This week Jeff Buckley's 1994 cover version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" reached #1 on iTunes. Jason Castro's recent performance of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on American Idol most likely sparked this interest in the song--Simon Cowell had nothing but praise for Castro's rendition--but a comprehensive essay by Michael Barthel also made its way to some high traffic websites. If you are a fan of "Hallelujah" or simply interested in the cultural history of cover songs, I recommend Barthel's essay, which includes an analysis of how the song has been used in TV/film. I followed the link trail to an My Old Kentucky Blog post full of great covers of the song, including a version in Hebrew by Noam Peled. There are many covers of "Hallelujah" in other languages, though I can't assess whether the lyrics are translations or transformations. The Welsh band Brigyn performs a version ("Haleliwia") that completely alters the lyrics (see the comments on the video I link to for a translation). On the other hand, Cohen reworked the song a few times, altering words and lines along the way, so the original lyrics themselves weren't static. Buckley was sceptical of translation, as this excerpt from a November 1994 interview for the the Japanese magazine Rockin' On shows. The interviewer Steve Harris observes that the Japanese edition of Grace doesn't include Japanese translations of the English lyrics, which apparently is customary for Japanese releases of non-Japanese music. Buckley replies that he requested that the translations not be included because "they wouldn't be accurate":
S: Oh. In other words, you don't want a literal rendering.
JB: Yeah. It was just a last minute... It just took five minutes to decide. I went "Eh, no, I hate 'em." Like I hate it when... I mean it took fucking... It took many translators to get Rilke down to a real, cool, honest, accurate, poetic translation from German to English. Stephen Mitchell apparently has the latest "Letters To a Young Poet" and "Duino Elegies", they're all Stephen Mitchell. Somehow, he happened upon, in his heart, he's been able to translate. But I would have to work with a special, Japanese friend, who knows me. I just wouldn't want to... It would just be unfair to the Japanese people, because the songs are important to me. I couldn't just knock off a Japanese rendering, and have it be accurate. I'd have to know Japanese. It might take two pages to fill just the one English thing, because Japanese language, I was told is... Well you know. You're in Japan.
S: [laughs] Yeah.
JB: But, no.. I get all those fucking... That Sufi, the Qawalli Sufi poetry that's brought into... English translation is so dry and disgusting. Eccch. I hate English translations of things like Mexican, Spanish, and Urdu from Pakistan, and French, which is so... just the identity itself... just the logic of the language is so filled with innuendo, and puns, and stuff like that. You just can't catch it. You have to experience that language. So I thought it wouldn't be wise. It wasn't a precious thing. I just thought it wouldn't do any good.
S: So you think that just the Japanese listener, left to his own devices will get more from the...
S: The music as a result?
JB: Yeah. And find out about it over years, to find out what it means to them.
JB: I just thought I was just doing the right thing.
[from Mojo Pin]