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Music

Leonard Cohen’s thoughts on Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize

@josephtaysom

It was a landmark moment when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. He became the first lyricist to win the coveted award in over a hundred years, and Leonard Cohen believed nobody was more deserving of the decoration than Dylan.

Only a handful of musicians could have potentially won the prestigious award, and the late Leonard Cohen is undoubtedly one of them. Elegant wordsmithery came freely to the Canadian artist, and his background originated in poetry before he dived into music later in life.

While Cohen was Dylan’s elder in a biological sense, musically, the freewheelin’ troubadour was his forefather, helping to break the ground that made his diversion from poetry to music a straightforward one. For this reason, there was no animosity from the Canadian that he was overlooked for the Nobel Prize, and in his eyes, there wasn’t a more worthy winner.

“To me [the award] is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain,” Cohen once told fans during a Q+A in support of his final album, You Want It Darker.

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During the same conversation, Cohen brought up Dylan again when he discussed his approach to songwriting. “I think that Bob Dylan knows this more than all of us: you don’t write the songs anyhow,” he said. “So if you’re lucky, you can keep the vehicle healthy and responsive over the years.

“If you’re lucky, your own intentions have very little to do with this. You can keep the body as well-oiled and receptive as possible, but whether you’re actually going to be able to go for the long haul is really not your own choice.”

The duo shared vast appreciation for each other. While Cohen referred to his peer as the “Mount Everest” of music, Dylan has also waxed lyrical about his contemporary in an equally superlative manner. “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” Dylan once said. “Even the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs.”

He added, “I see no disenchantment in Leonard’s lyrics at all. There’s always a direct sentiment as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something, him doing all the talking, but the listener keeps listening.”

Dylan is renowned for being a challenging customer to please, as was Cohen during his lifetime; however, the terms they discuss one another’s work shows that their respective greatness was something they both agreed on.