(Reader discretion is advised)
This is Leonard Cohen’s musical attempt of ‘Sex! Now I have your attention.’ Well, not really, but kind of. This infamous song of Leonard’s escapades with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel will be the discussion of today’s song.
He preluded a live performance of the song saying, ‘A thousand years ago I lived in this hotel in NY and I was a frequent rider of the elevator…I was an expert on the buttons of that elevator. One of the few technologies I ever mastered…I noticed a young woman in the elevator and she was riding it with as much delight as I was. Even though she commanded huge audiences, riding that elevator was the only thing she knew how to do. Finally I gathered my courage and I said to her: ‘Are you looking for someone?’ She said yes, ‘I’m looking for Kris Kristofferson’. I said ‘Little lady, you’re in luck, I’m Kris Kristofferson’. Those were generous times and even though she knew I was shorter than Kris, she never let on…A great generosity prevailed…Anyhow I wrote this song for Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel.‘
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel You were talking so brave and so sweet Giving me head on the unmade bed While the limousines wait in the street Those were the reasons and that was New York We were running for the money and the flesh And that was called love for the workers in song Probably still is for those of them left
I love this song because of its audacity and transparency although paradoxically he often contradicts himself. ‘I need you; I don’t need you’ we’ve all said that at some point and “I don’t even think of you that often”. Oh really, but you wrote a song about it and sing it in concert with preludes. Cohen tells a great story and often it’s humorous:
You told me again you preferred handsome men But for me you would make an exception... You fixed yourself, you said, "well, never mind We are ugly but we have the music"
As Rolling Stone recalls: While Cohen’s gloomy, gritty and romantic mythology was still in its nascent phase, the Chelsea’s was fully formed. Situated at 222 West 23rd Street, the imposing redbrick ruled the block with a gothic grandeur. Its four hundred rooms had housed literary luminaries including Mark Twain, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Jackson Pollock and Arthur Miller, who offered a succinct summation of the bohemian ambiance: “No vacuum cleaners, no rules, no shame.” Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while in residence there, and Jack Kerouac pounded out On the Road in his room. Sid Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen’s tragic visit was still more than a decade off, but poet Dylan Thomas entered his fatal coma during his Chelsea stay in 1953.
Below, I will relay Rufus Wainwright’s version of the song at Cohen’s dedication concert/dvd with Spanish subtitles and also with Cohen preluding it in his style.