I generally react badly to those heartwarming viral videos about kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities or related challenges. So many of these videos are really designed to elicit pity by reminding us of what a child can’t do rather than showing a genuine, realistic achievement. I’ve seen maybe fifty variants of the high school student with Down syndrome, manager of the basketball team, who is allowed to take a freebie shot that falls through the bucket. It’s great to give a kid that experience…but yeah. So many inspiring videos are implicitly about the inspiring caregiver, or about the random non-disabled person who does something basically kind, such as the football star who joined a boy who lives with autism [typo fixed] for lunch.

Kaylee Rodgers attends the Killard House School in Donaghadee, Northern Ireland. She lives with autism. And as you can hear: Wow, she can really sing. It doesn’t hurt that she’s singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.(h/t New York Post.)

And yeah, for many of us this song will always be bittersweet….

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

7 thoughts on “Hallelujah”

  1. Yeah, nice voice, but I find it offensive that they changed all the lyrics of a soulful Jewish song by a Jewish singer-songwriter into an insipid paean to Baby Jesus. It's as bad as C-Lo Green changing the lyrics of Imagine at the Super Bowl to say "Imagine Our Religion". The fucking nerve, completely inverting the meaning and tone of a great song.

    I vote thumbs-down here, that's not what Cohen wrote, nor would he have ever approved.

    Yet another example of Christians imposing their religion on everybody else.

    1. This is Northern Ireland, where it's Protestants vs. Catholics all the way. Shakespeare and Chaucer stole unashamedly from their sources. Great composers have taken tunes from folk music. The "moral rights" of authors go no further than acknowledgement.

      1. Mmmmm, I'm not sure it's that black and white, particularly since Leonard Cohen was probably still alive when that clip was filmed. If a skinhead White Supremacy band had taken Pete Seeger's We Shall Overcome and changed the lyrics to being about how white people will one day put the black man back in his place, would you be cool with that? And then there's Led Zeppelin, who stole a half dozen songs or more from black bluesmen, and when it was pointed out to them, Page and Plant were completely blasé, and said, oh yeah, but they wrote that a long time ago (meaning, 1960 rather than 1972), so we don't owe them anything. The "legal" rights of authors may go no further than acknowledgement, but their moral rights are much more elastic. If you want to extoll the virtues of Christianity, don't invoke John Lennon or Leonard Cohen or Albert Einstein or Salman Rushdie. It's just plain sleazy to alter quotes and lyrics to suit your proselytizing zeal.

        1. I would not be "cool" with any song "about how white people will one day put the black man back in his place", regardless of plagiarism. You are not I notice claiming that the Killard adaptation is any worse than "an insipid paean to Baby Jesus". The music is presumably under copyright, and it would be unlikely for a school to put on a public performance without obtaining the rights.

          Wasn't Cohen making a Jewish version of a Christian masterpiece, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus? Itself based on Revelations, with echoes from Isaiah and the Psalms no doubt. You'll be complaining next that the authors of Genesis didn't give credit to the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh for the story of Noah.

    1. I suspect that the now-fixed typo was due to him having written something like "autistic boy" and then replacing it with well-meaning but clunky and somewhat patronizing "person-first" language.

      I have found that "person-first" language tends to fail at what it was meant to do, since the awkwardness of the phrasing tends to emphasize the disability more than more streamlined language would. I've also noticed that those who actually have a disability are not nearly as fond of person-first language as normal people are. And in case you are wondering, yes I am autistic.

  2. Leonard Cohen, bless his heart, wrote a boatload of lyrics for this timeless melody he composed. Versions of his song with his varied lyrics have been quite variable indeed. And in many of his songs he certainly does not eschew Christian imagery (check out Passing Through).. He was truly a man for all religious seasons. I doubt he was offended by the many Christian rewrites to Hallelujah.

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