Thursday, January 5, 2017

If It Be His Will

Leonard Cohen at home in Los Angeles in September, 2016.Photograph by Graeme Mitchell for The New Yorker
Just caught up with David Remnick's extraordinary profile of Leonard Cohen, and though I haven't even finished it yet, I feel the need to address the typically weird and woolly Dylan section, in which Remnick gets some "detailed, critical" quotes from one master about another. The results are...odd.
1. Dylan is right to draw attention to Cohen's music in conjunction with his lyrics. Though one may detect a little special pleading here on Bob's part (this myopia is often true of assessments of his work too), and though I don't class Cohen as a first-rate melodist, the point needs to be made again and again that songs are at their very root not simply music added to lyrics or vice versa but fresh, breathing hybrid creatures whose constituent parts should be pulled apart, if at all, with extreme delicacy. Which leads to...
2. As the last bit of Chronicles proved, Dylan has only a passing grip on music theory. His assessment of "Sisters of Mercy" is roughly correct about the song's rising-falling structure, but no, it doesn't open on a minor key. I guess you can't fact-check Dylan!
3. Irving Berlin? That has to be one the most perverse, po-faced comparisons ever made. I get that Dylan is trying to upend the stereotype of Cohen as Dr. Gloom by juxtaposing with him Mr. Sunshine, but...yeah. That's straight-up weirdo talk.
As for the rest of the piece, while I'm a hot-and-cold Cohen fan (I generally prefer his songs to his recordings, and find many of them uniquely moving in performance, including by myself), it's a good read if you haven't already.

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