The Once-Unmade Bed In Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel Room
On a trip to New York last month, Mel Joss made a pilgrimage to Room 424 of the Chelsea Hotel, where Leonard Cohen was one of the many famous artists and writers in residence,1 In planning the posting of the photos Mel took during this expedition, I came to realize that these images could be used to best effect as elements in a video of Chelsea Hotel #1, the version of the Chelsea Hotel song before it became Chelsea Hotel #2.
The Chelsea Hotel #1 Video, Leonard Cohen & Janis Joplin
The video features the audio recording of the first version of Chelsea Hotel from Leonard Cohen’s 1972 concert in Tel Aviv2 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.
In part, this video is offered 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.
Further, if Cohen revealed who inspired the Chelsea Hotel song while it was still in its first iteration,3 it could, in addition, explain why Cohen famously came to regret this disclosure since it would have been helpful information to those hearing Chelsea Hotel #1 but would have been not only unnecessary but also counterproductive for audiences listening to Chelsea Hotel #2.
Update: 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_____________________
- Cohen actually stayed in several different rooms but none longer or more frequently than #424. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- I have been unable to discover when Leonard Cohen first specifically linked Janis Joplin to the Chelsea Hotel song; consequently, this proposition requires the subjunctive mood. [↩]