Saturday, January 23, 2010


"He said, 'I like this song you wrote called Hallelujah. How long did that take you to write?' And I said, 'Oh, the best part of two years.' He said, 'Two years?' Kinda shocked. And then we started talking about a song of his called I And I from Infidels. I said, 'How long did you take to write that.' He said, 'Ohh, 15 minutes.' I almost fell off my chair. Bob just laughed."
Leonard Cohen talks to Bob Dylan as remembered by Cohen.

It seems that everyone struggles with writing (except maybe Bob Dylan when he's having a good day). Several people have talked to me recently about how they want to improve their writing. There's no magic trick. You work at it. You write.

Very, very, few people are gifted natural writers. Most of us labor through draft after draft. You can be a good scientist without being a naturally good writer but that means you need to work at your writing. Take it through draft after draft. You can't just throw up your hand and say you aren't a good writer.

If Leonard Cohen can labor for two years on one song then we can all go through one more draft.


Tara said...

Both amazing songwriters. Last quarter my boyfriend and I got into a debate over who was the better lyricist. I had vouched for Bob Dylan and Zach for Leonard Cohen. What's funny is that I myself tend to write very quickly and then do a small amount of editing. Zach on the other hand takes hours to churn out a single sentence.

After hearing Leonard Cohen play nonstop over winter break, I've decided to promote him. He's currently tied with Bob Dylan

John Latto said...

Oh I could debate this one for hours.....

It depends on what you mean by 'better' - who has produced the single best set of lyrics (that would be a tough choice), the best complete album of lyrics (probably Cohen - Songs of Love and Hate), the best total body of work (probably Dylan because of the range of genres he's covered), the most consistent body of work (definitely Cohen!)...

I think Cohen is the better craftsman in that his songs are so well constructed and perfectly phrased. This does mean that he hasn't exactly been prolific, averaging what, about an album every 5 years?

Dylan shoots from the hip and when he is on a roll he is as good as anyone else. But he has had whole decades full of shoddy work but still with the odd gem to keep you listening (Brownsville Girl). On the other hand no-one can beat Dylan's ability to reinvent his songs, not just the odd word but sometimes virtually every word.