I was reading David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of Leonard Cohen when I ran across a story I’d heard before.
Cohen is talking with Bob Dylan. Dylan asks him how long it took Cohen to write “Hallelujah.” Cohen says, “Two years,” which is a lie — it actually took him more like five.
Cohen tells Dylan he admires “I and I,” off “Infidels.” How long did it take Dylan to write it?
“About 15 minutes,” says Bob.
If I recall correctly, Elvis Costello tells the same story — certainly a similar one — in his memoir, “Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink.”
Whether presented by Remnick or Costello, Dylan comes across as something of a savant, a man who can simply unroll genius at his command. I’m not sure that’s the truth, but there is something effortless about the best Dylan songs — and it seems to become even more so the older he gets. He can lock into the rhythm of “The Levee’s Gonna Break” or “Mississippi” and manage to create something both original and timeless, seemingly off the cuff.
You won’t find me complaining about Dylan’s Nobel Prize. For all my love of Philip Roth and other deserving authors, Dylan simply towers over modern culture in a way few individuals of any art do these days. He doesn’t need the award — hell, neither does Roth, really — but why not let the world’s stuffiest honors organization acknowledge the bard?
Anyway, this is all just a way to lead up to my Sunday read, which is a New York magazine article about Dylan’s eccentricities. He apparently has bad breath (no surprise; he’s smoked for more than 50 years) and loved Larry “Bud” Melman. It shouldn’t be any surprise that he’s both inscrutable and has a loopy sense of humor — if you ever listened to his radio show, “Theme Time Radio Hour,” his narration was continually surprising — but it’s still fun to read about it.
I wonder if he’s ever met Bill Murray?
You can read the story here.