An eclectic website about Women, Christianity,
History, Culture and the Arts--
and anything else that comes to mind.
From late 1999 to the middle of 2006, Frank and I were slaves to Aaron
Sorkin’s award-winning TV drama, The West Wing. If you haven’t seen
it and plan to, I warn you, this article contains a spoiler. But compared
with an hour a week for seven seasons, it isn’t a huge one.
The show follows the presidency of Josiah Bartlet, played by Martin
Sheen, together with the personal lives of several of his staffers. It
garnered three Golden Globe Awards and 26 Emmy Awards, including
the award for Outstanding Drama Series, which it won four consecutive
times from 2000 through 2003.
I loved the series because of the good writing, Sheen’s portrayal of a
president with intelligence and compassion, and the fact that he quoted the
Bible and loved the minutia of history. I also enjoyed his press secretary,
C. J. Craig, played by Allison Janney.
The season 3 finale finds most of the cast attending a benefit performance
of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. They’ve experienced one assassination
attempt, and there are fears of another, so the Secret Service is on high
alert. C. J. finds herself falling in love with her Secret Service agent,
Simon Donovan, played by Mark Harmon (above).
When Donovan is killed trying to thwart a convenience store holdup,
Janney’s acting skills are displayed in an almost wordless scene as she
steps back from the person who gives her the news, walks out of the
theater and down the street in shock, and collapses on a bus bench.
The music playing during a TV or movie scene is usually just background
to me. But not this time. From the first guitar plucks over the murder
scene itself through Janney’s reactions, the song playing over that scene
added poignancy to an already devastating story. You couldn’t miss the
Bible references—to King David, to Samson, the judge--and all those
Hallelujah’s. I couldn’t wait to ask my kids if they knew it.
It was Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and it was
the first time I’d heard it. It was like singer Patrick Stump said, “I’ve had
kids talk to me about ‘Hallelujah’ as if they were the only ones who knew
about it—it’s a cult classic, like the world’s biggest sleeper hit. It’s like
joining a club.”
And here I was, a grandmother, feeling like the first time I heard the song
was the first time anybody ever had. But mostly, it had me trying to learn
all I could about it.
There are also the crazy rhymes with the word Hallelujah—do you,
overthrew you, what’s it to you, fool you, knew you, outdrew you. The
sprung rhythm recalls my favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and
David’s own writings in the Psalms.
Leonard Cohen, who wrote the song, was a Jewish poet from Canada
before he became a composer, and it shows. He writes like a poet.
As Cohen, puts it, “Hallelujah is a Hebrew word which means ‘Glory to
the Lord.’ The song explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist. I
say all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have an equal value. It’s a
desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way, but with
enthusiasm, with emotion.”
Emotion is a major aspect of "Hallelujah." It wears it on its sleeve. So
much so that my tears watching the West Wing episode were prompted at
least as much by the music as by the story—and I’m a story person.
This year, in particular, "Hallelujah" has spoken to me. Through illness,
aging and retirement, I have longed to cry, but haven’t been able to.
When I was younger, tears came easily, cleansing my heart and mind. But
this time, I felt like a desert.
Then, at Christmas, Kathy gave me a book about "Hallelujah"--the song,
its writer, and other singers who’ve recorded it. I got up morning after
morning to read the book and listen to different artists perform the song.
And I cried—for myself, my family, God’s people and the whole,
troubled world. I cried for a baffled king, for people in war-torn nations,
for freedom and our inability to handle it, for people who hate when we
should be loving, who grasp when we should be giving.
This website also includes articles on Leonard Cohen, other musicians
who have covered the song, and the recent books by Alan Light, The
Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the unlikely
ascent of "Hallelujah" and I'm Your Man, the Cohen biography by
I hope you enjoy the website and that you’ll let me know if the song
speaks to you, when you first heard it, which version you prefer or any
other reaction to the website. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.