Tuesday, March 2, 2010

kd lang at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies

I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
You don't really care for music, do ya?

OK, so I didn’t recognize the song. Lynne and I were watching the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics (on Canadian TV) when I heard those lines for the first time. OK, yeah, I know. I didn’t recognize the singer, either, which is probably even more embarassing. I may possibly be the last person on earth (Lynne excluded) to have heard this song, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Wikipedia says that, prior to late 2008, more than five million copies of the song sold, and that it has been the subject of a BBC Radio documentary and been featured in the soundtracks of numerous films and television programs. You may wonder how the song could be new to me, since it was sung by Alexandra Burke, the winner of the fifth series of British reality television show, The X Factor in 2008. The embarrassing list goes on and on. It was even sung by k.d. lang in 2004 on her album Hymns of the 49th Parallel and she has several times been chosen to sing the song at major events, such as at the Canadian Juno Awards of 2005. Plus, if you are old enough to be a Leonard Cohen fan (I am old enough but I wouldn’t really say I was a fan), you would have heard them back in 1984 when he first released his song, “Hallelujah.” All I can say is, I turned off the tv in 1968, and that's what happens.

For me, it was a mesmerizing first hearing of a beautiful song.

It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
The voice that was singing this song was so on, so empathetic, so expressive, so powerful. “Who is that man?” I asked Lynne. She said, “It’s a woman.” I said, “It is not, look, it’s a man.” The layers of clothes: white shirt, white vest, white jacket and white pants, all a little too big, the full sized body, the no makeup and the fashionable but ambiguous haircut were all clues. Plus, I suspected that the singer was some Canadian evangelist with a good voice. All those beautiful hallelujahs. But really, I didn’t care, I just wanted to hear more of the song.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya

It was strangely coincidental to hear this recounting of the biblical story of David and Bathsheba. We had just gotten home from eating out with two friends with whom we had been discussing spirituality. The conversation had hit on one of the (many) sticking points of the Old Testament, the story of (married) David vanquishing a woman (Bathsheba) whom he spies taking a bath a few roofs away. This is Kind David, reverred author of many psalms, also the same David who brought back 200 foreskins as proof of a military victory to Saul.
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
By now the dark flashlight lit Olympic stadium is completely synchronous as the barefoot white figure on the upraised podium enchants the audience, who are waving their flashlights back in forth in time with this song. Visually, it was a scene of uplifting unity. “It’s a man,” I continue. “It is not,” Lynne counters.

Baby I've been here before,
I've seen this room I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew ya
But I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Our love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

The power of the song, the concept of the cold and broken hallelujah, the sense of a someone who feels the divine, talking with someone who turns a deaf ear, the expression of the brokenness of life erupting into hallelujah, this singer who is leaning back and single handedly filling the Olympic stadium with hallelujahs…

Maybe there's a God above,
But all I've ever learned from love
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
It's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not someone who has seen the light
It's a cold and broken Hallelujah

The cynic’s view of love, the cynic’s view of humanity, the cynic’s view of God.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah,

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah,

The music stops. The applause rises like a tsunami, the announcer’s voice thanks k.d. lang, and the Olympic opening ceremonies continue. I am stunned, “That was k.d. lang?” The Canadian singer whom I knew from many years ago? The young woman with a kind of goofy cowgirl/punk affect? The Patsy Cline fan, who was most famous to me because she came out as a lesbian in the midst of her successful career in popular music? Lynne goes to the Internet to read more, and I sit back and reflect: how powerful it is that the Canadian Olympic committee chose to include her, an out lesbian dressed in manly clothes, to be a centerpiece of their presentation of Canadian talent to the world. 

If you missed it, (I think it was shown after midnight in the eastern time zone) here’s a link:
 http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/assetid=49bc5f18-a712-4f1c-b71d-73c8debb9adb.html  What’s totally annoying is that you have to allow Microsoft’s Silverlight to be installed on your computer if it's not already before you can watch it. Grrr, except that its worth being able to see this moment again.

Here's a link to her singing the same song in 2004: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_NpxTWbovE

I'm sorry that I've missed out on this great performer and this great song.  You can stop laughing at me now!



  1. Thanks for the wonderful story, as always, Sky! I have to admit that I didn't watch the Olympic starting ceremonies AND am clueless as to the song you refer... I may recognize it when I hear it as I am going to follow the link - but that's just a slim chance, knowing me. I think I would have recognized kd lang, though, but no guarantees. Thank you so much for sharing this in your thoroughly engaging way and bringing a little pop culture my way! We miss you all very much and are looking forward to seeing you!