The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

I first bought this book out of curiosity more than anything else, if I'm totally honest. I just had to know how a discussion of one song could fill an entire book! (Even a song that invites as much discussion as "Hallelujah".) As it turns out, the history of this song, and of the two men behind its creation and outrageous popularity, is as complex and fascinating as the song itself. I was completely captivated. Whether you love this song, or you're sick to death of the seemingly endless covers and soundtrack spots, this book will forever change the way you listen to and think about "Hallelujah".

— From Keenan


Praised as a “thoughtful and illuminating” (The New York Times) work of music journalism, this is the unforgettable, fascinating, and unexpected account of one of the most performed and beloved songs in pop history—Leonard Cohen’s heartrending “Hallelujah.”

When Leonard Cohen first wrote and recorded the song “Hallelujah,” it attracted little attention or airplay, dismissed by both fans and critics alike. Today, it is one of the most recorded songs in history, having been covered by a variety of music icons including Celine Dion, Bon Jovi, Willie Nelson, and, most famously, Jeff Buckley. It’s been featured on soundtracks as diverse as Shrek to The West Wing. And in the days after major tragedies, it has brought comfort to thousands after being featured in the MTV 9/11 tribute video and the telethon for the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

So how did one relatively unknown song become an unofficial 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 and expansive research, longtime music journalist Alan Light follows the captivating and improbable journey of “Hallelujah” to the heart of popular culture. Discover how great songs come to be, and how we as listeners have the endless ability to project a succession of meanings onto a cultural artifact, forever reinterpreting art through the lens of current events and the latest trends.

“A combination mystery tale, detective story, pop critique, and sacred psalm of its own” (Daily News, New York),The Holy or the Broken is a revelatory and masterful exploration of the overwhelming power of music.

About the Author

Alan Light is one of America’s leading music journalists and is the cohost of the daily music talk show Debatable on SiriusXM. He was a senior writer at Rolling Stone, founding music editor and editor-in-chief of Vibe, and editor-in-chief of Spin. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Esquire, among other publications. Alan is the author of Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain; biographies of Johnny Cash, Nina Simone, and the Beastie Boys; and was the cowriter of New York Times bestselling memoirs by Gregg Allman and Peter Frampton.

Praise For…

"Thoughtful and illuminating... [Mr. Light] is a fine companion for this journey through one song’s changing fortunes."
— The New York Times

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

"Brilliantly revelatory... A masterful work of critical journalism."
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A deeply researched mixture of critical analysis and cultural archaeology."
— Los Angeles Times

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

"Fresh and compelling."
— Entertainment Weekly

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

"Absorbing…Eloquent... Light expertly unpacks the song's long, strange journey to ubiquity."
— The Village Voice

"A must for music fans."
— Booklist (starred review)

"Reads like an investigative oral biography of a song. A true songography."
— Pop Matters
Product Details
ISBN: 9781982141363
ISBN-10: 1982141360
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 320
Language: English