6 Songwriters Who Aren’t Dylan Who Deserve a Fucking Pulitzer

Dylan’s winning of a Pulitzer isn’t unfounded. No one in modern culture quite seems to have his impact. But that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of composers and songwriters who ought to be in the same class. Not unlike the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (don’t get me started), the Pulitzer’s don’t always get everything right. But I’ll concede that they try. Which seems to be more than I could say for the Hall, but that’s a rant for another day. For the sake of time. And my blood pressure. So let’s dive in, shall we? But first. Why Dylan is in.

1)    Leonard Cohen. This one is a no-brainer. At least I like to think it is. Dive into any era of Cohen and you get a totally different person, in a sense. The way Dylan or Bowie seemed to reinvent themselves. But it’s more fluid than that. He doesn’t burn a persona down like Bowie did. He’s far too sentimental about his creations to do that. It’s more an artistic rebirth than out of discomfort. He’s never static. With biblically influenced lyricism that’s more like something out of Psalms than anything else. Read Psalms sometimes. Segments of its contents are surprisingly erotic. Maybe listeners see this in Cohen as well. Maybe this explains the fixation women have with him. And unlike some sex symbols of a certain age, I get it. He’s a little dark, incredibly deep, and that’s why he ought to have a place among the greats.

Favorite Song: Chelsea Hotel No. 2, which is an elegy to the consistently fascinating Janis Joplin.

2)    Tom Waits isn’t a normal artist. No true artist is normal, but he’s his own particular brand of oddball. And that’s part of what makes him great. Waits doesn’t reinvent himself the way that other artists do. Rather he just evolves into a deeper, darker, more avant-garde songwriter and singer. Spanning from the vague country sounds of songs like Ol’ 55 to the downright dirge-like Hell Broke Luce, Waits is a little out there for some people. For said people, I recommend earlier records. I don’t fundamentally prefer them, rather I take them all in as separate works. Because if you consider them in context to one another, it’s almost maddening. He’s both illogical and organic all at once. But such is the nature of a real artist. A real poet. A real human being. From darkness, which is his specialty, to just being an all-around pop culture icon, Waits is hardly forgettable. And that’s exactly why he matters. Poets, artists, they change things. They change the way people look and think and feel and no one seems to manage to do that to the landscape of songwriting better than Tom Waits.

Favorite song: Martha. It’s hard for me to make it through this one without breaking down in tears. And I have no idea why. This is what true poetry is about.

3)    Joni Mitchell is one of those people that it took me an embarrassingly long time to get into. I have no idea why, all I know is that I’m glad I did. Like any good poet, Joni makes you feel something. Her lyrics are longing. Her music is simple enough, really. But no one seems to ever get he just right. She’s so singular. The high clear voice only enhances the heartbreak of the words, which are often focused on lovers of yesteryear. About a longing that can’t always be places, but it’s always felt. A sort of sehnsucht, which is your Romanian word of the day now. God, I love words. I think the reason that I didn’t really get into Joni when I was younger was that the lyrics were beyond me. I hadn’t yet gathered enough heartache to understand what the fuck she was writing about. And that it came from a place of pure pain. Pain I get. I’ve always gotten pain. But this was different. This is the pain of having your heart ripped out of your chest and enjoying it. Like any good confessional poet should.

Favorite song: Blue, closely followed by Sex Kills.

4)    Patti Smith is the punk poetess that I want to be, should I ever decide to grow up. God forbid. She’s rough and she’s raw and she’s honest and she’s painful, in a different sense than Joni. Patti is a more cerebral, far less sweet sort of pain. Like the visceral pain that you get when you read Howl. God, how it hurts. But it’s such a real hurt. The hurt of not being understood, the pain of not being like anyone else. The pain of addiction. The pain of losing someone. She covers all of the bases, and does it in a very literal way that really makes people react. I remember being fifteen and being given a copy of Horses by a boy I had a crush on. And after I listened, I found myself thinking about all the pains of my life up until that point, of which there were plenty. Through listening to and reading Patti, I got into the Beats. Which remains my favorite literary movement to date. She’s concise, she’s not too overly flowery, and she’s in fucking pain. But she’s transparent about all of it. And that’s all you can ask of a poet, really.

Favorite Song: My Blakean Year, and Dancing Barefoot. No, I can’t pick between them. This is my list, damn it.

5)    Philip Glass isn’t like anyone else on this list. Philip glass isn’t like anyone else period. I don’t have any memories of not knowing his music, though I didn’t always know who it was. Soundtracks, mostly. Those are my earliest memories of him. Like the one for Candyman, which is a singularly terrifying horror film for me. I haven’t got a clue why. The Truman Show. The Illusionist. The Hours, which is personally his best score. They’re almost like separate characters for these films. Though he detests the label of minimalism, it does sort of suit him. But he’s more complex than that, even. Too complex for any kind of box. It wasn’t until the last few years that I got into his works that weren’t for films. Like Glassworks. Which is a marvel to classical music, if there ever was one. My love, respect, and outright fascination with him has only deepened as my knowledge of his work has. I’m not often prone to really focusing on classical work. For me, if it isn’t meant for the ballet I have no knowledge of it. But Glass is the exception. He always will be.

Favorite song: Mad Rush.

6)    Morrissey. Fucking Morrissey. I know, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid on this one, but I’ll be damned if there’s a slicker, more lush, romantic songwriter out there. Romantic in the classical sense. He’s not a writer of love songs, though some of his may come off that way. They’re all steeped in a sort of beautifully seductive melancholy, the way Byron or Shelley come across. But he’s more confessional than most of my poet gods. But just as deep into their own sadness and sort of sexual ambiguity that’s been enthralling men and women alike for decades. They come for the sex and stay for the superior songwriting. He makes you feel almost longing towards that sort of sweet sadness Poe described. He’s complicated. He’s scholarly. He’s rather literary in what he references, (See also: Cemetery Gates). And that’s why good old Moz has more than earned his place among the stars.

Favorite Song: I Know It’s over, close second, Hand in Glove.

Wildcard: Bruce Springsteen. The Boss may not be the first name that you think of when you think of songwriters. But he’s my wild card for a reason. He wasn’t always one of my premier songwriters. It wasn’t until a concert of people covering him that I realized the depth of his lyrics. Ahead of fun arrangements and lively instrumentals, some of the deeper acoustic tracks are more than worth a listen. Atlantic City is a prime example. I hadn’t heard this song until Ben Harper and Natalie Maines covered it. And it struck me for some reason. Just as The Wrestler did. People don’t always think of him as a songwriter, but they ought to, damn it.

Favorite Song: You guessed it, people. Atlantic City. The sort of sad love song we all need in our lives.

I’m certain there are people I’ve forgotten that are just as deserving as the men and women I’ve listed. But I’m a forgetful sort, and my love of these people borders obsessive. So I’ve almost got tunnel vision. If I’ve made an omission too glaring for you to stand, or if you disagree with my picks, feel free to let me know in the comments.

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