Factor, since as a rule I try and avoid things which will almost certainly annoy me. But through some kind of grim pop-cultural osmosis, I guess, I do know that some girl who reputedly sounds like Dolores O’Riordan (like Laura Marling, then?) has sung the old Cohen song on the show and that the winner’s Christmas Number One single will be “Hallelujah”.

In some corners of the media and the internet, all this has been greeted with a lot of hot-under-the-collar pontificating, which I don’t want to add to, but which has prodded the Buckley take back into the public consciousness (much the same thing happened when, by some uncanny coincidence, someone did the tune on American Idol).

Now far be it from me to pre-judge what the X-Factor version might turn out to be like. But in truth, I don’t care, other than being mildly relieved that this imminent flood of cash for Leonard Cohen is coming at the end of 2008, rather than at the end of 2007: if he’d been so fortunate 12 months ago, I wonder if he would have embarked on the financially exigent, artistically extraordinary shows that we’ve seen since the summer?

What I find much more irritating is the idea of great songs being sanctified, that these gleaming cultural documents shouldn’t be touched by unclean mainstream hands. I mean, really, who gives a toss if some Redcoat belter sings a song you like in a way that you don’t like? Play the Buckley version, or the John Cale version, or the Rufus Wainwright version, or the original. Switch the radio off when the X-Factor one comes on. Just don’t whinge, as if there should be some law against the ITV masses getting to hear a version of a good song.

As a music hack, and a man of a certain age, I suppose I have to constantly guard against becoming a grumpy old man. But it’s a condition I find hugely unbecoming, and perhaps more importantly a huge waste of energy. The truth is, the excess of choice which we’re presented with nowadays, the long tail or whatever, means that it’s easier than ever before to block out all the static of popular culture that disagrees with our fragile metabolisms. Why get worked up about shit, or about Top 40 minutiae, when you can easily pretend it doesn’t exist?

Which I suppose is another reason why I generally only blog about music I like, and try and avoid gripes like this. And why I should really be blogging about Death, or Mountains, or Six Organs Of Admittance, or Alela Diane, or Eddy Current Suppression Ring, or Arbouretum this morning.

The point is, though, that “Hallelujah” is a very good song. Not perhaps as great as it’s sometimes made out to be – Cohen, Buckley and maybe even Rufus Wainwright have all written better themselves. And when the X-Factor thing has been and gone, it still will be a good song. No-one will die. It’s going to be OK, I promise. Everyone move on, there’s nothing to see here.


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