Busy Being Born

It was a dark year in the Tower of Song.

Death came calling like a thief in the night, as they say, and took some of our best songwriters with him. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Guy Clark. There were many more but one loses count.

We were lucky to have the above as long as we did. All raised holy hell in their time, yet defied the rock-and-roll cliché whose story ends with a good-looking corpse. Each slayed personal demons, survived trends and turbulence in the music business, and continued to write well into their winter years — leaving behind bodies of work that will inspire for some time.

Bowie and Cohen, in particular, said goodbye at the top of their game, serving up two of the best albums of the year.

Even before news of his death broke, Cohen was slated to appear on the cover of this issue. In early October, Senior Editor Paul Zollo, an old acquaintance of the maestro, was invited to attend an international press event in Los Angeles heralding the release of You Want It Darker. The album was debuted in its entirety and a Q&A session followed.

It was a special evening. At one point during the group interview, Cohen singled out Zollo and told the audience, “I just want you to know that Paul Zollo did one of the best interviews with me that I ever did.”

That interview from 1992, which is referenced in the cover story, is full of bon mots and little starbursts of wisdom about the craft. Cohen, an ordained Buddhist monk, was also monastic in his approach to songwriting, often rising at 4:30 a.m. to begin the day’s work. For him, it was always a struggle. “Some people may find it encouraging to see how slow and dismal and painstaking is the process,” he told Zollo, before showing him some of the 60-odd discarded verses he had written for “Democracy.”

There’s a lot more to chew on in this issue, as we sit down with Paul Simon, Randy Newman and Bob Weir, all veteran songwriters who are still busy being born, to borrow Dylan’s phrase, and still raising the bar in the Tower of Song.

– Editor’s Note, American Songwriter – January/February 2017 edition

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