David Remnick’s stellar profile of Leonard Cohen in the New Yorker repeats the well-worn tale of the time that Bob Dylan asked him how long it took to write “Hallelujah.” “Two years,” he told him. “I really like ‘I and I.’ How long did it take you wrote that?” Dylan told him a mere 15 minutes. As Remnick pointed out, it actually took Cohen five years to write “Hallelujah,” and when it was done, his label didn’t even want to release the album it appeared on because it didn’t seem commercial.
Four years after the song came out, Dylan’s Never Ending Tour came to Montreal’s Forum de Montreal. That’s Cohen’s hometown, and Dylan honored him by singing “Hallelujah.” (Check out audio of the moment right above.) Dylan sang it again the following month at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, but hasn’t touched it since. The tune was still quite obscure, and it would be three years before John Cale reinterpreted it for the piano and kickstarted the “Hallelujah” craze.
“It’s all over YouTube, so people will send me their 11-year-old daughter singing it,” Cohen told Rolling Stone in 2012. “That’s always very charming. And there are great versions of it by k.d. lang. Bon Jovi has a great version of it … John Cale’s is terrific.”
The New Yorker profile reveals that Cohen is struggling with health problems and is unlikely to tour again. “Friends and musical associates say they’d be surprised to see him onstage again except in a limited way: a single performance, perhaps, or a short residency at one venue,” Remnick wrote. “When I e-mailed ahead to ask Cohen out for dinner, he said that he was more or less ‘confined to barracks.'” Let’s all hope he finds the strength to play live at least one last time. If there’s one person on the planet we want to hear perform “Hallelujah” one more time, it’s Leonard Cohen.