Artists Revisiting Work

After listening to a podcast, I got inspired to write about the idea of artists revisiting work.

This came from listening to Revision History by Malcolm Gladwell. In this episode, Malcolm talks about a song by Elvis Costello, called “The Deportees Club”. A huge Elvis Costello fan, Malcolm Gladwell was disappointed with the album when it was released, and hated the original version of the song. Years later, he would hear a reworked version of the song, which is below.

This version of the song has become one of Malcolm’s favorite songs. This podcast episode focused most of the attention to the song “Hallelujah”, by Leonard Cohen. This was a song that Leonard spent years trying to get right, and throughout the years would explore with the numerous verses that he wrote for the song. Released on a album at a time of a commercial slump, the song would have a strange trajectory that would eventually bring it the collective conscious many years later. There’s a fantastic book about how the song came to be so well known that I would highly recommend reading.

Some artists release and leave as is, others will tweak and re-release years later.

Some art comes quickly, while others will spend years slaving over a piece of art that simply isn’t to their satisfaction. Perhaps some inklings will emerge over time, and sometimes they will stay hidden, never to see the light of day.

Some film directors, like Quentin Tarantino, release their films as is, the definitive version. Others, like Ridley Scott, will have numerous cuts of their films for release, and let fans decide which ones they enjoy the most (surprise surprise, it’s the director’s cut that tends to get the nod). George Lucas has been given flak for years for constantly tweaking the original Star Wars trilogy.

For musicians, some songs can come quickly. Noel Gallagher has written some songs in the length it took to play them. Musicians like Bob Dylan can constantly be trying different arrangements for old songs. Radiohead can have songs that only the hardcore fan base are aware of from live performances, and years later finally see the light of a day on an album.

True love waits has been a fan favorite since the song was first played in the mid 90s, and was a song in the legengardy lore of the band. It was only until recently that a studio version finally saw the light of day.

Just because a work of art is released, it doesn’t mean it’s done.

An artist can come back later to it and make some tweaks. They might make a different arrangement. Sometimes, another artist will take a crack at this work of art. A musician may cover a song that sees the song in a new light. Johnny Cash turned “Hurt”, a Nine-Inch-Nails song that is disturbing, into a sad, melon-collie farewell to a life full of highs and lows.