If you don’t like something and think it’s cheap, unless you really have a great sense of responsibility for your culture, I think it’s best to keep it to yourself. That might be the song that gets someone through a dark hour […] All this plumbing the culture-mongers do is quite irrelevant. If someone has the grace to write a song that touches the hearts of thousands, I think it’s a matter for applause. Or of silence, if you think the air has been polluted by a song.
According to the Guardian, where the interview appeared, Cohen was responding to Martin Amis’s critiques of Simon and Garfunkel’s music “ being not so much art as therapy and of Suzanne Vega producing a style of music that is both symptomatic of, and reinforcing, a climate of passivity and retreat.” (please note that I cannot find the original 1988 interview or any text of Amis’s critique).
What I love about this quote is not so much the dismissal of these sorts of critiques of songs, as the idea that a song can “get someone through a dark hour”, can touch people’s hearts, and that this is the most important thing when it comes to considering their significance. My songs have certainly reached nowhere near as many people as those of Cohen, Paul Simon or Suzanne Vega, but the nicest thing anyone ever said about my songs is that some of them helped her through a rough time. I hope my songs and words will reach more people and help them with whatever inspiration, healing, or venting they need at a given time.