A Bro­ken Hal­lelu­jah: Rock and Roll, Redemp­tion and the Life of Leonard Cohen

  • Review
By – March 20, 2014

In the pref­ace to A Bro­ken Hal­lelu­jah, Liel Leibovitz’s new book about the philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­nings of the work of Cana­di­an singer/​songwriter Leonard Cohen, the author bestows Cohen with the heady des­ig­na­tion of prophet, Mil­len­nia ago, as we began ask­ing our­selves the same fun­da­men­tal ques­tions we still pon­der, we called men like him prophets, mean­ing not that they could fore­see the future, but that they could bet­ter under­stand the present by see­ing one more lay­er of mean­ing to life. The title still applies.”

The title was hard earned. Per­haps Leonard Cohen was born har­bor­ing an incip­i­ent need to ques­tion what mean­ing might lie with­in the seem­ing­ly uncon­trol­lable chaos of life. It’s pos­si­ble that his father’s untime­ly death jump-start­ed a some­what pre­ma­ture search for mean­ing in the then nine-year-old Cohen, but it’s like­ly that it would have com­menced soon enough, sim­ply under dif­fer­ent circumstances.

His life­long pur­suit of the big ques­tions has found its way through many des­ti­na­tions, exter­nal and inter­nal, geo­graph­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal. Trav­el­ing with him from the start were the ancient teach­ings of Judaism, which were joined along the way by the influ­ence of oth­er writ­ers, an even­tu­al deep com­mit­ment to Zen Bud­dhism, and his respons­es to the ever-chang­ing cul­ture and pol­i­tics of the times.

By 1963 Cohen had already pub­lished a book of poet­ry and a nov­el. It was sev­er­al years lat­er that he made the fate­ful deci­sion to put his words to music. There was some­thing mag­i­cal about that com­bi­na­tion of his melan­choly tunes and often enig­mat­ic lyrics. His ren­di­tions of those songs have come to res­onate deeply with a loy­al and still devel­op­ing fan base, grow­ing to an unex­pect­ed crescen­do dur­ing his sev­enth decade on the planet.

This is the third Leonard Cohen-relat­ed book I’ve been asked to review in as many years. As I sat down to read A Bro­ken Hal­lelu­jah, I couldn’t help but won­der if I’d find it to be no more than a rehash­ing of already pub­lished mate­r­i­al. I’m delight­ed to report that this thought-pro­vok­ing book not only stands on its own, it is absolute­ly out­stand­ing and although a reader’s pre­vi­ous inter­est in Leonard Cohen might add an extra lay­er to the read­ing expe­ri­ence, it is cer­tain­ly not required.

Relat­ed Content:

Read Liel Lei­bovitz’s Vis­it­ing Scribe Posts

Saved by Leonard Cohen

Rock and Roll, Reli­gion, and Leonard Cohen

Nao­mi Tropp recent­ly retired after a long career in non­prof­it man­age­ment. She worked on the Ann Katz Fes­ti­val of Books at the Indi­anapo­lis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and direct­ed the fes­ti­val for three of those years.

Discussion Questions