By Sydney Nguyen
As one of folk rock’s greatest artists, often compared with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen had not always been very successful with his branding. Leonard Cohen opted out of his respected literary profession in his hometown of Westmount, Canada, and headed for New York City with hopes of establishing himself in the music industry. Cohen decided to seek shelter in the city’s infamous Chelsea Hotel as he focused on his folk-singer career.
Alongside Cohen, numerous talented artists and poets sought solace inside the Chelsea Hotel, including Mark Twain and Arthur Miller. The tragedies of famous musicians and literary genius’ can be credited to the lore of the Chelsea Hotel; writer Dylan Thomas passed from pneumonia inside room 205 and Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious’ girlfriend was discovered stabbed to her death.
The Chelsea Hotel is beloved in the eyes of many praised artists, as it was a universal place of congregation for these singers at the time. Many of them even have songs including “Chelsea” in their title, such as Joni Mitchell’s song, “Chelsea Morning”.
Despite not being physically alone in his craft at the Chelsea, Leonard Cohen was said to have fallen into a state of despair as his music struggled to take flight. That is, until one elevator interaction fulfilled his loneliness, but only until the day broke. One of the most well-known and respected rock stars at the time had just stepped foot into the Chelsea Hotel, and into the elevator entered Janis Joplin.
After taking a late-night stroll to ease his ailing, Cohen had just returned back to their now mutual residence after failing to revive his mental state. Cohen was joined by a young woman during the elevator ride, who left him immediately smitten as he put his anguish aside and mustered up the courage to acknowledge her.
Cohen proceeded to ask Joplin if she were searching for someone here, to which she replied “Kris Kristofferson”. Teasingly, Cohen told her that he was indeed Kristofferson, and Joplin decided that his charms were enough for her. It was apparent to Joplin that Cohen was nowhere near the physical attributes of the actual Kris Kristofferson, who was a singer and songwriter who had business plans with Joplin, but that did not deter her.
By the time the pair exited the elevator, it was unspoken that the two were to spend the night together. The encounter was brief, yet for Cohen, their night together was a memory that held weight. Sometime after Joplin’s overdose, Cohen would draft the lyrics to “Chelsea Hotel #2” onto a bar napkin. During the very first performance of “Chelsea Hotel #2”, Cohen revealed to the audience that this song was about a now passed American artist, but nothing more.
Eventually, Cohen would publicly tie Janis Joplin to the song. Cohen’s lyricism can leave listeners to infer that one night with Joplin had him only wanting more, as the song suggests that he may reminisce on the memory often, casually ending the song with “that’s all, I don’t even think of you that often”. This line suggests that Cohen is convincing listeners and possibly himself that she was nothing more than a one-night stand, despite creating a piece of poetic art in her memory.
Featured Image by Malcolm Hill from Pexels.
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