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#ThrowbackThursday Presents “Hallelujah”: Pope Francis Makes Historic Visit to U.S.

Lenard Cohen/Jeff Buckley” Hallelujah” Columbia Records

by Sean Smith

Pope Francis began his historic three-city visit to the United States this past Tuesday. The pontiff will be making stops in Washington D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia during his six day visit. This is Pope Francis’ first visit to America since he became Pope in March 2013. Pope Francis is the fourth Pontiff to visit the States, the first being Pope Paul VI in 1965.

The leader of the Roman Catholic church has quite the full schedule planned over his visit. Pope Francis arrived late Tuesday afternoon, where he was greeted by President Obama and the First Family, amongst various other dignitaries. On Wednesday His Holiness canonized 18th-century missionary to California Junipero Serra at a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. With the mass, Pope Francis made Serra the first person to be ever be granted sainthood on U.S. soil.

Thursday (tomorrow as I’m writing this Wednesday evening) the Pope will make a visit to the U.S. Capitol building, where he will address a special Joint Session of Congress, before heading to New York City later that evening. On Friday Pope Francis will make another major speech when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the morning, and then end his day performing mass at Madison Square Garden. The final two days of the pontiff’s visit will be spent in Philadelphia, where he will be holding mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, giving an address at Independence Mall, and even spending time visiting prisoners in Philadelphia’s largest jail prior to leaving the country early Sunday evening.

Even if you are not a Catholic this papal visit is an important event for a couple of reasons. For starters, Pope Francis has been a Pope of the people unlike his predecessor. His willingness, and apparent need, to put himself among the people who perhaps need to see him the most; for instance his planned stop at a Philadelphia jail. His ability to practice compassion, and publicly urge others to do the same, is a key reason for Pope Francis’ popularity, even outside his church. This is important because it helps to rebuild the brand of Catholicism in America, which has been deeply damaged by the church’s sex abuse scandal. The second reason the Pope’s visit is so important is due to the political fallout that will occur, not only in America but worldwide, when the Pope addresses political hot button issues like abortion, global warming, income inequality, and immigration. Being the head of the Catholic Church makes Pope Francis a de facto world leader. Therefore, any issues he addresses Thursday morning at the Joint Session of Congress in D.C. or at the United Nations General Assembly will not only raise awareness to those issues, but also force politicians from every political stripe to talk about them as well. So yes, even if you are not a Catholic the papal visit is important and you should probably pay it a bit of attention.

With the Pope’s historic visit in mind, for this week’s #tbt we wanted to highlight a song that correlated to this important event. However, we also didn’t want to pick a song that was too religious given the wide array of religious beliefs of Clizbeats readers. Therefore, this week we decided to remember a song that uses some religious language, but isn’t particularly a religious one; the Leonard Cohen penned “Hallelujah.”

Leonard Cohen released “Hallelujah” for his 1984 album Various Positions. However, the song was a work in progress. It took Cohen several years working on the song, composing around 80 total verses, before he finally recorded the version which would appear on his 1984 album. Cohen has talked in interviews about singing a version of “Hallelujah” to Bob Dylan in July of 1984 in Paris, and Dylan complimenting Cohen’s songwriting.

The song makes a number of references to Biblical characters in its exploration of love gone wrong. He references King David twice in the song. The first with the line “I’ve heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord, but you don’t really care for music do you?” The second King David reference mentions his temptation from Bathesba with the line “You saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.” He also references the story of Samson and Delilah with the lyrics “She tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair.” Despite Cohen’s brilliant use of well known Biblical stories as analogies for soured love, Cohen’s original release of “Hallelujah” was slow to gain popularity. It would take a number of other artists covering the song, before Cohen would gain the respect he deserved for crafting such a deep and moving masterpiece.

The first person to release a cover version of “Hallelujah” was John Cale, who founded the Velvet Underground. He recorded a version of the song for a Leonard Cohen tribute album released in 1991 called I’m Your Fan. Cale’s version was heard by an artist named Jeff Buckley, who was inspired by hearing it to make his own version. Buckley recorded his cover of “Hallelujah” and released it on his 1994 album Grace, though it was not originally released as a single. In fact, Buckley’s version was not officially released as a single until 2007. Unfortunately Buckley, who died in 1997, would not live to see his version of “Hallelujah” top the Billboard Hot Digital Songs chart in March of 1998. Although the Leonard Cohen penned track “Hallelujah” has been covered literally hundreds of times over the years, Buckley’s cover of the song has become the most known and popular version of the track.

So with Pope Francis currently in the midst of his important and historic visit to the United States, this week we take a moment to remember the Leonard Cohen penned “Hallelujah.” Enjoy.

Lenard Cohen 


From Various Positions 

Passport/Columbia Records 

Jeff Buckley 


From Grace 

Columbia Records