Video: Allison Crowe Performs Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You

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Performer: Allison Crowe; Writer: Joni Mitchell; Muse: Leonard Cohen

The following information is taken from the YouTube description:

Allison Crowe uncorks vintage “A Case of You” – off her “Sylvan Hour” album – with passion and artistry recognizing two great Canadian musical inspirations intertwined in the song – its writer, Joni Mitchell, and muse, Leonard Cohen. Cinematically, Frank Borzage directs the adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” – scenes here featuring the film’s leading stars Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou.

Allison Crowe – A Case Of You

Purchase download of A Case of You by Allison Crowe

“Sylvan Hour is truly a masterpiece” says pioneering culture blog Muruch.

Discover this music from a remarkable artist at a personal and creative crossroads in her life. “Sylvan Hour” is an album of songs bridging west and east, piano and guitar, then and now…

For fans of Allison Crowe at her purest, this is voice, one accompanying instrument – one take. Real-time performances in the sequence they’re played and sung by Allison in a log-home on Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada.

That afternoon the musician was in the midst of migrating from her birthplace of Nanaimo, BC, on Canada’s Pacific, to a new nest in Corner Brook, NL, on the Atlantic coast. Soon to fly east, Crowe bade farewell to those near and dear on western shores – including compatriot Kayla Schmah on Salt Spring, neighbouring Vancouver Island.

Decades earlier Schmah’s parents had made an epic trek to the Pacific Northwest from Central Canada – in a repurposed donut truck. Planting themselves in the Gulf Islands archipelago, they lived at first in a converted parachute in the woods. From the ground up the home-steaders then built a family dwelling out of Douglas Fir – their “sylvan castle”.

Allison and Kayla, as musicians had shared stages together from their teens onward (and, years later, becoming a film-scorer in Hollywood, Schmah brilliantly orchestrated and produced Crowe’s album “Spiral”.) Among the friends together on SSI this day was Ryan Adams (who, like Schmah was a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music and was en route to becoming an in-demand tv/film audio engineer in Los Angeles).

With mics and a laptop set-up in the living-room, Adams captured this set of the newest songs in Allison’s repertoire – originals including “Skeletons and Spirits”, “Running”, and “Silence” as well as a trio of covers (interpreting songs famously by Joni Mitchell, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Aretha Franklin).

Also gorgeous, but differently so, essentially group versions of most of these songs were released near the end of that same year (2006) on Allison Crowe’s album “This Little Bird” (the title track a celebration of her migration). “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” is the sole sylvan session recording released before – it’s presented now within the full hour of music for all time.

Enjoy this most natural of talents – in this most natural of settings.

Book Review: Joni Mitchell Talks About Growing Up, Art, Songwriting, Love – And Leonard Cohen

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Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words by Malka Marom

ECW Press: September 9, 20141

The Author: Malka Marom

Malka Marom began her professional life as a singer but then became a broadcaster, hosting CBC’s weekly show “Song Of Our People” and City TV’s “Mosaic,” and documentary producer. She is also the author of a novel, Sulha.2 In 1966, she first heard Joni Mitchell perform at a coffee house and was immediately transfixed by Mitchell’s talent. She became an admirer and friend of Mitchell, and these perspectives characterize the book.

In this video, Marom describes her first encounter with Joni Mitchell.

Interview With Malka Marom

Note: Marom had originally planned to author a single book based on her interviews with Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Instead, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words has been published first with a parallel volume on Leonard Cohen anticipated next year.

The Book: Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words

The weakness of Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words: It’s not a biography; instead, it’s a conversation between Joni Mitchell and Malka Marom, an adoring friend and fellow artist, comprising three interviews, which took place in 1973, 1979, and 2012.

The strength of Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words: It’s not a biography; instead, it’s a conversation between Joni Mitchell and Malka Marom, an adoring friend and fellow artist, comprising three interviews, which took place in 1973, 1979, and 2012.

Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words is not intended or designed to be a comprehensive, dispassionate, hierarchically organized survey of Mitchell’s life and work. Other than occasional comments by some of Mitchell’s associates who happen to be present when the interviews tale place, such as Elliot Roberts (manager), Tom Scott (saxophonist and leader of LA Express), and John Guerin (drummer), the only narrators are Mitchell and Marom.  Indeed, the book is literally an edited transcript of the conversation between Mitchell and Marom studded with photographs, Mitchell’s paintings, and the lyrics of a large number of  her songs.

Because the book is built around three extensive interviews held over the span of almost forty years, the content naturally skews toward the topics of interest to the two participants at those points in time. Since, for example,  the first session takes place during the taping of Court And Spark and the second occurs while Mitchell is at work on  Mingus, issues pertinent to these two albums are especially prominent.

Consequently, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words is replete with discussions that sound like two old friends retelling familiar stories and sharing impressions about people they both know. For example, early in the third interview, Marom and Mitchell have this exchange which ends with a comparison of Leonard Cohen’s approach to performing with Mitchell’s:

M: Thirty-three years have passed since we last recorded our conversation, and forty-five years since I first saw you sing at the Riverboat, nearly half a century ago, my God. Yet last night I saw you singing and dancing here at your home as if not a day passed since then, as they say, and I thought what a shame that I’m the only one to witness it. How wonderful it would be if you went on tour, like Leonard Cohen is these days. You saw his concert in Toronto, and you liked it.

J: Yeah, I thought it was the best I ever saw of him. I thought it was the best band he ever had, best orchestra, the best arrangements plus the repertoire — across the board, good collection of songs.

M: I thought he was amazing, especially if you consider how frail he feels in your arms when you hug him. J: Yeah, he’s very frail. Very delicate. Like my dad was at the end. M: And yet on the stage. To see him bending and almost dancing. I thought he was really wonderful. He seemed to derive a lot of energy from the audience, from their love for him and his work. Are you tempted to go on the road?

J: No. I just was never addicted to applause or honorariums. The measure for me was the art itself. Leonard’s such a seducer he could probably believe that that many people could be in love with him. [laughs] I can’t. I don’t trust mass adoration. It doesn’t feed me. I see it as a potential dragon. I’m not that addicted to applause that I want to manipulate the monkey to roar for me. I wouldn’t get a thrill out of that, or try for a sense of victory. It wouldn’t work for me. I’d rather that they forget to applaud. That they’re so stunned, they’re tranced in. That would be more exciting to me than the biggest applause of the night. Then I feel that I’ve accomplished something. I’m really not a performing animal. I don’t have that need. I prefer the creation of the song. I like the collaborations, the camaraderie of players, and small clubs.

As one might expect. the colloquy between Mitchell and Marom frequently changes course, veering off on a tangent or simply following a whim to land on such subjects as jazz, loneliness, New York Vs Los Angeles, dance, primitive Vs luxurious lifestyles, Canada,  and medical science.

In addition to anecdotes about other artists (e.g., Dylan, David Crosby, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder), the entertainment business, Mitchell’s current affliction with Morgellons,3 and landmark events in Mitchell’s career (e.g., the ordeal of her appearance at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival), this volume includes a poignant, often heartbreaking account of Mitchell’s early history, from childhood through her marriage to Chuck Mitchell.  She recalls saving the tissues wrapped around oranges to use as toilet paper, being diagnosed with polio and then “shipped … out of town a hundred miles away,” and, beginning her songwriting under anguishing conditions:

The writing of my own songs came out of the trauma of my being an unwed mother and being destitute. I mean destitute in a strange city and pregnant, and living in a fifteen-dollar-a-week room. It was the attic room, and all the railings .,, there was one left out of every four because last winter, the people burnt them to keep the room warm … And in Toronto I had, I think, sixty dollars, maybe, with me in a town where the cheapest room was fifteen dollars a week. And I had six months ahead of me, no work … I lived in this attic in Toronto. I was living on Ingersoll cheese spread and Hovis loaf because that place was full of starving artists and you couldn’t keep anything in the fridge, so my diet was atrocious. And one day Duke Redbird’s brother came from the reservation. This big Indian. I’d never even met him. He came to my door. He knocked on the door and he said, “Here.” And he shoved me a basket of McIntosh apples. They used to come in those bentwood baskets. “Here.” Very rudely. It’s one of the kindest things that ever happened. And he turned on his heels and went away. A total stranger. And I thought, “He must know. Do they know what condition I’m in?”

Mitchell offers thoughtful, insightful commentary – uninhibited by false modesty – about her take on creativity in the fields of art and music.

M: I’d like to clarify something I’d heard you say: “I have a painter’s mentality, rather than a musician’s or a poet’s.” What do you mean by that?

J: Okay. The creative process of a painter is absolute solitude. No one’s gonna come in and say, “Don’t put that blue stroke there. Put an orange stroke there.” It’s just inappropriate. And it doesn’t mean you’re controlling. I had a lot of “Joni, you’re so controlling.” Yes, I am controlling and so it should be. I should be in control of my art. I’m within my rights to control my own art. You should not be trying to direct it. In painting, you have to be very decisive. Once you paint over it, it’s gone, whereas in songwriting, in music, you can usually get back, if you decide, “Oops, it was better the way it was before,” you can get back. I think that’s why I’m able to produce my own records. You have to be able to switch from sensual, sensitive, emotional to [the] adjudicative mind, which is intellectual clarity. You paint … it has to be emotional and sensitive to get the good line, but then when you stand back, you engage intellect and clarity to adjudicate it, so you’re your own producer. You have access to those heads and you can shift quickly from one [to] another. You can be very hard on yourself without bruising yourself. And you can be accurate; you can go right to the heart of the trouble. You don’t have to tippy-toe around somebody’s ego and praise them and stroke them, and then get to the problem and waste an hour like that … the delicate problem of addressing someone’s ego.

Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words – From Both Sides Now

Readers of this book who are looking for a chronological sequenced account of Joni Mitchell’s life or a balanced, in-depth analysis of her work are doomed to disappointment.  This volume does, however, present the opportunity to contemplate Mitchell reporting on her life with significantly  less vigilance and self-protectiveness of the sort that mark her routine interviews. Her conversations with Marom are ingrained with intimacy, authenticity, and sincerity. The result is an altogether gratifying read.

Adrian Du Plessis, Allison Crowe’s personable manager, wrote me about reading Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words; this excerpt from his message is a splendid description of the experience of reading this book:

With Joni, like Leonard, one gets to know their voices – literally and figuratively – and it’s a delight to hear them just on a roll. Like you’re sitting in the kitchen with the wine flowing and the cigarette butts piling up in the ashtray.

________________________

  1. The official release date of September 9, 2014 notwithstanding, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words by Malka Marom is available now on several sites. []
  2. A more complete biography is available on Marom’s website []
  3. Morgellons is a poorly understood and controversial disorder. Those suffering from the disease feel as though they are infested with disease-causing agents described as things like insects, parasites, hairs or fibers. Other neurological symptoms, including severe fatigue and memory problems, are sometimes associated. []

The Resonance Of Joni Mitchell’s “Wizard of Is” With Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”

About That Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell Thing

The Leonard Cohen-Joni Mitchell connection could have been the model for the Facebook relationship status classification, “It’s complicated.” They have much in common. Both are Canadian, both are respected singer-songwriters who came of age professionally in the late 1960s, both have roots in the folk movement, and both ran with the same Bob Dylan-Judy Collins group of colleagues.

And, for a time in 1967, they also shared the same bed during a short-lived romantic liaison described in some detail at Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell: Just One Of Those Things.

The relationship issue that is key to a discussion of Mitchell’s Wizard Of Is, however,  is her dramatic shift from infatuated admiration of Cohen, someone she considered an intellectual and artistic mentor, to her dismissal of him as “a boudoir poet.” This excerpt from a New York Magazine interview: characterizes the change in her perspective:

[Interviewer:] Were you similarly skeptical about the folk scene in New York in the late sixties?

[Mitchell:] No. I briefly liked Leonard Cohen, though once I read Camus and Lorca I started to realize that he had taken a lot of lines from those books, which was disappointing to me.

On the other hand, the end of their romance was not the end of their relationship.  Long after both had moved on to new lovers, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell remained friends, frequently contacting  and visiting each other.1

Leonard Cohen And Joni Mitchell’s Music

Given that singer-songwriters often sing and write about their own experiences, it is not surprising that Leonard Cohen had an impact of some of Joni Mitchell’s songs.

As noted in the aforementioned  March 31, 2007 post about the Cohen-Mitchell romance and its aftermath, Leonard Cohen appears, according to various sources, in four or more Joni Mitchell songs: Rainy Night House, That Song About The Midway, The Gallery, and A Case Of You.

Shortly  after publishing that original Cohen-Mitchell post, I noticed both of these artists had written and performed, within no more than a year of one another, assuredly nonidentical songs with the identical title Winter Lady.

Quelle coincidence, eh?

An essay focusing on the contrasts between the two songs can be found at  “Winter Lady” By Joni Mitchell Meets “Winter Lady” By Leonard Cohen – The Video.

Joni Mitchell’s Wizard of Is
& Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne

Continue Reading →

  1. It is worth noting that on Herbie Handcock’s River: The Joni Letters, the 2007 Album of the Year, Leonard Cohen is a featured artist, reciting the poetic lyrics to The Jungle Line. []

Video: “Winter Lady” By Joni Mitchell Meets “Winter Lady” By Leonard Cohen

winterladies

The Leonard Cohen – Joni Mitchell Match-up

 

Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell have much in common. Both are Canadian, both are respected singer-songwriters who came of age professionally in the late 1960s, both have roots in the folk movement, and both ran with the same Bob Dylan-Judy Collins group of colleagues.

And, it turns out, for a brief time in 1967, they also shared the same bed during a short-lived romantic liaison described at Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell: Just One Of Those Things.

And, in 1966 Joni Mitchell wrote and sang a song called “Winter Lady,” a ballad which was never released on an album. while  Leonard Cohen, in 1967 (the year Mitchell and Cohen met and had their fling) copyrighted and performed a different song called “Winter Lady,” which was released on his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in December 1967.1

Quelle coincidence, eh?

“Winter Lady” By Joni Mitchell And “Winter Lady” By Leonard Cohen – The Video

Continue Reading →

  1. Cohen’s “Winter Lady” was also featured in the soundtrack for Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller. []

Leonard Cohen Hosts Joni Mitchell & Ratso At Home For Barbequed Ribs

Dinner With Leonard, Suzanne, Ratso, And Roger

Yesterday’s post, Leonard Cohen Declines Bob Dylan’s Invitation To Play In Rolling Thunder Revue, spotlighted the account from Larry (Ratso) Sloman’s “On the Road With Bob Dylan,” an entertaining and enlightening read about Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, of Leonard Cohen being fetched from his home in order to attend the Montreal concert of that tour. Asked to perform, Cohen demurred, choosing to watch from the audience.

The end of the concert, however, was not the end of the Montreal adventures associated with the Rolling Thunder Revue.

The excerpt below  from “On the Road With Bob Dylan” describes a small dinner party given by Leonard Cohen and Suzanne1 on December 5, 1975, the night after the Rolling Thunder Revue Montreal concert, for Larry (Ratso) Sloman (the author), Joni Mitchell, and Roger McGuinn,2

This episode is interesting for a number of specific reasons as well as the insight it lends into an important area of pop music in the 1970s:

  • The always shifting relationship between the ex-lovers, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell (see Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell: Just One Of Those Things),  reflected in the banter between them is fascinating. I’m especially fond of Cohen’s response to Mitchell’s contention that he has “a more consistent character than [he]  plays out:” “I’m as constant as the North Star.” It may also be helpful to recall that, as documented in yesterday’s post, Cohen’s initial greeting to Mitchell backstage at the concert was, “Joni, my little Joni.”
  • While less apparent, Joni Mitchell’s feelings toward Bob Dylan and the ethos of the  Rolling Thunder Revue he constructed are worth the effort required to detect them, given her unambiguous denouncement of him that would take place in April 2010:

    Yesterday, the folk world was rocked by Joni Mitchell. Apparently she has a giant grudge against Bob Dylan and, as Matt Diehl found out when interviewing Mitchell for the LA Times, she does not like being compared to him. Indeed, when Diehl intimated that the two were similar because they both “changed” their names (from Roberta Joan Anderson to Joni Mitchell and Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan) to create a persona, Joni uttered these venom-laced words: “Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.”3

    More about the Joni Mitchell-Bob Dylan connection at another time.

  • Joni Michell’s self-assessment – also an always shifting matter – is revealing.
  • Leonard Cohen was then, as he is now, recognized as an extraordinarily gracious host.
  • This glimpse into the domestic life of Leonard Cohen as spouse (pragmatically if not legalistically) and father is intriguing.
  • The early lyrics of  the songs that would become “Iodine” and “The Smokey Life” are reminders of Cohen’s habitual reworking and revising of his music.

I’ve added explanatory footnotes to Ratso’s story.

“I’m a stone Cohenite” – Joni Mitchell

The cab finds the address and they pile out and enter the Cohen domicile. And what a contrast. If the Mount Royal residence4 was subtly elegant, Cohen’s house in old Montreal is blatantly commonplace. First of all, it’s not a house, it’s a ramshackle bungalow-type structure, entered via a door that would be hard put to withstand the ravaging assault of a five-year-old. It boasts exposed beams, slanted floors and ceilings, and a collection of furniture that would do any Goodwill proud. But there’s a curious feeling of warm spirituality pervading the home, and the shelves upon shelves of books and the myriad knickknacks and the old, dusty-framed prints and paintings impart a tremendous character to the place. Ratso [author Larry (Ratso) Sloman] enters Leonard’s house for the second time and feels right at home.

“Leonard,” he yells in greeting, smelling the savory aroma of barbecued ribs wafting into the front room, “you’re immaculate.” The reporter scurries into the back of the long room and plops down at the table. The others follow, exchanging greetings with Leonard and his lovely lady Suzanne.

Cohen has long been a demigod to that brand of musical practitioner that label themselves sensitive singer-songwriters. A fine novelist and a best-selling poet in his native Canada, Cohen turned to the concert hall at the urging of his friends, among them Judy Collins, who put Leonard’s song “Suzanne” on the map and the charts. And of course, part of Cohen’s attractiveness and his appeal is the graphic description in his songs of the vicissitudes that befall a gentleman in a world of scoundrels. And his documentation of the doings of the scoundrel in the parlors of society. In other words, Cohen just don’t fit, he carries around his angst like other people carry chewing gum. And the songs get delivered in that lumbering, world-weary monotone that emanates from that broodingly handsome iconographic wandering Jew face. Ratso loves Leonard’s work; it never fails to make him laugh.

“I didn’t hear you last night, Joni,” Leonard laments, “I’m really sorry. How was your friend tonight?”

“She was my matron of honor when I was married but between that time period there was a long gap since we saw each other and that was only briefly. There must have been five years between that,” Joni holds a rib poised over her plate, “so my impressions of her have been romanticized over the years plus her circumstances have limited her experience in certain ways so that we weren’t as linked as we were as girls. Like you and Mort5 have carried your relationship along …”

“Yes, Mort is one of these rare creatures,” Leonard smiles. “He’s really like a completely unrecognized genius.”

“You know all those stories you read where the Zen master slapped someone on the back and at that moment he attained. Well, Mort did that one day in New York,” Joni says. “He took my problem and in one sentence eliminated it. That’s a rare gift, isn’t it?”

“He says he wants to give you another lesson,” Leonard smiles slyly. “What was the sentence?” Ratso gets the question out between two mouthfuls of ribs.

“Draw me and don’t look at the paper,’ that’s all he said to me and it changed everything, you know? So what you do is actually you trace the lines of highest emotion. It doesn’t matter if the person moves, it doesn’t matter if the eye overlaps the nose or anything, I’ve tried to pass that on to a lot of different people and Blakley6
is like one of the few—”

“She’s nice, eh?” Leonard asks.

“Well, nice I wouldn’t say,” Joni says diplomatically, “we have a relationship that isn’t defined by the word nice.”

“I enjoyed her last night,” Leonard smiles.

“She is like Nico, you know,” Joni offers. “She has a strange kind of madness that you would find interesting. My attraction to her is like that too….”

“I like it in you,” Leonard grins. “You guys have been pretty close now for how many months?”

“Just weeks,” Roger corrects, “but I’ve been out for two months now.

“It’s really interesting,” Joni gushes, “cause people are always testing each other all the time, you know, misreading you. You know you have to deal with their misreading and you have to like decide whether to allow them to misread you or to clarify it, like I’ve learned to float like coming from a position where I -need always to be sincere and to be understood, I like allowed myself to float through situations, that’s what I was trying to tell you, it’s so exciting to me, it’s not giving a shit. It’s not consistent. It really is an interesting thing because it’s a traveling commune.”

Suzanne interrupts the monologue with a soda break. Joni sips at her Coke and continues, “I’ve come to deal with my multiphrenia, they’re all realities. There are so many ways to look at the thing, you know that as a writer, cutting through the layers of personality to get to the one who is the most honest, you know.”

“I don’t know how honest I am,” Leonard smiles sheepishly. “I’m unstable.”

“Maybe I’m more unstable than you,” Joni boasts. “You have a more consistent character than you play out.”

“Oh yeah,” Cohen smiles sardonically, “I’m as constant as the North Star.”

“But I find that different people will manifest different aspects,” Joni goes on. “You know, some people will bring out the sage, some people will bring out the child, some people will bring out the rebel, some people will bring out the conservative.”

“I find everyone too revolutionary these days,” Leonard comments as he grabs another rib.

“You are wearing a suit in your own funky old house,” Roger notes. “But that’s the only clothes he has,” Ratso explains.

“This seeming cattiness was one aspect of tour that I had to adjust to after I came in late,” Joni picks up her thought and starts to address Leonard. “I got on the bus and I thought, God that’s cruel, they’re cruel people being cruel to each other. Next thing that I noticed was that everybody was quite strong and the manifestation of multiple personalities was almost a necessity.”

“There’s a definite pecking order,” Ratso says, from the bottom.

“There is a strange pecking order,” Joni agrees, near the top.

“Baez has this amazing George Harrisonesque dressing room with rugs on the walls and incense and food spreads and you guys got this funky closet for a dressing room,” the reporter reports.

Leonard interrupts with cups of hot sake.

“You’re quite a host, Leonard,” Roger marvels. “I’d like to reciprocate sometime.”

“Roger and I did a scene,” Joni remembers, “and we were great in the scene except I quoted from pure Nietzsche and Bob wouldn’t let me give him credit. I said, ‘C’mon, Bobby, I got to say like Thus Spake Zarathustra, I can’t be like an intellectual quoting from Nietzsche, with no originality, give me a break. He’s got a mean streak, he gets mean.”

“You’re talking about Bobby Neuwirth?”7 Leonard misunderstands.

“Oh Neuwirth is different,” Joni smiles. “It’s much more open, he just tells you you’re cold and you’re a cunt and you’re an asshole.” She giggles. “With Dylan, he just like strikes you out of a scene or puts you in the scene where he wants you to manifest parts of yourself, it’s different. He’s got the power, he’s got the hammer, and Neuwirth just attacks and he can really hurt. Neuwirth really hurt me and then he said, `There’s no fear allowed on Rolling Thunder.’ He just keeps whittling away at you and whittling away at you until he finds the place of you which you’re most afraid of and then, whew, he just like presses on it till he gets you, then he says, `No fear.’ It’s an excellent exercise.” She giggles again.

“He’s been unable to pin me,” Roger smiles, “and he always rolls away in frustration.”

“That’s ’cause you always say `I’m sorry,’ all the time,” Joni cracks. “How can you pin someone that’s always apologizing?”

“Gee, I’m sorry,” Roger gushes. “I didn’t mean to offend you last night, I’m really sorry.”

Ratso gulps down his sake and accepts Suzanne’s invitation to a guided tour of the place. They tramp up the rickety stairs and view the small cubiculed bedrooms and, in one room, come upon Leonard’s two children. “Jesus, they’re so cute,” Ratso marvels at the two small figures.

suzanne,-lorca,-adam-cohen

Suzanne, Lorca, and Adam

“Yes, they’re angels, aren’t they?” Suzanne says in her delicate voice, a voice that oozes grace and charm and patience, an avalanche of patience. When they return downstairs, Joni is enmeshed in a long story about her marijuana bust a few years ago in L.A.

“I really started to feel like a fool, I felt so frustrated because I was really on the verge of a song,” Joni remembers, “and they didn’t give me a pencil or paper and I asked them for my guitar, and this one guy was like a guitar player and understood, and I felt like Huddie Ledbetter, `Give me my guitar,’ and they wouldn’t do anything. So finally the narcs called me out, which was good because I could smoke and at that point I was like three hours without a cigarette. So they called me in and the Man said this was off the record, it didn’t have to do with what I was up for and in the meantime they were analyzing my vitamin pills and had changed it from marijuana to like narcotics because I had this whole mixture of different kinds of vitamin pills that they were putting through the lab or something. So the guy asked me what my drug experience was because his kid was being hit on the playground for reds and he was only eight, and I asked them if they had experienced any drugs themselves because in this room I was in there were pictures of marijuana leafs of different shapes, pills and their titles underneath, all the way around the room.

“I said, `Do you know what these things do to your chemistry? Have you tried anything?’ And he told me he wanted to be a professional baseball player but he couldn’t make it so he became a cop, and he was like half tough and half soft and we just talked for a long time. I said, `Ask me anything you want as long as I can keep smoking, this is the worst, you got all the leaves and pills up here but this,’ and I pointed to my cigarette, `is the really serious villain, this is the socially accepted drug.”

“They used tobacco as a tool against you,” Roger smiles. “They used it to get you to talk.”

But there was supposed to be a release to the press, they always do that, like they did with Steven Stills, and I said, Well, you’re talking ’bout your kid, eight years old, and people hitting on him on the playground for reds, if you put that I was arrested for dangerous drugs, by nature of the people who listen to the things that I have to say, do you know how many people you’d turn on. Why don’t you try a little preventive crime?’ So the captain said, `No, we have to release everything to the press,’ and they didn’t release it! They didn’t put anything out. Sometimes the laws are very insensible and he was a man that went beyond the law to his own sensibility.”

“Horse sense,” Roger cracks.

“Then I went back to my cell,” Joni relates, “and they threw this girl in in the middle of the night, about three o’clock in the morning and I had already meditated three times, I’d done every dance step I know, and I was really starting to die of boredom. I’m fading,” Joni yawns, “we should go home pretty soon. I wish I had a guitar, I’d like you to hear the new song.”

“I’d like to play myself,” Roger adds, a little tipsy from the sake, “but mine’s all packed away. We gotta fly tomorrow.”

“We all want to serenade you guys,” Joni giggles, while Roger breaks into a spontaneous “One More Cup of Sake for the Road.”

“Did I ever tell you I loved your live album, Leonard?” Ratso asks.

“You and twelve thousand other people liked it,” Leonard sighs.

The songwriter and the reporter walk into the front room as the others exchange good-byes.

“Sing me some of your new shit, Leonard,” Ratso says eagerly, the stuff you told me you were working on when I was following you around doing that story for Rolling Stone. “

“OK,” Leonard assents and begins to recite the song in his haunting voice.

A lady found me boasting in the Guerrero
When I was running smoke across the line
She let me love her till I was a failure
Her beauty on my bruise like iodine
When I was weak enough to learn her method
I said `Will I be punished for my crime?’
She said `There is a table set in heaven
But I don’t like to eat there all the time.’
She pulled away the mask of her Madonna
She pulled away the valley of her thighs
She bid me find herself in other women
Until I should exhaust her last disguise.
And I was with her when there was no ocean,

When there was no moon to spill the tide:
Oh long before the wild imagination
Could lay us in Guerrero side by side.

“Jesus, Leonard,” Ratso kvells, “that’s great. But you told me you were gonna write some top-forty stuff. That ain’t no Tommy James and the Shondells.”

“Here’s another,” Leonard glances back and deduces there’s time for one more.

I’ve never seen your eyes so wide
Your appetite so occupied with someone else
As if I didn’t know
It ain’t my style to hold this tight
So let’s be married one more night.
It’s light enough to let it go.
A while ago the scenery started fading.
I held you ’til you learned to walk on air.
But don’t look down, it’s gone, it’s faded baby:
The smoky life is practiced everywhere.

Joni walks up just as Leonard comes to an end. “We should go,” she hugs the poet good-bye. “I need a week’s sleep.”

They say good-byes and the troupe hops into the waiting cab and starts back to the motel.

“Who was that guy?” McGuinn mysteriously whispers. “The Lone Ranger?” Ratso guesses.

“No, it wasn’t Tonto either,” Roger grins.

“I’m a stone Cohenite,” Joni brags. “Dylan, ehhh,” she jokingly dismisses the singer with a flap of the wrist.

“Let’s call Dylan,” Roger starts to unpack his attaché-case phone.

“I love Cohen,” Joni continues. “I’m promiscuous with my love.”

I love a lot of people. Who I can live with, that’s another question,” she laughs. “I can make it through, but I’m feeling like the mother of a large family.”

“I’ve come around to a new way of thinking about everyone in the world.” Roger puts the phone away. “I’m serious.”

“What new way?” Joni’s curious.

“It’s called acceptance,” Ratso says cynically.

“Small-town acceptance,” Joni smiles.

“I love the people I love and I ignore the people I can’t tolerate if I can,” Roger says with impeccable logic, “and try not to loathe anyone.”

“I don’t loathe anyone,” Joni agrees. “I try not to feel superior, like ajiveass superior chick, but I keep myself in check ’cause there are other perspectives I’m able to appreciate; the beauty of people on different levels until I get pushed in a corner.”

“I’m against possessiveness and monogamy,” Roger interrupts. “I did it for two years, Roger,” Joni confesses.

“I did it for five,” Roger three-ups.

“Really?” Joni seems incredulous. “You didn’t cheat on the road?” “Not once,” Roger moans.

“I sure broke down in a hurry,” Joni shakes her blond head.

“I’m not talking about this trip,” Roger is quick to qualify.

“Yeah,” Joni laughs, “we all know about this trip. It’s very difficult and it’s very limiting and very indulgent at the same time, none of us are mature enough to be able to accept the fact that other people can love other people. We all want to be the conqueror, the one and only in every relationship that we begin.” Joni pauses for the right words. “There’s a duality that I can’t make out, I don’t mean to be a victimizer but sometimes I find I am by my own spontaneous nature, you know, like gravitating to people who interest me in a room and neglecting the one who is like hurting by my interest in other people.”

______________________________________

Blakley
  1. “Suzanne” is Suzanne Elrod, mother of Cohen’s two children, Lorca and Adam. []
  2. Prior to his work in the Rolling Thunder Revue, McGuinn had been on the folk music circuit, worked as a sideman for folk groups like the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Judy Collins, and played guitar and sang backup harmonies for Bobby Darin. He is best known, however, as a co-founder of  The Byrds. []
  3. From Folk Face-Off: Joni Mitchell vs. Bob Dylan []
  4. “The Mount Royal residence” refers to the house that belonged to Leonard  Cohen’s parents and the home in which he and his sister, Esther, were raised. (See Tour Childhood Home Of Leonard Cohen and The Childhood Of Leonard Cohen). The dinner in this account is being held at Cohen’s own home in Montreal. []
  5. “Mort” is Morton (Mort) Rosengarten, Leonard Cohen’s boyhood best friend and a well known Montreal artist and sculptor. []
  6. “Blakley” is Ronee Blakley, a singer-songwriter and actress (perhaps best known for her performance as country superstar Barbara Jean in Robert Altman’s 1975 film Nashville). Blakley had sung a duet with Dylan on “Hurricane” from his Desire album and subsequently became part of the Rolling Thunder Revue. Blakley would go on to record with Cohen on the 1977 “Death Of A Ladies’ Man” album, being featured on “Memories,” “Iodine,” and ” True Love Leaves No Traces.” []
  7. Bob Neuwirth, a singer-songwriter in the folk tradition who soon became a confidant and musical associate of Bob Dylan, put together the backing band for the Rolling Thunder Revue. He also introduced Kris Kristofferson to Janis Joplin. []

Leonard Cohen Declines Bob Dylan’s Invitation To Play In Rolling Thunder Revue

rollthunLeonard Cohen Watches Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Baez Perform

Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue was less a conventional tour than a traveling carnival, replete with gypsies, cowboys, groupies, relatives (including Dylan’s mother), reporters, and various hangers-on, that camped at  local motels to play a series of gigs at small to intermediate sized venues – and, for good measure,  film “Renaldo and Clara,” a surrealistic movie – during fall 1975 and spring 1976.

The Rolling Thunder Revue featured not only Dylan but also  (at various times and in various doses) Joan Baez (Dylan’s ex-lover), Rambling Jack Elliott, Kinky Friedman, Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuinn (formerly of the Byrds), Bob Neuwirth, Ronee Blakley, and Allen Ginsberg. The backup musicians included T-Bone Burnett, Bob Stoner, Steven Soles, Luther Rix, Howie Wyeth, Mick Ronson (David Bowie’s guitarist and arranger from the Ziggy Stardust era), and David Mansfield as well as violinist Scarlet Rivera, whom Dylan found, literally, on the streets of  New York. On December 4, 1975, the night the Rolling Thunder Revue played the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, there was the chance that the troupe would be joined by Leonard Cohen.

But, that was not to be.

The story is best conveyed in this excerpt from “On the Road With Bob Dylan,” the account of the Rolling Thunder Revue by Larry (Ratso) Sloman that is oblgatory reading for any Dylan fan or anyone who wants to understand this epoch of pop music:

“Get Leonard please,” Dylan gets serious. “I got some people to see.”

Ratso walks over to the booth and dials Cohen’s house. After a few rings the poet picks up. “Leonard, this is Larry, how are you?”

“Can’t complain,” Leonard replies and Ratso remembers his work and laughs at the irony.

“Are you coming to the concert?”

“I guess so,” Cohen says in his world-weary monotone. “You’re so coy, Leonard.”

“Is it gonna be crowded?” the poet worries.

“You won’t have to deal with the crowds, we’ll zip in the stage door, Leonard,” Ratso reassures him, as Dylan keeps nudging the reporter, trying to grab the phone. “Tell him to come through the back door,” Dylan whispers in Ratso’s ear. Ratso frowns and hands Dylan the phone.

“Leonard? Yeah, how you doing? Can’t complain, huh. Well I could but I won’t. You wanna come to the show? Fatso can pick you up.”

“Ratso, not Fatso,” the reporter pokes Dylan, “but he doesn’t know me as Ratso.”

“Yeah, Larry’ll pick you up. You got four people? Sure, easy, hey, if you wanna play a couple of songs that would be all right too_ Pardon? OK, whatever you feel like doing. We’re gonna hang around for a few days, we got some film to shoot. We’re also making a movie so we’re gonna be shooting tomorrow and the next day, here. Maybe after the show we can get together if that’s OK with you. OK, man, Larry’ll pick you up, see you later then.” Dylan hangs up and the trio starts back toward the bar.

Cohen’s house is a tiny affair, located in the heart of old Montreal, a student, foreigner, bohemian ghetto. Ratso shivers as he walks up the block looking for the address. He finds it, and knocks on the door. Muffled sounds but no answer. A few more knocks. No response. Suddenly the reporter notices the door is slightly ajar and he throws it open. And steps into a sea of sound, the harmonicas, spoons, kazoos, and spirited voices washing over him like a funky Jacuzzi. Cohen is ringleading, playing the harmonica, stomping his foot on a chair, leading the vocal to a French chanson. “How are you, my friend?”

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