In my mid-twenties I lived in my version of Shangri-La: a five bedroom house with two bathrooms and four other female roommates. One of my roommates was dating one of our neighbors, a late-20s PhD who spent his days doing some sort of scientific research I didn’t understand. He lived alone, but his younger brother was often over and we saw a lot of the two of them. We called them the James Brothers. His brother, in the fashion of younger brothers the world over, was the hipper, freer James Brother, working in a job I don’t remember, but more importantly, painting his car with chalkboard paint and playing the guitar here and there. He was pretty darn attractive, and even more so when he played his guitar for us in our house. One evening he launched in to the song “Hallelujah” and I knew from the first verse this was a song that needed to become a part of me. After he finished playing and we clapped I made inquires. The younger James brother lent me his Jeff Buckley tape so I could spend the next few weeks rewinding and hitting play. Much like the experience of my twenties, the song is both simple and complex, hopeful and melancholy, wrapping angry words in a poetry that hits an incredible range of emotions. I’ve heard other versions, but I come back to Jeff Buckley,* because the fact that he was a talented artist who died too soon adds yet another layer to what is already a complex and beautiful song.
*Although I shut off the song when he gets to his “general wailing” part at the end.