Leonard Cohen: giving Nobel to Bob Dylan like 'pinning medal on Everest'

At an event in Los Angeles to launch his album, the 82-year-old singer-songwriter rows back on claims he was ‘ready to die’ by saying he now wants to live for ever

On Thursday, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel prize for literature, sparking controversy among musicians, novelists and fans. That evening in Los Angeles, his songwriting peer and friend Leonard Cohen gave his thoughts on Dylan’s award. “To me,” he said, “[the award] is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.”

Bob Dylan wins Nobel prize in literature

Cohen was speaking at a playback and Q&A for his forthcoming album, You Want It Darker. In a recent interview with the New Yorker, to the consternation of fans the 82-year-old had announced: “I am ready to die.” However, on Thursday evening seemed to have reconsidered his stance.

“I think I was exaggerating,” Cohen told the audience, according to Billboard. “I’ve always been into self-dramatization. I intend to live forever.” At the end of the event, at which Cohen divulged his plans to release another pair of albums after You Want it Darker, the songwriter told the audience: “I hope we can do this again. I intend to stick around until 120.”

Cohen returned to the subject of Dylan when talking about the way he writes songs. “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.”

His own songs come slowly, he says: “It comes kind of by dribbles and drops. Some people are graced with a flow; some people are graced with something less than a flow. I’m one of those.” He added: “The fact that my songs take a long time to write is no guarantee of their excellence.”

An ordained Zen Buddhist monk who nevertheless still cleaves to Judaism, Cohen has long explored religious themes in his work – as has Dylan. Nevertheless, Cohen told the audience: “I’ve never thought of myself as a religious person. I don’t have any spiritual strategy. I kind of limp along like so many of us do in these realms. Occasionally I’ve felt the grace of another presence in my life. But I can’t develop any kind of spiritual structure on that.”

Cohen added: “This biblical landscape is very familiar to me, and it’s natural that I use those landmarks as references. Once they were universal references, and everybody understood and knew them. That’s no longer the case today, but it is still my landscape. I try to make those references. I try to make sure they’re not too obscure. But outside of that, I can’t – I dare not – claim anything in the spiritual realm for my own.”

Guardian staff

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Fascinating, infuriating, enduring: Bob Dylan deserves his Nobel prize
Many have questioned the accolade, but there is no question that he is a singular talent – even if he’s not really a poet

Sean O'Hagan

15, Oct, 2016 @11:04 PM

Article image
Legendary Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen producer Bob Johnston dies
The man who produced Blonde on Blonde defined his work modestly: ‘All I did was turn the tapes on’

Guardian music

17, Aug, 2015 @10:55 AM

Article image
Nobel panel gives up knockin’ on Dylan’s door
Days after being awarded the literature prize, Bob Dylan has yet to get in touch with the Swedish Academy, or indicate whether he will attend the celebrations

Staff and agencies

17, Oct, 2016 @3:32 PM

Article image
Why Bob Dylan deserves his Nobel literature win
There will be some who doubt Dylan’s right to the Nobel prize for literature. There are others who believe he should get a special Nobel just for being Bob Dylan

Richard Williams

13, Oct, 2016 @1:24 PM

Article image
Beyond Bob Dylan: authors, poets and musicians pick their favourite songwriter
Dylan’s Nobel prize win sparked a debate about lyrics as literature. Here, Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy, Johnny Marr, Naomi Alderman and others nominate songwriters whose verse has the power of poetry

Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy, Emmy the Great, Polly Samson, Naomi Alderman and others

05, Nov, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Bob Dylan to 'provide' speech for Nobel prize ceremony
The singer has supplied a speech which ‘will be read’ at the event on Saturday, in acceptance of his Nobel prize in literature

Guardian music

05, Dec, 2016 @12:02 PM

Article image
Bob Dylan removes mention of Nobel prize from website
After taking nearly a week to acknowledge award of Nobel prize in literature, sentence noting it disappears from his website

Guardian music

21, Oct, 2016 @8:33 AM

Article image
Are these the lyrics that won Bob Dylan a Nobel prize?
In honour of him winning the Nobel prize for literature, we pick out some of Bob Dylan’s greatest lyrics

Guardian music

13, Oct, 2016 @3:00 PM

Article image
Nobel prize in literature won by Bob Dylan – as it happened
The American singer songwriter Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel prize for literature

Claire Armitstead, Richard Lea, Alison Flood, Alex Needham

13, Oct, 2016 @9:11 PM

Article image
Pop lyrics aren't literature? Tell that to Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan
Yes, lyrics usually work better when set to music – but 60 years of rock and pop have produced words that stand on their own as poetry

Alexis Petridis

13, Oct, 2016 @2:05 PM