A day or two ago, Leonard Cohen’s Elegy For Janis Joplin – Chelsea Hotel #1, a video featuring the audio recording of the first version of Chelsea Hotel from Leonard Cohen’s 1972 concert in Tel Aviv1 complemented by images of Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin (whose liaison with Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel led to the creation of the song), the Chelsea Hotel, and other people and places associated with the song, was seen by the 200,000th viewer.
This seems an appropriate time to re-post not only the video but the explanation of the significance of this version.
Leonard Cohen’s Elegy For Janis Joplin – Chelsea Hotel #1
Video by Allan Showalter
The Chelsea Hotel #1 Video, Leonard Cohen & Janis Joplin
In part, this video was developed in support of my contention that thematically Chelsea Hotel #1 is a much different song than Chelsea Hotel #2.
Chelsea Hotel #1 focuses on the death of the singer’s (i.e., Leonard Cohen’s) lover (i.e., Janis Joplin), with whom the singer identifies primarily as as an admired fellow artist and colleague and only secondarily as an object of affection or, at least, of reciprocated lust. In Chelsea Hotel #2, the situation is reversed with the key issue becoming the singer’s unambiguous examination of his own feelings for and perception of the woman at the Chelsea Hotel – even if doing so results in an ignoble self-characterization.
In the second version, the listener’s knowledge of the identity of Janis Joplin is decidedly less important to experiencing the full impact of he song, which could indeed be the reason Leonard Cohen revised Chelsea Hotel #1 – to make the music more universal and less a biographic tribute to a specific individual.
For more discussion of the significance of the differences between Chelsea Hotel #1 and Chelsea Hotel #2, including a video interview with Leonard Cohen addressing his relationship with Janis Joplin as portrayed in the songs, see How Often Did Leonard Cohen Think Of Janis Joplin’s Sweet Little Sound? – Chelsea Hotel #1 & 2
- The video mistakenly lists the song as part of the April 20, 1972 concert in Jerusalem; it is actually from the April 19, 1972 concert in Tel Aviv. [↩]