For years the lives and careers of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan intertwined. Both pioneers of alternative music, the two singer-songwriters had unrelenting admiration for each other’s work as they negotiated their creative vision down similar roads. One imagines that all folk artists shared a similar viewpoint and, therefore, a similar process to get to it. But for Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, that notion couldn’t be further from the truth.
Having crossed paths multiple times after their initial meeting in the 1960s, Cohen’s son Adam Cohen has remembered one specific moment when his father felt compelled to lie to Dylan when they met up for a coffee in Paris. It’s the kind of lie we’ve all told in our lives.
“A lot of people have made the comparison between Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen over the years and there’s some hilarious stories,” Adam Cohen said in a past interview with the BBC’s The Afternoon Show. “Like the two of them are sitting in a cafe in Paris and Dylan says to him, ‘How long did it take you to write Hallelujah?” Adam continued.
“And my father completely lied to Dylan and said, ‘Oh you know a couple of years’,” Cohen replied casually knowing that the reality was very different.
Adam continued: “I think it was [actually] seven years,” he clarified. “And then my father returned the favour and said, you know, ‘How long did it take you to write Like a Woman?’ and Dylan said ‘Fifteen minutes’.
“And that’s very much about process I think. Dylan had this quality where he would ‘from the hip’, you know spit and polish, spit and vinegar and then this old man of mine was much more like chiselling marble.”
“That song ‘Hallelujah’ has resonance for me,” Dylan later told the New Yorker. “It’s a beautifully constructed melody that steps up, evolves, and slips back, all in quick time. But this song has a connective chorus, which when it comes in has a power all of its own. The ‘secret chord’ and the point-blank I-know-you-better-than-you-know-yourself aspect of the song has plenty of resonance for me.”
Listen to Adam Cohen’s story, below.