Looking For The Best Song Referencing Leonard Cohen: The Gallery By Joni Mitchell

 is a Cohencentric series featuring a few of the many tunes alluding to Leonard Cohen. The Gallery is one of four songs held by some to be inspired by Joni Mitchell’s experiences with Leonard Cohen.

Mitchell directly confirmed that “Leonard is an influence on that song [The Gallery]” in Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words by Malka Marom (ECW Press: Sept 9, 2014). Joni Mitchell and Malka Marom discussed Leonard Cohen’s role in this song:

J: Some of them [Cohen’s lyrics] are very unflattering portraits. They scared me. He could be so harsh on women.

M: Harsh in what way?

J: In the songs. “Your thighs are a ruin, you want too much / let’s say you came back some time too soon” [from Master Song by Leonard Cohen]  That’s harsh. I countered it with thinking of the pleasure I’m gonna have watching your hairline recede, which is a similar line. I think both of those things are mean. But Leonard gets funny. When you take him seriously, eventually, you start to …

M: Yes, he’s got this ironic twist in him that I like.

The sentiment behind these words from The Gallery seems clear:

When I first saw your gallery
I liked the ones of ladies
Then you began to hang up me
You studied to portray me
In ice and greens
And old blue jeans
And naked in the roses
Then you got into funny scenes
That all your work disclose

Lady, please love me now, I am dead
I am a saint, turn down your bed
I have no heart, that’s what you said
You said, I can be cruel
But let me be gentle with you

Joni Mitchell – The Gallery


Looking For The Best Song Referencing Leonard Cohen: That Song About The Midway By Joni Mitchell

 is a Cohencentric series featuring a few of the many tunes alluding to Leonard Cohen. While Leonard isn’t specifically named in today’s entry, That Song About The Midway by Joni Mitchell, this excerpt from Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell – Just One Of Those Things, an examination of the liaison between the two Canadian singer-songwriters, offers support for a connection:

Judy Collins comments on Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and That Song About The Midway in her book, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes – My Life In Music [bolding mine]:

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.

Excerpted Lyrics:

I met you on a midway at a fair last year
And you stood out like a ruby in a black man’s ear
You were playing on the horses, you were playing on the guitar strings
You were playing like a devil wearing wings, wearing wings
You looked so grand wearing wings

You were betting on some lover, you were shaking up the dice
And I thought I saw you cheating once or twice, once or twice

Joni Mitchell – That Song About The Midway
From Clouds

Looking For The Best Song Referencing Leonard Cohen: Rainy Night House By Joni Mitchell

 is a Cohencentric series featuring a few of the many tunes alluding to Leonard Cohen. While Leonard isn’t specifically named in today’s entry, Rainy Night House by Joni Mitchell, this excerpt from Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell – Just One Of Those Things, an examination of the liaison between the two Canadian singer-songwriters, offers evidence of the connection.

Mitchell’s Rainy Night House is her farewell account of their liaison:

Malka Marom: I heard that your song “Rainy Night House” was a farewell to Leonard Cohen. Is it?

Joni Mitchell: Yeah. I went one time to his home and I fell asleep in his old room and he sat up and watched me sleep. He sat up all the night and he watched me to see who in the world I could be.1

The second verse is poignantly bittersweet:

I am from the Sunday school
I sing soprano in the upstairs choir
You are a holy man
On the FM radio
I sat up all the night and watched thee
To see, who in the world you might be

Mitchell points out

There’s some poetic liberty with those two lines; actually it’s “you sat up all night and watched me to see who in the world …” I turned it around. Leonard was in a lot of pain. Hungry ghosts is what it’s called in Buddhism. I am even lower. Five steps down.2

Note: According to Brian Hinton’s 1996 biography, “Joni Mitchell,” Sheila Weller’s “Girls Like Us,” and other sources, Leonard Cohen also appears in at least two other Joni Mitchell songs, That Song About The Midway and The Gallery. More about those later.


  1. Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words by Malka Marom. ECW Press: September 9, 2014 []
  2. Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words by Malka Marom. ECW Press: September 9, 2014 []

Dave Van Ronk On How To Write A Song: Step #1. Get Drunk With Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell


Dave Van Ronk And The Folk Music Scene

Dave Van Ronk was an integral part of the1960s folk revival, not only because of his own work but also because the Mayor of  MacDougal Street, as he was known, presided over the coffeehouse folk culture, influencing, helping, and inspiring many folk performers such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, Phil Ochs, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell, in fact, held that his rendition of her song “Both Sides Now” (which he called “Clouds:) was the finest ever.

Last Call By Dave Van Ronk – With Collaboration Of Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell

Dave Van Ronk originally released “Last Call,” on his album Songs For Ageing Children in 1973. In 1994, he released a different version of  the song on Going Back To Brooklyn and included  the story of how the song came to be in the liner notes.

He reported that he spent the night drinking with Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell at the Chelsea Hotel, and the next morning the lyrics to this song had been scribbled out although none of the three drinking buddies remembered writing it.

Van Ronk elaborated on the circumstances in his live introductions to the song, explaining that the lyrics were found  in his notebook in a handwriting none of them recognized. Since it was in his notebook, Leonard and Joni held that he obviously wrote it.1

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  1. Music Musings and Miscellany []

Hear Joni Mitchell Talk About “Deliciously Decadent” Leonard Cohen, A Fake Tim Buckley & Green Sunsets


Joni Mitchell 1988 Radio Broadcast

On September 6, 1988,  Joni Mitchell appeared on “Hubert On The Air,” a one-hour show on Dutch radio hosted by Hubert van Hoof, to select and comment on her favorite songs, the ones that “thrilled her” or, alternatively, “knocked her socks off” from her childhood to the time of the broadcast.1 Mitchell, who can sometimes come off as defensive or even bitter about her musical influences, is generous, thoughtful, and charming in this instance.

Joni Mitchell Talks About Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” Green Sunsets & Tim Buckley Impostor

The excerpt below from the show features her comments about “Suzanne” and a related incident about accompanying a man who claimed to be Tim Buckley (although Mitchell knew this was only a pose) on a cruise near Miami where she sighted a green sunset. The 7.5 minute clip also includes a recording of Leonard Cohen singing “Suzanne.”


Bonus: Green Flash Sunsets

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  1. Joni’s song choices, most of which (though not the classical pieces), were part of the the broadcast, follow:

    • Stravinsky: Rites of Spring – Dance of the Adolescents
    • Rachmaninoff: Theme from Paganini
    • Miles Davis: It Never Entered My Mind
    • Louis Jordan: Saturday Night Fish Fry
    • Bill Haley: Rock Around the Clock
    • Chuck Berry: Maybelline
    • Bob Dylan: Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
    • Edith Piaf with Les Companions de la Chanson: Trois Cloches (3 bells)
    • Billie Holiday: You’ve Changed
    • Leonard Cohen: Suzanne
    • Buffalo Springfield: Rock and Roll Woman, Broken Arrow
    • Jimi Hendrix: The Wind Cries Mary []

Hear Joni Mitchell Talk About Her Search For A Promotion-minded Record Company, Differences In Audiences, & Engelbert Humperdinck (1967)


Joni Mitchell Interview Unheard For 42 Years

In 1967, between sets at The Second Fret, a club in Philadelphia, Joni Mitchell recorded a 15 minute interview in which she is as earnest as always but much less defensive and  more vulnerable than she was to become later in her career. Forty-two years later, the interview was rediscovered and made available again.

She discusses technical issues involved in singing her songs, her departure from the folk genre into rock and roll with songs like “Both Sides Now,” cross-over hits, evolving lyrics, audiences in Philadelphia, Fayetteville, Detroit, and Flint, and more.

There are even passing references to her husband, Chuck, with whom she sang duets, the Johnny Preston hit, “Running Bear,” and the length of her hair (within three inches of her waist).

This delightful interview is available for download at JoniMitchell1967

Credit Due Department:  Adrian du Plessis, personable manager for Allison Crowe, alerted me to this interview and placed the download link at Allison Crowe’s web site.

Adrian discovered the interview via the JMDL (Joni Mitchell Discussion List):

Date: Sat, 26 Dec 2009 20:06:55 -0700
From: “Les Irvin”
Subject: Interview unheard for 42 years now available

On Friday evening, March 17, 1967, Ed Sciaky went to the 2nd Fret (operated by Manny “Money” Rubin) in downtown Philadelphia (on Sansom Street) and recorded an interview with Joni Mitchell. Recorded between sets, this recording was mastered at 7 and a half IPS on Shamrock recording tape, a cheap brand of audio tape but all that college student Ed Sciaky could afford. It was recorded on an Amex 354 mono tape recorder with an RCA 44 microphone. Ed Sciaky spoke into one side of the mic and Joni into the other. Since Joni spoke softly, her level was lower than Ed. The interview was engineered by Mike Biel, a student executive at the station at that time.

The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia (of which Ed is now a member), an organization of 350 area broadcasters, has recently equalized and adjusted the levels of the interview and the complete audio interview is now available on their website. They are proud to make this priceless interview again available to the public. The entire interview has not been heard since it was aired the next evening, Saturday, March 18th on Ed’s folk music show called “Broadside,” which was broadcast Saturday evenings from 8 pm and 12 midnight over WRTI-FM, the campus radio station of Temple University in Philadelphia. The 1974 airing over WMMR was an excerpt.


Credit Due Department: Photo by Matt Gibbonshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/ultomatt/3126812062/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8031501

Note: Originally posted Nov 18, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric