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The Dylan-Cohen Conundrum
"Simple Twist of Fate" by Bob Dylan
April 24, 2018 Tuesday 6:46 PM
I didn't realize I hadn't eaten all day until I was standing in line for a sandwich at half past six and I was like, "Should I let myself eat a whole sandwich?" and then I was like, "What did I eat earlier?" which is when I realized I didn't eat anything and so I was like, "Okay I can eat a whole sandwich."
Moby was working behind the counter. I knew he was going to be, because I've been coming to the Blue Room after bio lab on Tuesdays since the beginning of the semester and he has been working there every time. I tried not to look directly at him because I didn't want to have to make eye contact. I mostly kept my head down, but I was okay with that and I was still very giddy from my bio lab which had involved squid dissection. I am a big fan of dissection. If I were cut out for medical school, I'd go to be a mortician, but I can't even stomach pre-med requirements so... naw. Despite being entertained with my own thoughts, he was still buzzing around my periphery. He did something different from every other week, which is that he ended up leaving the counter to do something by one of the cashiers, so when I went to go pay for my sandwich I had to walk directly in his path. But he only glanced up, very obviously staring hard at whatever he was looking down at in an attempt to not look at me. And I wasn't sure how I felt like that.
Like, if you want to talk to me, if you want to smile at me, if you want to see me—look at me and wait until I look back. But he is all cowed and afraid of hurting me/overstepping his bounds. I honestly can't blame him for that. I'm not sure what I'd do in his place. Except I am sure I wouldn't do what he is doing. The same way I haven't changed my schedule to avoid him, I wouldn't change the way I work or the way I occupy a space for someone. Except now that I say that maybe that's not true. First of all, I sort of have higher ground in this situation—he feels guilty. Second of all, I didn't look at him either, did I? I could've done that, except I didn't want to. Maybe he didn't really want to look at me either.
Today has been a good day. I am eating a good sandwich and I've actually written fiction for the first time in a long time (I feel very inadequate but at least I produced something). I'm also feeling a lot better physically, which is a relief because I was worried I'd still be sick come Spring Weekend (which is a concert thing that my school does). My friend Goose and I decided on a space to sublet for the summer and I have a job secured and I possibly have another part-time job at the bookstore. And both my current job units have asked me to apply to be a supervisor for next semester. Yeah.... things are good. I've been listening to Bob Dylan all day, reveling in the sun and drawing and thinking.
Thinking about Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and how I read somewhere that Bob Dylan wrote quickly while Cohen was a revisionist. And I posed an argument to myself, and the argument was that if Dylan and Cohen's lyrics are considered equally genius, Dylan is more genius because he produced songs more quickly (I am not sure if it's true that Dylan produced more songs in the same amount of time but I assumed). And then my argument against this argument was that, although the opposition's (aka me) claim pretends to be something quantifiable, it operates under the assumption that Dylan and Cohen are equally gifted, which is an impossible thing to measure. You can't say either artist is better than the other, so how can you say they are equal either? It's unsatisfying, but the fact is they're different things. And if the artists are not equal, not even the same thing, then production rate becomes irrelevant and the whole argument falls apart. But then I'm still bothered by the question because what if you tried to define genius as potential to influence? In that case, if Dylan produces more songs, then doesn't he have more potential to influence? But again, how do you quantify that? How can you really be sure one artist is more influential than the other? And if you can't truly compare the two things, then isn't this new argument just as useless as the first? Is there any way to make the argument for a single artist's superiority? I mean, I want to say no just because, no matter what, their genius is a label applied by us people with the opinions, the preferences. The question of "what is a genius" can't ever really be answered. Unless—can it be answered with respect to a category? Like "genius songwriting" versus "genius arrangements." But even then, we are left ultimately with our definitions with genius—whether it be about syntax, complexity, whatever.
The definition of genius is categories all the way down. What I mean is: you can define genius songwriting as, say, containing certain kinds of syntax and certain levels of complexity and so on. But then each artists's style with vary within each other these subcategories. And a subcategory, say "syntax," might contain other subcategories like (fuck I wish I knew linguistics language)... um... declaratives. And maybe declaratives could have subcategories? I don't know enough about language to say.
And then, and THEN—even if a genius song contains a shitload of declaratives, another genius song might have none, so obviously lack of declaratives does not define genius, so you wouldn't be able to give "declaratives" a scale rating where 0 is "not unusual" or "stupid" or "average" and 10 is genius. Because who is to say the declaratives or lack thereof add/detract to the song? Maybe they only matter based on the subject. Maybe they help emphasize a theme. hOW DO YOU QUANTIFY THAT? The answer is you can't, right? Riiiight?????
I'm driving myself crazy just thinking about this. I need someone to discuss it with, but I don't know anyone who listens to both (or even either) of the artists.
Okay! Well, I'm going to eat my sandwich now and watch trash buzzfeed videos. Hurrah!
PS: I wrote that last sentence and then proceeded to write another paragraph above it on the Dylan-Cohen Conundrum.