She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
By Leonard Cohen (1984)
I had long assumed that, in writing these lines from “Hallelujah,” Leonard Cohen had straightforwardly invoked the biblical story of Delilah’s emasculating haircut of Samson:
And she made him sleep upon her knees. And she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head . . . (Judges 16:17, 19, HBFV).1
It turns out, however, that there at least two possible precedents of Leonard’s own locks being ceremoniously shorn that took place before he composed those lyrics.
First, from Leonard, Marianne, and Me: Magical Summers on Hydra by Judy Scott, there is Marianne’s report of Masha, Leonard’s mother, cutting his hair:
Marianne also told me about the derivation of a lyric in what would become Leonard’s most famous and most covered song, “Hallelujah”:
She tied you to a kitchen chair,
she broke your throne and she cut your hair
and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah…
It was in the context of a discussion we had about the difficulties Marianne had with their relationship. She told me Leonard just couldn’t refuse any request made by a female. She said she thought it all originated in his rather complicated relationship with his mother. She was a very imposing and important person in his life. Marianne said that Leonard confessed to her that when he was a young child, his mother would insist on cutting his hair. When he got a little older and tried to refuse, she would use one of his father’s neckties to tie him to a chair in their kitchen and snip away. Then she’d tell him that, like Samson in the bible, Leonard was completely in her power and would have to do anything she asked of him. Marianne was pretty sure that was why he succumbed so easily to female imprecations. He just couldn’t say no. And also why he sought to escape from relationships as often as he did. He just couldn’t stay put. It was an example of the dilemma we all experience in love: constantly seeking a balance between acquiescence and resistance.
And, from Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: From This Broken Hill, Volume 2 by Michael Posner, there is an account of Leonard’s girlfriend, Gabriela Valenzuela, tying him to a kitchen chair to prevent mishaps while she sexily styled his tresses.
Credit Due Department: The gif atop this post, Leonard Cohen getting clipped by Dominique Issermann, is from The Making Of First We Take Manhattan, recorded in 1988, a few years after Hallelujah was released.