The Holy or the Broken

Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah"

By Alan Light
(Atria Books, Paperback, 9781451657852, 288pp.)

Publication Date: November 19, 2013

Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover

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Praised as “brilliantly revelatory…a masterful work of critical journalism” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), The Holy or the Broken is the fascinating account of one of the most-performed rock songs in history—Leonard Cohen’s heartrending “Hallelujah.”

When iconoclastic rocker Leonard Cohen first wrote and recorded the song “Hallelujah,” it was for an album rejected by his longtime record label. When finally released, it attracted little attention or airplay. Today, the song is a staple of movies and TV shows as diverse as Shrek and The West Wing and has been covered by hundreds of artists around the world, including Bob Dylan, U2, Justin Timberlake, and k.d. lang. Written with elegance and journalistic precision, The Holy or the Broken charts the rise of “Hallelujah” from obscurity to phenomenal success.

After ten years of obscurity, the song was reimagined by charismatic newcomer Jeff Buckley 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 little-known 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 witnessed its original recordings, acclaimed music journalist Alan Light follows the improbable journey of “Hallelujah” straight to the heart of popular culture. “Thoughtful and illuminating” (The New York Times), 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 the Author

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.

Sunday, Dec 2, 2012

There are songs, and then there are anthems. Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is a popular power anthem now, but almost never saw light of day. In his new book, music journalist Alan Light charts the unlikely rise of the song through countless weddings, funerals and in film and television. More at

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Praise For The Holy or the Broken

"Thoughtful and illuminating... [Mr. Light]is a fine companion for this journey through one songe(TM)s changing fortunes."

"A combination mystery tale, detective story, pop critique and sacred psalm of its own."

"Brilliantly revelatory... A masterful work of critical journalism."

"A deeply researched mixture of critical analysis and cultural archaeology."

"Keeps the pages turning... Awell-constructed, consistently enlightening book, which should have Cohen devotees and music fans alike seeking out their favorite version of the song."

"Fresh and compelling."

"Reverentially details every stage in the [song's] evolutione"and along the way, he reveals the compelling stories behind some of its most iconic interpretations."

"AbsorbingeEloquent... Light expertly unpacks the song's long, strange journey to ubiquity."

"A must for music fans."

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