Paste Magazine, which is a magazine I read and respect, has just published a list of the 100 best living songwriters. Without a doubt there are some great artists on their list, yet also without doubt is the fact that this list is extremely subjective and more than a little capricious. OK, so Bob Dylan is their greatest living songwriter… I’m sure a lot of people will agree with that and a lot more will choke on it. My question is who cares? Why even bother with something like this? Aside from being a great way to stir up a shitstorm of reader opinion does ranking songwriters in this way have any real value? Isn’t this sort of numerical listing at odds with what music and art are really all about? Is the use of superlative in this sense responsible cultural analysis or is it just a cheap behavioral experiment?
I know that my personal favorites, who I consider to be the greatest, changes on an almost daily basis. I sure as shit wouldn’t want to be tied down to any given opinion on any given day. Some days Dylan is so heartbreakingly profound that I can’t stand it and other days he seems just a little too coarse for my ears. At times I could swear that Robert Hunter (who is curiously missing from this list) is the reincarnation of Shakespeare, while at others he’s just a little too much of a hippie romantic for me. The point is this: the human experience and the art experience are largely contextual… what plays like a masterpiece today may seem trite tomorrow and then be a masterpiece again on Friday. The quality of work has the ability to change as the world around it revolves. To try and cement that quality into place comes off as a little bit foolish.