I have been listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History. It’s been quite entertaining, but I sometimes do feel that he is a little less than honest with some of his opinions. I know there are people who have strong opinions about Gladwell, but I’m not really one of them. I have read some of his stuff, and find myself sometimes in agreement with his hypothesis, but not always. I think not blindly accepting what he talks about is prudent: but the same is true of everyone.
In episode Hallelujah, the discussion starts with a foray into Elvis Costello, but at some point then pivots and talks about the Leonard Cohen song, covered by almost everyone, but most famously Jeff Buckley. Gladwell’s point is that some songs (or works of art, or other works of genius) are “fully formed”, but others take iteration, and in some cases, a bunch of it.
Specifically, he states that the song Hallelujah had this really long, really unlikely string of events that all needed to happen in order for the song to become recognised as the magical entity that it is. I’m not denying that, but he does miss the point that there are probably many more chains of events that could have resulted in songs just as good as this; maybe even better.
We only know about Hallelujah because in our universe, there was a completed chain of events that lead to the song being released by Buckley, and then his unfortunate demise. I also wonder if perhaps the song may still have become as famous as it did even if he had not drowned: my iTunes library tells me another song of his was in the Triple J Hottest 100 the year before he died.
I’m not doubting at all that Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello or Jeff Buckley were all musical geniuses: but this selection bias hides the fact that there could be many more musical geniuses out there that wrote songs that did fade into obvlivion.
I’m still glad we got Hallelujah, though.