“Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!” Leonard Cohen’s Resolution Of The Irresolvable

Central to Leonard Cohen’s work is the notion that not only is life imperfect but also “this realm does not admit to resolution.” His solution is to surrender the illusion that we can decipher, let alone solve the human predicament, so that, instead, we can “stand before the Lord of Song” to say “Hallelujah.” While more poetically expressed in his songs like “Hallelujah” and “Anthem,” my favorite of Leonard Cohen’s own explanations of this idea is taken from a 1988 interview: How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns by John McKenna. RTE: May 9 & 12, 1988; Accessed at LeonardCohenFiles. Photo by Antonio Olmos.

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The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!’quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

“The only time we win is that moment when we drop the battle and we affirm the whole situation with this embrace” Leonard Cohen Talks About Hallelujah & Bernadette


[John McKenna:] Song of Bernadette works on several levels. There the young visionary of February and March 1858 with that apparition in her soul. A vision no-one believed. And, there are the rest of us with our own visions and dreams, which no-one, least of all ourselves, can believe in. Once we realise that visions don’t last – they disappear – and we end up running and falling, rather than flying. There’s Bernadette, true to her belief and finally rewarded with the knowledge that there is mercy in the world. There’s Leonard Cohen, acknowledging that each of us is torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo.

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I think that we mostly do fail in these things, but the thing that makes these failures supportable are these moments like the one I tried to talk about in Hallelujah or the one I tried to talk about in Bernadette it’s those are the moments when the thing is resolved – the thing is reconciled – not actually by moving pieces around; it’s not a chess game. As I say in my new version of Hallelujah, ‘I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch, but love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.’ Nobody’s going to win this, not the men not the women not the socialists, not the conservatives. Nobody’s going to win this deal. The only time we win is that moment when we drop the battle and we affirm the whole situation with this embrace.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns – Interview With Leonard Cohen Presented By John McKenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988. Retrieved from LeonardCohenFiles. Originally posted November 22, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“This world is full of…things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’” Leonard Cohen

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Finally there’s no conflict between things, finally everything is reconciled but not where we live. This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’. That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say ‘Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.’ And you can’t reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation. That’s what it’s all about. It says that none of this – you’re not going to be able to work this thing out – you’re not going to be able to set – this realm does not admit to revolution – there’s no solution to this mess. The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!’ That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns – Interview With Leonard Cohen Presented By John McKenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988. Retrieved from LeonardCohenFiles

Note: Originally posted Feb 12, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen: “No alibi … You have to stand up and say Hallelujah”

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I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view. I think the other song that is closely related to that is ‘Anthem.’ It’s the notion that there is no perfection–that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still that is no alibi for anything. On the contrary, you have to stand up and say hallelujah under those circumstances.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From “Robert Hilburn Interviews Leonard Cohen” by Robert Hilburn (Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1995)

Note: Originally posted November 8, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Videos: Bob Dylan Covers Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah Twice – Montreal & Los Angeles 1988

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Leonard Cohen Sings “Hallelujah” To Bob Dylan

It’s a rather joyous song . I like very much the last verse. I remember singin’ it to Bob Dylan after his last concert in Paris. The morning after, I was having coffee with him and we traded lyrics. Dylan especially liked this last verse “And even though it all went wrong, I stand before the Lord of song With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah

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Of course, no post about Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and “Hallelujah” would be complete without the anecdote, a classic in Cohen’s repertoire, about the contrast in the time required by Dylan and Cohen to compose a song. The story appears in several Cohen interviews. The following iteration is from Leonard Cohen, Los Angeles 1992, a section of “Songwriters On Songwriting” by Paul Zollo:

That [“Hallelujah”] was a song that took me [Leonard Cohen] a long time to write. Dylan and I were having coffee the day after his concert in Paris a few years ago and he was doing that song in concert. And he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years.

Then I praise a song of his, “I and I,” and asked him how long it had taken and he said, “Fifteen minutes.” [Laughter]

Bob Dylan Sings “Hallelujah” To  Leonard Cohen’s Montreal

Dylan was one of the first artists to cover “Hallelujah,” performing it twice in his 1988 concert tour.. When Dylan’s Never Ending Tour came to Montreal in 1988, he performed “Hallelujah.” Dylan also sang it in Los Angeles on Aug 4, 1988.

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Montreal: July 8,  1988

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Hollywood: Aug 4, 1988

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Credit Due Department: Photo of Dylan playing Barcelona in 1984 by Stoned59 – originally posted to Flickr as Bob Dylan, CC BY 2.0, via Wikipedia

The Cohen-Dylan Interface

All posts about Leonard Cohen’s & Bob Dylan’s opinions of each other, their meetings, and comparisons by others can be found at

Note: Originally posted May 10, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. From 1985 interview published in Paroles et Musiques []

Leonard Cohen & Bob Dylan Compare Songwriting Velocity

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That [Hallelujah] was a song that took me a long time to write. Dylan and I were having coffee the day after his concert in Paris a few years ago and he was doing that song in concert. And he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years.

Then I praised a song of his, “I and I,” and asked him how long it had taken and he said, “Fifteen minutes.” [Laughter]quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen From Songwriters On Songwriting by Paul Zollo Los Angeles 1992

The Cohen-Dylan Interface

All posts about Leonard Cohen’s & Bob Dylan’s opinions of each other, their meetings, and comparisons by others can be found at

Note: Originally posted at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric