Steve Chandler

There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

-Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" made British chart history Sunday when it became both number one and number two in the Christmas singles charts - although both versions were covers.

Alexandra Burke was almsot guaranteed to take the top slot with her version after winning television talent show "X Factor" this month, and the song became the fastest-selling single by a female solo artist, figures show. But in what appeared to be a protest at the manufactured music industry, fans of US musician Jeff Buckley kicked off an Internet campaign to get his classic version to number one instead, through downloads. It reached number two, making it the first time in 51 years - and the first time ever at Christmas - that the same song has held the two top spots in the singles charts, the Office Charts Company said. The last time was in January 1957, when Tommy Steele and Guy Mitchell held the top two places with "Singin' the Blues." In another twist, Cohen's own version of the song - which he first released on an album in 1984 - entered the charts as a new entry at number 36.

It's a long way from Singing the Blues to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, but maybe not. In fact, now that I look at my own life, it's truly a journey from singing the blues to singing hallelujah.

I put a quote from Leonard Cohen into a key section of the book Fearless, because Cohen is one of those songwriters whose poetic words are unforgettable to me. There's a blaze of light in every word he writes.

I lived in Mexico City after droppingout of my first year in college. I studied Spanish and I drank a lot. I was an alcoholic but I didn't know it. And I hadn't hit the real depths of consumption back then. I lived in a boarding house and only Spanish was spoken. It was 1963 and I had a nasty housemate and one day when he came into my bedroom to tell me my president had been shot I thought he was just taunting me with inappropriate humor until later that evening when I heard street vendors who were selling papers yelling "Kennedy Asesinado" and "Kennedy Muerto!" Things weren't as dangerous then. I was truly young.

Someone somewhere feared John Kennedy.

Alcohol seems to solve the fear problem really quickly. In the old days they called whiskey "false courage." But because fear is by nature an imaginary problem - a disease of the imagination - the solution is also imaginary, and not real, not lasting, not forever, not anything you can trust.

I love the Mexico countryside. So often we used to travel by bus of train from Tucson to Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan or just Nogales. Even the dead horses are beautiful, in the right frame of mind. I've also always felt that most of the beauties of travel are due to the strange hours we keep to see them.

It's funny that when my mind is dull and weary and full of worry it sees the world the same way. It sees everything wrong with the world. But when I'm refreshed and illumined on the inside, I start seeing how good people are to each other. HOw everyone wants to help everyone else. When I visited Terry Hill in Mexico I saw this spirit of help everywhere. Except for the one incident. When our airport van backed over a crippled guy sitting on a sidewalk. We didn't exactly kill him (and I saw someone rushing to his aid) but we didn't start his day off in the best way. That I was pretty sure of. Terry Hill's wife Miranda told Kathy when we were there that when the two of them decided to retire and devote their lives to travel, they really wanted to travel authentically, into the heart of the countries they were seeing. I almost said into the heart of darkness, but it's more like going into the heart of the light. That kind of travel polishes the glass of observation.

Polish the glass, and you'll see more. A lot of people thought that J.D. Salinger's great character in fiction, Seymour Glass, was named because of that idea. "See more glass." He was a seer, a poet and a modern day saint. When I was young and reading Salinger I used to wish more people were like that. Back then I thought people had permanent personalities and finite characters and they were either like Seymour or they weren't.

What I'm glad I've learned since then is that we can all be like that. We can all see more. We can all polish the glass and see more. We can all have the illumined mind that Emerson speaks of and with it we can see that the whole world sparkles with light. It doesn't with light all by itself. Which was Emerson's point when he said, "To the dull mind all nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light." It sparkles with light when you shine the right mind on it. And what we're talking about here is the fearless mind.

Steve Chandler, author of Reinventing Yourself
Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Category: Work-Life, Balance
Print page