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“I Heard There Was A Secret Chord…”

You all know the song, right? Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”? And how it starts with there being a secret chord, which David plays, and it pleases the Lord, maybe; but it’s not so much pleasing the other person in the equation (in the song, this is presumably the singer’s ex-lover). But in the original reference the playing *does* please the other person, so much that they actually can’t function without out. Which raises an interesting question.

First, though, the reference itself: I trust you know, it’s based on the Bible (what most Christians call the Bible, anyway) and I really, really hope you know the story of David, Jonathan, and Saul, because it’s beautiful, in a heartbreaking kinda way. I’ll probably cover it at some point–King David was the main reason I wanted to name a boy David, if I ever had one, and although I changed my mind later, the inspiration still stands–King David is my all-time favourite Bible character.

For the purposes of this entry, though, I need to focus more on King Saul, David’s predecessor.

Essentially, Saul was an intentional mistake, put in charge of the nation of Israel to show them up, and reveal how much better God was at ruling them than a human would be. Basically, God lets the Israelites choose a king, and they pick a big dude who’s shit-hot on the battlefield (maybe, like, a little unhinged? a berserker, prone to unquenchable bloodlust?) and he turns out to be a great warrior, but not such a great king. Then middle age comes upon him, he gets depressed (or gets an actual evil spirit tormenting him, if you believe that sort of thing–either way, the end result is a load of misery, I mean, there’s a reason we liken mental illness to “battling our demons”, and it’s not because the situations are dissimilar) and he has to send for someone to come and play music to quiet his inner torment (or to make the demon go away, whichever you prefer).

Enter, Not-Yet-King David. A youngest son and a shepherd by trade, he’s actually a pretty cool kid: morally upright and sensible and reliable, also athletic and already something of a bad-ass (he’s forever killing wild animals with a slingshot, and keeping all his sheep safe, and doing a bunch of properly grown-up shit) but eternally overlooked, because he has like a hundred older brothers (6, I think–I haven’t read the story in years) and so no one gives little David the time of day. Then, he gets singled out (different part of the story) and sent to the palace, and what do you know, on top of being an all-round bad-ass, little David plays a mean lyre, as well.

But *not* a mean one; a lovely, soothing, melodic lyre, played so beautifully and skilfully that it chases all King Saul’s demons away. They get into a groove: Saul has a shrieking panic attack, he sends for David, David pulls out the B.C.E. equivalent of an acoustic guitar, and he singer/songwriters Saul and his evil spirits into blissful relaxation. And just like that, Saul–a man teetering right on the edge of suicidal, homicidal depression–manages to carry on ruling for years to come.

My question is this: what would have happened to Saul, if, when he called for David, David never showed?

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