Releasing a new recording of the Mr. Kind song Edge of the World today made me think of the Malcolm Gladwell podcast Revisionist History, most specifically an episode discussing Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, and the nature of genius. Not that I think EOTW genius, but Gladwell muses about how songs change in the context of time, for both creator and audience, and in the case of Hallelujah, through the lens of multiple creators. After all, Jeff Buckley's version is quintessential to me, and if You Tube's ratings are to be believed, Bon Jovi's version is almost as popular as Cohen's.
Even more interesting to me is the evolution of genius, and developmental approaches, described perfectly in an exchange between Cohen (the endless tinkerer) and Bob Dylan (whose own genius is a lightning flash):
“He said, ‘I like this song you wrote called Hallelujah.’ In fact, he started doing it in concert. He said, ‘How long did that take you to write?’ And I said, ‘Oh, the best part of two years.’ He said, ‘Two years?’ Kinda shocked. And then we started talking about a song of his called I And I from Infidels. I said, ‘How long did you take to write that.’ He said, ‘Ohh, 15 minutes.’ I almost fell off my chair. Bob just laughed.”
- Leonard Cohen (quoted in Telegraph 41, p. 30)
Our first release of Edge of the World was part of two songs we recorded, mostly live (minimal overdubs), and all in one day. The more recent version was endlessly tinkered with over rehearsals throughout several months before recording and it's taken us just under two years to finish and release it.
Now, as I prepare for a solo original music show in San Francisco at the end of the month, I pick up the song again, and I can see the song continue to shift beneath my feet. I've learned to enjoy the approach of an endless tinkerer and I've stopped trying to fight them into place.
Seeing Wilco last Tuesday at The Fillmore was an education on arrangement and dynamics being living and breathing things as songs change over time.