'I was excruciatingly nervous': k.d. lang on singing 'Hallelujah' for Leonard Cohen
k.d. lang performs during the 2013 Juno Awards in Regina on April 21, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Liam Richards)
David Friend, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, November 12, 2016 5:03PM EST
TORONTO -- k.d. lang cherishes the moment she sang "Hallelujah" for Leonard Cohen.
It was at his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, and she agreed to pay tribute to the legendary singer-songwriter with a rendition of his beloved song.
"I was excruciatingly nervous," lang remembers.
Two years earlier she handpicked "Hallelujah" for her "Hymns of the 49th Parallel," a covers album featuring her favourites from Canadian songwriters.
But she'd never performed the song for Cohen, who died Monday.
Standing a few feet in front of him, lang drifted into the lyrics of one of Cohen's most spiritual songs.
"I kind of settled on the fact that I can only give him my interpretation of his work, and just laid it out there," she says.
Singing "Hallelujah" has always been a powerful experience, lang says.
Every time lang sings the words, she says they evoke imagery in her most other songs don't.
Both lang and Cohen were Buddhists, which might've given them a unique bent on the song.
"There's something about the lyrics that transport you into a more meditative state," she says.
"To me it's (about) the struggle between having human desire and searching for spiritual wisdom. It's being caught between those two places."
After the show, the two met backstage. Cohen gave her a "Buddist hug" that signalled he was pleased with her rendition.
She only saw him a few other times, but the two musicians will be forever linked.
lang sang "Hallelujah" to a global audience at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics opening ceremony, punctuating the heightened emotions of the sports world at the time. Hours earlier Georgian lunger Nodar Kumaritashvili died while training for the Games, and Cohen's lyrics seemed painfully fitting for the moment.
"All sorts of things made the environment for the song transcend into something beyond all of us," lang says.
"The song just really blew through me. It was one of the quickest six minutes I've ever experienced."
Cohen's death marks a loss for the artistic community, lang says. But she finds calm in knowing he gave the world a great final album in "You Want It Darker," just weeks before his passing.
"It's going to take us a while ... to ingest everything," lang says.
"He imparted so much wisdom. He was a translator between the gods and humans."