At least five friends and acquaintances have posted a viral video of a priest officiating at a wedding ceremony in Ireland. Father Ray Kelly surprised the couple, Chris and Leah O'Kane, with a version of Leonard Cohen's much-loved (and covered) "Hallelujah".
Father Kelly has a pleasing tenor; the song obviously was a showstopper. But Father sang new words, substituting the most banal lyrics imaginable in place of the keening original.
Cohen's lyrics read, in part:
"Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.."
In only one stanza, Cohen limns anguish, eros and weariness, a hard road both forward and back.
I went a bit wild when I heard Father Kelly sing, instead:
"We join together here today
To help some people on their way
As Leah and Chris start their life together
And now they've reached their special day
We've come to help them celebrate
And show them how much we all love them to you..."
As my father would say, Christ on a cracker! This is wrong for so many reasons I have to get my blood pressure down before I can enumerate them.
First, you don't mess with an artist's work, especially one who is still performing, holding the copyright and writing a zillion percent better than one Lucy Pitts-O'Connor, who wrote the lyrics when she was ten, for her godmother's wedding.
If you are going to mess with the lyrics, think twice unless you can bend them into a parodic and/or eccentric mind-eff (think Tim Minchin), which is unlikely if you have spent the last 25 years in a cassock. Otherwise, respect the integrity of the work.
KD Lang did it, Jeff Buckley did it, Matthew Schuyler on "The Voice" did it, Jon Bon Jovi (surprisingly moving) did it, even freaking Celine Dion represented when she crashed the Canadian Tenor's performance on Oprah.
As several persons who received this rant in person said, But, Father didn't mean any harm! He was just trying to do something nice! And the couple loved it!
I too think he had the best intentions. However, I wonder what would happen if a couple approached their friendly singing pastor and said, "You know "Ave Maria"? Great chord progression, but the lyrics are a buzzkill. We'll make it about the wedding, not Mary. I've put in our names! Waddya say, Father?"
Cohen wrote seventy verses over three years, and distilled two full notebooks into an anthem of anguish and hope.
He has said,"I feel myself a very minor writer. I've taken a certain territory, and
I've tried to maintain it and administrate it with the very best of my
capacities. And I will continue to administrate this tiny territory
until I'm too weak to do it. But I understand where this territory is."
Leonard Cohen, performing "Hallelujah" live: