Per Svensson: a few weeks ago it was Book day at the opera in Malmö, sweden. I moderated a conversation between you and literary scholar Paul Tenngart. It was about Bob Dylan and the poet Majken Johansson. And suddenly I heard myself say that Leonard Cohen still writes better lyrics than Dylan. Why do you think I said it?
Oline Stig: Why do I think that you think that Cohen is the better? Should I answer that?! I think the main reason is that Cohen is also a writer of the sort who write books.
By: Yes, Leonard Cohen had published novels and collections of poetry before he 1967 released their first album and then he was relatively old, a bit over thirty. Dylan has well more shaped in a sångtradition?
Oline: Well, Bob Dylan has dabbled in literature all the time. He was hanging out with beatpoeterna in Greenwich Village in the 60′s and read a lot. I would argue that he is as much poet as musician.
By: During the call, at the opera, you said that Leonard Cohen is much easier to quote than Dylan. I thought that was interesting. What did you mean by that?
Oline: Cohen writes beautifully. It is amazing citerbara lines. "There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in". It is poetic and nice and easy to get to and easy to like. But then I think it is a little too polished.
By: I said that Cohen is a better lyricist. It was not a well thought out statement, and such comparisons are, of course, always silly and perhaps impossible. But because I had not thought through what I said, I was probably sincere. I think that Cohen is writing better lyrics. But does that mean that I also think he writes better songs, better songs than Dylan? It is not obvious. It is actually a different thing
Oline: language poets have had the music player and the premise ever since the ancient times. There is no contradiction between the songs and the poetry. Dylan’s poetry is written to be sung. Therefore, it becomes a little ridiculous if you say, "look here, you can read it too!" It is not so interesting.
Per: When Dylan got the price we wrote was his column on this page. You was jubilant. I was, er, slightly more skeptical. But I was, and is, negative to Dylan’s Nobel prizes have not with Dylan’s qualities as a songwriter to make. He is a master of his area. But his area is not you find the alma.
Oline: Then you would have thought it was wrong to give it to Leonard Cohen too?
Per: Cohen is closer to a price than Dylan. But, no, not he should have received it. I actually think the Swedish academy with its price shows nonchalance towards the genre Dylan and Cohen. When acquired the academy evidence and expertise to assess not only the novelist and the poets, but also a songwriter?
Oline: One can say that the price for Dylan meant an opening towards a new genre. But one could also argue that Dylan is unique in its kind. I doubt that a lot of pop musicians are now going to receive the Nobel prize in literature. Now if you necessarily need to read his texts, instead of listening to them when they are sung, so you can see that the texts also is literature. Dylan’s songs are a living library. He refers to everything from the Bible to Baudelaire. It is possible to make the length of the lists of his literary references.
Per: But, it does mean that he, himself, creates literature? Take a okay, if a little long, the song "Desolation Row”. Works as let. But the text itself? If I were cheeky I would say that it is something that a talented student of A-level course in comparative literature would be able to pick up.
Oline: Nah, there where I do not agree with! When Dylan refers to works by others he does it in a modernist tradition. He borrows, takes, and gives, and he does it in an intelligent way.
Per: the Starting point for this conversation is that it really is impossible. You can, and should, not judge the songs on pure textkriterier as one considers the lyrics. It’s becoming very clear of Dylan. The good thing with him is not the text itself but how it works when it is sung; the phrasing, the timbre, how it sounds. Many of his very best songs, the ones I like the most, has fairly banal lyrics: "Lay, lady, lay", "I shall be released" or "Knockinon heavens door". I would say that one of the key points is that it gives asylum to the banality that has been displaced from the culture, despite the fact that we cannot dispense with it.
Oline: Something that you find in Dylan, but not Cohen, is storytelling; the long ballads which is more like short stories or movies. Take, for example, that song on "Blood on the tracks" with allusions to the card game in the title, "Lily, Rosemary and the jack of hearts". Westernmiljö. A plot about jealousy and sudden death. A very strong narrative.
Per: I think enough of Cohen too, but I can agree that some of the most literary effective the songs of Dylan are those where mininovellerna, often with westernatmosfär. "One more cup of coffee" from "Desire" I like. Romantic realism. The Dylantexter I think is sort of the most reluctant is, paradoxically, the texts that probably impressed the most when you were young: the early surrealist performances in the beläsenhet.
Oline: But there are many fine texts from the period, "Visions of Johanna"!
Per: We were supposed to compare Dylan and Cohen. They have a lot in common. The jewish background. The obvious biblical references. But what makes them different? You said that Cohen is "polished".
Oline: if you Want to be positive you could say that Leonard Cohen is more choosy. But while Bob Dylan never becomes pretentious, there are a högstämdhet of Cohen who can be just that, pretentious.
Per: I would argue the opposite. Where is the humour and the självironin of Dylan?
Oline: Humor and självdistansen in there all the time. I mentioned a moment ago – "Visions of Johanna" with the lines "Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously/He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously". They are, of course, about himself.
Per: In cohen’s production, there are fine examples of how he runs with the image of himself as a melancholic heartthrob. As in "Chelsea hotel": "You told me again you preferred handsome men / but for me you would make an exception." And not for nothing, he baptized one of his album to "Death of a ladies man". It is a wonderfully bizarre slice. Phil Spector like walls in Cohen behind a massive wall. Dylan and Allen Ginsberg as skrålar in the choir on "Don’t go home with your hard-on". And so a text that "Iodine" which is about sexual inability and a song like "Paper thin hotel" where I-the narrator stands with his ear pressed against the wall and overhears while his wife or girlfriend have sex with another man.
Oline: Okay, I can agree with you that it may be harder to find single lines or the songs of Dylan that has irony on the way. But självdistansen and humour permeates his approach to what he does. Can you think of that Leonard Cohen would have made a christmas cd, for example? Bob Dylan is so much more unpredictable.
Per: There is a lot in it. I would say that the crucial difference between the two is that Leonard Cohen writes his songs in a centrallyrisk tradition. There is a registered "I" that remains fairly intact through a whole life’s work. It matures. It is aged. It takes to the last farewell. Dylan is instead a range of different roles.
Oline: Yes, there is a difference. Absolutely. What you can say about the continuity of Dylan is that it manifests itself in that there is no continuity. There is a voice, but it also varies over time. Dylan is like an explorer or an anthropologist. There is a playfulness in the approach, something non-pretentious.
Per: I feel like I still have to try to give an answer to the question why I think that Leonard Cohen writes better lyrics than Bob Dylan. One reason is that I always had a hard time of surrealism. I prefer images that are organic and logical. One of cohen’s very best songs is "Joan of Arc" which is based on a single simple but evocative image: the death at the stake as a wedding: "And high above the wedding guests / he hung the ashes of her wedding dress".
Oline: It is in the realm Cohen almost always: love, sex… It gets a tad monotonous. Dylan is so much more versatile.
Per: But while the more complicated Dylantexterna most seems to attract rebuslösningar so rises in cohen’s texts into a recognizable world of love and betrayal, sex and death, despair and cynicism: "I’ve seen the nations rise and fall / I’ve heard their stories, heard them all/ but love’s the only engine of survival."
Oline: A range in which the last would Dylan have never written. He would not identify what love "is". There is a difference. But it is prophetic, it has Dylan and Cohen in common. I actually think that, despite everything, there are more similarities than differences between them.
Per: And who of them do you think have affected the samtidslitteraturen the most?
Oline: Bob Dylan!
Per: It actually think I also.