John Cale will re-issue the classic live album Fragments of a Rainy Season, featuring his revered interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ among many solo versions from his enduring catalogue and previously unreleased outtakes.
Alongside the announcement, Cale has shared a new video for ‘Hallelujah’, directed by Abby Portner:
The following transcript is taken from the ‘Revisionist History’ podcast ‘Hallelujah’. Reproduced with the kind permission of Malcolm Gladwell.
One night, Cohen is playing this version at the Beacon Ballroom in New York and the musician John Cale happens to be in the audience. Cale is a legend, used to be in The Velvet Underground, a really pivotal figure in the rock ‘n roll avant-garde. He hears this song come out of Cohen’s mouth and he’s blown away. So he asks Cohen to send him the lyrics. He wants to do a version of it. So Cohen faxes him fifteen pages – who knows what the lyrics actually are at this point! Cale says, that for his version, he took the “cheeky” parts. He ends up using the first two verses of the original combined with three verses from the live performance. And Cale changes some words – most importantly, he changes the theme and brings back the biblical references that Cohen had in the album version.
Cale is really the one who cracks the code of Hallelujah according to Alan Light. This cover version appears on a Leonard Cohen tribute album put together by a French music magazine – it was called “I’m Your Fan”- came out in 1991. Almost nobody bought “I’m Your Fan”, except, weirdly, me. I think I found it in a remainder bin in a little record store on Colombia Road in Washington, DC. Another person who bought “I’m Your Fan” was a woman named Janine, who lived in Park Slope in Brooklyn. She was good friends with a young aspiring singer named Jeff Buckley. He used to house sit at her apartment. And one time, when Buckley’s there, he happens to see the CD of “I’m Your Fan” – he plays it – he hears John Cale’s version of Hallelujah and decides to do his own version of that version. He performs it at a tiny little bar in the East Village called Sin-e where he happens to be heard by an executive at Columbia Records. So Columbia Records ends up signing Buckley and he records his version of Hallelujah for the album ‘Grace’ which ends up being Buckley’s first, and only, studio album. It came out in 1994.
Now I’m guessing that Buckley’s version is the one you’re most familiar with – it’s the famous one, the definitive one. It’s not really a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, it’s a cover of John Cale’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ only with Cale’s piano swapped out for a guitar and of course, Buckley swaps out Cale’s voice for his own extraordinary voice.