Interviewer: It strikes me that there’s sometimes more irony in your songs than in your poems. I’m thinking of lines like ‘He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.’ The inflections in your singing voice convey a variety of different attitudes, and in some instances an attitude like irony comes through more clearly in the songs.
Yeah, I see what you mean. I think of Bob Dylan, who gets the inflections of street talk, the inflections of conversation, and does that with such mastery … where you can hear a little tough guy talking. You can hear somebody praying. You can hear somebody asking. You can hear somebody coming onto you. When you’re composing that material and you know that it’s going to occupy aural space, you can compose it with those inflections in mind. And of course it does invite irony because that irony can be conveyed with the voice alone whereas on the page you generally have to have a larger construction around the irony for it to come through. You can’t just write, ‘What’s it to ya? ‘ If you sing, ‘What’s it to ya?’ to some nice chords it really does sound like, ‘Well, what’s it to yah, baby?’ But, just to see it written, it would need a location.
Leonard Cohen as interviewed by Robert Sward. Montreal: 1984. Found at LeonardCohenFiles