Thursday, September 3, 2009


I was surprised, I admit it, by the positive response to yesterday's post. The lyrics to Hallelujah are disturbing, regardless of which version you're talking about. (One website says there are 15 verses in total, appearing in various recordings.)

I think I first heard Hallelujah at the end of the season finale of the third season of West Wing. C.J. Cregg, the White House press secretary, and Simon Donovan, the secret service agent assigned to her in the wake of a series of threats, have fallen in love; to their mutual astonishment and relief, the perpetrator has been arrested, meaning that they are finally free to pursue their relationship. The President is attending a theatrical production in New York, from which he withdraws to discuss with Leo the decision he is making to assasinate a foreign leader. And presidential advisor Josh Lyman is arguing with his girlfriend, women's rights activist Amy Gardner, who has just lost her job due to White House machinations.

The clip below opens with Simon's murder. It's quick and it's violent, but I'm going with this version because the speed and power of the violence reflect the experience of sudden and startling death so well. The important part for me, though, lies in about 1:00-2:45. I've always been very fond of the character of C.J. Cregg, who is tall and elegant (I wish) and whose last name sounds exactly like mine (even though it's spelled differently), but in these scenes, with her response to the news of Simon's death and the images of the investigative scene where she is not present, there are mirrors to my own life that go far beyond the elusive personal qualities and last name. Our son did not die from a gunshot wound, but almost all suicide deaths involve police investigations of the scene and body, and almost all sudden deaths involve notifications to loved ones who are plunged into a state of numbed shock before the first spoken sentence is complete.

And the song? Some of the lyrics are a mystery to me, some are overtly sexual, and all of them blend the human longing for others and for God that becomes so potent in times of bewilderment and loss. I hear so many voices in this song, layering over one another through a phrase here, a verse there: the voices of David and Bathsheba, of Samson and Delilah, of men and the women they love, of women and the men they love, of brothers and sisters who love one another, of mothers and fathers and the sons and daughters they love. To me it's a song of lament for a time when loss and love crash against one another in a sudden and violent cataclysm of destruction. "And love is not a victory march; it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah" ~ the words could be Zosima's in The Brothers Karamasov, which I've quoted repeatedly in the past year. "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing in real life as opposed to love in dreams."


Kathryn J said...

Although it has long been a favorite, I couldn't bring myself to listen to that song yesterday. This morning I listened and cried some more.

Yesterday, Josh being gone felt as raw and incomprehensible to me as it did a year ago. I thought of you almost constantly.

karengberger said...

For me, the song also speaks of the millions of losses that the death of a child brings...a cascade of changes, a seeping sadness. On some days that melancholy feels as if it has invaded every single atom of my life; on others, it manifests as positive energy to do my best to bless the world. It's a mystery, so beautifully told by the intermingling images in the song. Thank you again for reminding me to listen to it.

Stratoz said...

You would be blessed among all if Leonard Cohen lyrics were not a mystery. peace my friend. enough computer time for now.

Mrs. M said...

I love CJ, and this scene is so overwhelmingly awful that it's one of the few West Wing episodes we rarely re-watch. What a powerful comparison to make.

I've been thinking of you this week.

Jodie said...

One of the best scenes in one of the best written TV shows ever.

That's! where I first heard this song! I feel the power of the scene every time I hear it.

Lisa :-] said...

I knew this was the first place I had heard the song, but I didn't remember which version it was (I have downloaded five different versions from i-tunes.)

It's a powerful song, the lyrics are amazing.

And I STILL miss West Wing.