This is a question for Phillip Bush (or maybe Burl, or pretty much anyone who knows more about music than I do, which is a large set)…
After I posted that item about “Sulky Girl” and “So Like Candy” and other Elvis Costello songs that have an appeal to me that is mysterious, elemental and profound, I got to thinking about something else I’d heard in the last couple of days that had an equally mystifying appeal.
I had been watching the film noir comic-book movie “Watchmen,” and there was a scene that was utterly transformed by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” So I went to YouTube (the one place you can find practically any piece of music you want to hear immediately and for free) and listened to several versions, and tried to plumb why it completely kicked my brain, my being, into another state as reliably as peyote did for Carlos Castaneda (although perhaps a tad less dramatically).
I have no idea. Is the secret revealed in this lyric?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
Are those particular changes where the magic happens? For that matter, do those words even describe what is happening in the music as I hear that line? I’ve looked up the guitar chords, and I see that they go like this:
- It goes like this — C
- the fourth — F
- the fifth — E
- the minor fall– Am
- the major lift — F
Or, in another version, I see it’s G, C, D, Em, C…
Are those even the right chords? I expected them to be something more exotic, with “sus4” or something after them.
Is it even the music, or is it the lyrics, with their mixing of the transcendent divine with the transcendent sexual? No. I mean, yes, they’re evocative, and work as poetry (to my unsophisticated ear, they strike a literary note somewhere near that of the Song of Solomon), but they aren’t the secret. I remember when I first heard the song — the cover version used in “Shrek” — I was deeply impressed with the music without hearing the words beyond “Hallelujah.” (Yeah, I’m that uncool. I’m sufficiently unfamiliar with Leonard Cohen that I first remember hearing it watching “Shrek.”)
And how about the fact that it is used in such incongruous contexts as “Shrek” and “Scrubs” (which I discovered from Pandora), and works?
Speaking of Pandora (which I just did, parenthetically), it was little help. I tried creating a “Hallelujah” station, to see if it would give me other songs with that special something. And once or twice, it has moved in that direction — “Let it Be” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” do have something of that essence — but it’s played Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Over the Rainbow” so many times that it’s rapidly losing its charm for me. And “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight,” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'”? I don’t think so. “The Sound of Silence”? Maybe. But I’m not sure.
Help me out, those of you who understand music. What is it?