Stranger Song, Indeed – Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, & The Man On An Acid Trip

Judy Collins and Leonard Cohen at Forest Hills 1968

 Judy Collins Helps Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, And The Man Coming Down From An Acid Trip

While “the man coming down from an acid trip” plays a role in a strange story in Judy Collins’ newly published book, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes – My Life In Music,1 he is at most the fourth strangest element in the single paragraph that deals with him, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Judy Collins herself.

In a few pages of  Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, Judy Collins has written accounts of her connections with Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Most of the information has been previously published in books about or interviews with Collins, Cohen, and Mitchell.  Nonetheless, I have excerpted below the book sections dealing with how Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell met, how Judy Collins and Leonard Cohen met, and Leonard Cohen’s first public appearance, all of which include explanations of the role Judy Collins played in promoting the careers of Cohen and Mitchell.

We begin, however, with an anecdote that offers some new (at least to me) and odd (again, at least to me) content and is set forth in an even odder, downright eccentric construction:

Joni and Leonard met for the first time at that concert [the Newport afternoon concert] and began a love affair. Still, everyone was a little off-center. I remember being in bed with a man I did not know who was coming down from an acid  trip and wanted me to “comfort him,” no sex involved. Leonard sat in the room with us, singing “The Stranger Song” softly  to himself, not paying any attention at all to what was happening on the bed. The Chelsea Hotel indeed! I trusted Leonard completely in very intimate situations and although we never had an intimate exchange of that kind ourselves, he was a constant ally I could take into battle with no fear of betrayal. Joni wrote “That Song About The Midway” about Leonard, or so she says. Sounds right: the festival, the guy, the jewel in the ear.

If I were still grading Freshman Composition papers (my work/study job in college), this paragraph would be covered in red ink, my scrawls asking, first of all, why a sentence about Joni and Leonard meeting and beginning a love affair is followed immediately in the same paragraph with the non sequitur, “Still, everyone was a little off-center,” and then by a scene portraying the narrator in bed with and (asexually) comforting  a man coming down from an acid trip while Leonard sings a song while “[without] paying any attention at all to what was happening on the bed.” There is more, but let’s not linger over violated principles of narrative exposition.

It doesn’t require the services of a hot-shot shrink (my job after coming to my senses and opting for medical school rather than a post-graduate English Lit program) to detect signs that Judy Collins may have some unresolved anger directed toward Joni Mitchell and that Leonard Cohen is somehow involved.  The juxtaposition of those last three sentences is unmistakably telling (as is that devastating phrase casually dropped into the second line, “or so she [Joni Mitchell] says”):2

I trusted Leonard completely in very intimate situations and although we never had an intimate exchange of that kind ourselves, he was a constant ally I could take into battle with no fear of betrayal. Joni wrote “That Song About The Midway” about Leonard, or so she says. Sounds right: the festival, the guy, the jewel in the ear.

All this lends a special poignancy to a phrase that has become a mantra for Judy Collins in recent interviews and on-stage banter with her audiences; it appears in this book in its most complete form:

I have always been grateful that I did not fall in love with Leonard in the way that I fell in love with his songs. I could have, certainly.

 Judy Meets Joni – Judy Loses Joni

Al Kooper introduced Joni Mitchell to Judy Collins. (Click on images to enlarge)

Judy Meets Leonard

Mary Martin introduced Leonard Cohen to Judy Collins.

Judy On Leonard’s First Appearance As A Singer

Leonard Cohen’s professional singing debut came about when Judy Collins invited him to perform at the April 30, 1967 SANE Against Vietnam War Concert At New York City Town Hall.

Credit Due Department: The photo atop this post was taken by Suzanne Szasz and is also from Sweet Judy Blue Eyes – My Life In Music by Judy Collins. In the book the caption is “With Leonard Cohen, Forest Hills, New York, 1968.  It seems likely this photo was taken on June 29, 1968, the date Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie performed at the Forest Hills Music Festival. 3

Previous Judy Collins Posts

  1. Judy Collins. Crown Archetype, October 18, 2011 []
  2. Note: It gives me no joy to point out the bitterness Judy Collins expresses in this passage. I have been and continue to be an admirer of Judy Collins and have repeatedly acknowledged the pivotal role she played in jump-starting Leonard Cohen’s career as a singer-songwriter.  As evidence of this, I offer, at the end of this post, a list of previous blog entries I’ve written about Collins for the reader’s review. Sadly, evidence of her anger and feelings of betrayal seems glaringly obvious in the words she wrote. []
  3. It’s All The Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago []

One Response to Stranger Song, Indeed – Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, & The Man On An Acid Trip

  1. Just a footnote on the Collins/Mitchell relationship:

    Judy Collins expanded a bit to a NY Times reporter on her relationship with Joni Mitchell here: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/27/popcast-interviews-with-dum-dum-girls-and-judy-collins/

    There is an audio podcast of the interview embedded in the article. It’s pretty interesting. The interview starts with about 19:48 left on the podcast after an interview with the Dum-Dum Girls — a group that is outside the realm of my experience.

    As always, love following the saga here.