Bob Dylan is currently on his Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour. He performed during the weekend at Leonard Cohen’s hometown of Montreal, Quebec. He performed a cover of a Cohen classic there. In remembrance of the late songwriter, Dylan performed “Dance Me to the End of Love” at the performance on Sunday night. Here is a listen to the cover. The song was first published by Cohen in 1984 on his album Various Positions. Numerous musicians have covered the song over the years. It’s on the verge of being Cohen’s second hit song to hit number one at this point. The other is the well-known song “Hallelujah” from the same record. While many believe “Dance Me to the End of Love” to be a love song, the Holocaust inspired Cohen to write it. He said it came from “just hearing or reading or knowing about that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on. … They would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So that music, Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin meaning the beauty thereof being the consummation of life, the end of this existence, and of the passionate element in that consummation.” Dylan is by no means the first to cover a Cohen song.
The two songwriters were friends by all accounts. It’s unclear, though, how near they were. Dylan and Cohen obviously had a great deal of regard for one another. Their devotion to and influence on the craft of songwriting was the basis for this regard. Dylan once remarked, “These are more than songs,” in response to a question about Various Positions. They’re prayers, these. Dylan gave Cohen’s writing even more acclaim. He said, “When people talk about Leonard, they never bring up his melodies.” He continued by saying that Cohen’s greatest genius was the combination of his lyrics and music. “Even the counterpoint lines—they imbue each of his songs with a celestial quality and melodic lift. Nobody else in contemporary music, as far as I can tell, even comes close to this. His ability to hear the music of the spheres is what makes him gifted or brilliant.