Saturday, February 11, 2012

Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas, and the genius of his lyrics. - Slate Magazine

Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas, and the genius of his lyrics. - Slate Magazine:

Jan Swafford essentially argues in her Slate article that Leonard Cohen is a better lyricist than Bob Dylan, or anyone else for that matter who has bothered to compose rhyme to melody. A broad premise , typical for Slate and internet magazines where deadlines often drive good argument. Still, the story has a point I think Swafford tip toes around; Bob Dylan is, in essence and in fact, a song lyricist who has a particularly strong gift for the poetic effect, while Cohen is a poet in the most coherent sense; he had published several volumes of poetry and published two novels prior to his taking up the guitar. Dylan's style is definitely the definition of the postmodern jam session, a splendid mash up of Little Richard, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and a long line of obscure or anonymous folk singers who's music he heard and absorbed. His lyrics, however arcane and tempered with Surreal and Symbolist trappings--although the trappings , in themselves, were frequently artful and inspired--he labored to the pulse of the chord progression, the tight couplets, the strict obedience to a rock and roll beat. This is the particular reason he is so much more quotable than Cohen has turned out to be; the songwriter's instinct is to get your attention and keep it and to have you humming the refrain and singing the chorus as you walk away from the music player to attend to other task. Chances are that you are likely to continue humming along with the music while you work, on your break, on the drive home, for the remains of the day. This is not to insist that Cohen is not quotable or of equal worth--I am in agreement that Cohen , in general, is the superior writer to Dylan, and is more expert at presenting a persona that is believably engaged with the heartaches, pains and dread-festooned pleasures his songs take place. His lyrics are more measured, balanced, less exclamatory and time wasting, and exhibit a superior sense of irony. Cohen is the literary figure, the genuine article, who comes to songwriting with both his limitations and his considerable gifts. All is to say that Dylan has Tin Pan Alley throwing a large shadow over his work. Cohen, in turn, is next to a very large bottle of ink and a quill.

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