In 1984, Elvis Costello released what he would say later was his worst record: Goodbye Cruel World. Among the most discordant songs on the album was the forgettable “The Deportees Club.” But then, years later, Costello went back and re-recorded it as “Deportee,” and today it stands as one of his most sublime achievements.
“Hallelujah” is about the role that time and iteration play in the production of genius, and how some of the most memorable works of art had modest and undistinguished births.
And here I thought I knew a lot about the story of Hallelujah. I haven’t read any of the books on its history, nor written any myself, but this short story does have a good bit I’ve not heard before in the past. I did read quite a bit when Cohen passed away, and even spent some time making a Spotify playlist with over five hours of covers.
The bigger idea here of immediate genius versus “slow cooked” genius is the fun one to contemplate. I’ve previously heard stories about Mozart’s composing involved his working things out in his head and then later putting them on paper much the same way that a “cow pees” (i.e. all in one quick go or a fast flood.)
Another interesting thing I find here is the insanely small probability that the chain of events that makes the song popular actually happens. It seems worthwhile to look at the statistical mechanics of the production of genius. Perhaps applying Ridley’s concepts of “Ideas having sex” and Dawkin’s “meme theory” (aka selfish gene) could be interestingly useful. What does the state space of genius look like?