The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light
Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah"

85%

18 Critic Reviews

In the end, the reader isn’t left feeling like it is an exhaustive book, but a labor of love.
-Blog Critics

Synopsis

A venerated creator. An adored, tragic interpreter. An uncomplicated, memorable melody. Ambiguous, evocative words. Faith and uncertainty. Pain and pleasure.”

Today, “Hallelujah” is one of the most-performed rock songs in history. It has become a staple of movies and television shows as diverse as Shrek and The West Wing, of tribute videos and telethons. It has been covered by hundreds of artists, including Bob Dylan, U2, Justin Timberlake, and k.d. lang, and it is played every year at countless events—both sacred and secular—around the world.

Yet when music legend Leonard Cohen first wrote and recorded “Hallelujah,” it was for an album rejected by his longtime record label. Ten years later, charismatic newcomer Jeff Buckley reimagined the song for his much-anticipated debut album, Grace. Three years after that, Buckley would be dead, his album largely unknown, and “Hallelujah” still unreleased as a single. After two such commercially disappointing outings, how did one obscure song become an international anthem for human triumph and tragedy, a song each successive generation seems to feel they have discovered and claimed as uniquely their own?

Through in-depth interviews with its interpreters and the key figures who were actually there for its original recordings, acclaimed music journalist Alan Light follows the improbable journey of “Hallelujah” straight to the heart of popular culture. The Holy or the Broken gives insight into how great songs come to be, how they come to be listened to, and how they can be forever reinterpreted.
 

About Alan Light

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Alan Light was a senior editor at Rolling Stone, founding music editor and editor-in-chief of Vibe, and editor-in-chief of Spin Magazine. He has been a contributor for The New Yorker, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Mother Jones, and the Oxford American. He is also author of The Skills to Pay the Bills, an oral history of the Beastie Boys.
 
Published December 4, 2012 by Atria Books. 289 pages
Genres: Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography, Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Holy or the Broken
All: 18 | Positive: 15 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Excellent
on Oct 08 2012

Light’s main point is that the song’s stirring melody, malleability and lyrical ambiguity made it a natural candidate for wide-scale popular adoration. A masterful work of critical journalism.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Dec 09 2012

...there are many more twists to this remarkable little-song-that-could story.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on Nov 12 2012

Light’s charming ode to a pop music phenomenon makes a nice companion to Sylvie Simmons’s outstanding and definitive biography of Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man.

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Blog Critics

Good
Reviewed by The Dirty Lowdown on Jul 04 2013

In the end, the reader isn’t left feeling like it is an exhaustive book, but a labor of love.

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Blog Critics

Excellent
Reviewed by ManOfLaBook on Dec 31 2012

The author doesn’t shy away from critical analysis which I find to be enjoyable and without any hidden agendas.

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Book Reporter

Above average
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on Jan 04 2013

Light’s book fills in the spaces of years with details of how “Hallelujah” was used in television, movies and music studios. He quotes the famous...

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by Mikael Wood on Dec 21 2012

The author charts in ample (if occasionally lumpy) detail the way Buckley's imprimatur drove "Hallelujah" outward into the indiscriminate scrum of mainstream pop culture

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Christian Science Monitor

Excellent
Reviewed by Husna Haq on Dec 03 2012

“Who would write a biography of a song?” . . . Alan Light, it turns out, and masterfully so.

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USA Today

Below average
Reviewed by James Endrst on Dec 10 2012

Light takes something of a long and winding road to make his point — more than 200 frequently repetitious pages to tell a story that might have been better served with a magazine-length treatment.

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Huffington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by DAVID BAUDER on Dec 03 2012

In writing a book on a single song, Light joins a very specific and small category of literature.

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The Boston Globe

Excellent
Reviewed by Eric Liebetrau on Dec 24 2012

Light demonstrates his prodigious critical abilities

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NY Daily News

Excellent
Reviewed by Jim Farber on Dec 03 2012

Light does a scholarly and insightful job of analyzing the key versions

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Paste

Excellent
Reviewed by Elias Leight on Dec 26 2012

He shows how a relatively unknown song can be adopted, enhanced and canonized by the machinery of culture.

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The Atlantic

Excellent
Reviewed by Ashley Fetters on Dec 04 2012

Light reverentially details every stage in the evolution

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Kansas City Star

Excellent
Reviewed by Justin Moyer on Jan 10 2013

Ably chronicles the song’s bizarre trajectory from hipster playlists to prime time.

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Nashville Scene

Excellent
Reviewed by Steve Haruch on Jan 09 2013

Alan Light did an impressive thing: write an entire book about one song.

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CBS News

Above average
Reviewed by David Chiu on Dec 04 2012

It analyzes the song and features interviews with those involved in "Hallelujah's" original recording and the artists who have recorded their cover versions.

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Rock Cellar Magazine

Excellent
Reviewed by Paul Gleason on Nov 01 2012

Light’s story is fascinating.

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Andrew Novak 23 Sep 2013

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