Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Hey man, you in town to read poetry to old ladies?"

Ah but you got away, didn't you babe,
you just turned your back on the crowd,
you got away, I never once heard you say,
I need you, I don't need you,
I need you, I don't need you
and all of that jiving around. - Chelsea Hotel #2

Leonard Cohen's bittersweet paean to Janis Joplin and their one-night stand at The Chelsea. As you probably know, the hotel has a storied history as funky residence for artists, musicians and writers. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying at the Chelsea. Dylan Thomas died of alcohol poisoning while living there (collapsing at another legendary New York site, The White Horse Tavern). Nancy Spungenp, girlfriend of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was murdered there. Chelsea Morning by Joni Mitchell is another song inspired by the hotel. and, incidentally, Chelsea Clinton is named after the song and, thus, the hotel, too. Bob Dylan mentions the Chelsea in Sara, where he notes that he wrote Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands for her there.

I'm not a huge Cohen fan... a little of him goes a long way in my opinion, but I had forgotten how much I like this song. I suspect Janis' lines are verbatim.

I always wondered why the original version - which has identical lyrics - on "New Skin for the Old Ceremony" was simply named "Chelsea Hotel," while the version on 1975's "Best of" was titled "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." According to this site, here's the reason:

"Ron Cornelius is a guitarist who played on sessions with many artists, including Johnny Cash, Loudon Wainwright III and Bob Dylan. Before branching out into production and music publishing, he served as Leonard Cohen's band leader for 4 albums. Ron gave us this response regarding his role in writing this song:
'He claims that I helped him with a chord change in writing an earlier version of this song. The truth is that I co-wrote the song with him on an airplane (8hrs) from New York to Shannon, Ireland. The reason it has a No.2 behind it is that he tried to cheat me out of my share by recopyrighting it that way (he changed nothing) - - it was just "Chelsea Hotel." Anyone can check out the writer credits by contacting BMI to get the truthful writer credits. I ran his band for a long time (worldwide), played on his records, and have nothing but honest input to look back on - Leonard can't say that!!!'"

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