Joni Mitchell References Leonard Cohen’s Avalanche In Her Coming To Terms With Success

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I had difficulty at one point accepting my affluence, and my success, even the expression of it seemed to me distasteful at one time, like to suddenly be driving a fancy car. I had a lot of soul searching to do. I felt that living in elegance and luxury cancelled creativity, or even some of that sort of Sunday school philosophy that luxury comes as a guest and then becomes the master. That was a philosophy that I held onto. I still had that stereotyped idea that success would deter it, that luxury would make you too comfortable and complacent and that the gift would suffer from it.

But I found that I was able to express it in the work, even at the time when it was distasteful to me… The only way that I could reconcile with myself and my art was to say, “This is what I’m going through now; my life is changing. I show up at the gig in a big limousine and that’s a fact of life.”

I’m an extremist as far as lifestyle goes. I need to live simply and primitively sometimes, at least for short periods of the year, in order to keep in touch with something more basic. But I have come to be able to finally enjoy my success, and to use it as a form of self-expression.

Leonard Cohen has a line that says, “Do not dress in those rags for me, / I know you are not poor.”1 When I heard that line, I thought to myself that I had been denying, which was hypocritical. I had been denying, just as that line in that song, I had played down my wealth.

From Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words by Malka Marom (ECW Press: September 9, 2014). Bolding mine.

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

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  1. From the lyrics of Avalanche []

“I love to see you naked” Leonard Cohen On Nakedness

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Leonard Cohen owns the phrase ‘naked body,’ for example; it appears in every one of his songs.1

Joni Mitchell

Somehow, Joni made this seem like a bad thing – go figure.

On the other hand, none of Leonard’s albums offer cover art that feature him unclad as Ms Mitchell is depicted on the inside cover of her 1972 album, For The Roses (shown atop this post). Again, go figure.

Tom Robbins, writing liner notes for the Tower of Song tribute album, addressed the Leonard Cohen’s employment of “naked” from a different perspective:

It is a voice raked by the claws of Cupid, a voice rubbed raw by the philosopher´s stone. A voice marinated in Kirschwasser, sulfur, deer musk and snow; bandaged with sackcloth from a ruined monastery; warmed by the embers left down near the river after the gypsies have gone. It is a penitent´s voice, a rabbinical voice, a crust of unleavened vocal toasts – spread with smoke and subversive wit. He has a voice like a carpet in an old hotel, like a bad itch on the hunchback of love. It is a voice meant for pronouncing the names of women – and cataloging their sometimes hazardous charms. Nobody can say the word “naked” as nakedly as Cohen. He makes us see the markings where the pantyhose have been. [underlining mine]

Back in 2011, these observations by Joni Mitchell and Tom Robbins sparked my investigation of Leonard Cohen’s thoughts on nakedness and his employment of “naked” and its equivalents in his songs, poems, art, and novels. For example, “I love to see you naked” is, of course, a phrase from Take This Longing by Leonard Cohen. But, there is much more to follow. These posts will be published forthwith (fifthwith at the latest) on Cohencentric. Stay tuned.

Note: These posts will be collected at

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  1. This statement is quoted in Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell – Just One Of Those Things;” the original source is Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period by Michelle Mercer. Free Press; 1st Edition, April 7, 2009 []

“I’m only a groupie for Picasso and Leonard [Cohen].” Joni Mitchell


Remark made by Joni Mitchell to another guest over dinner with Leonard Cohen in Los Angeles in 1975. From I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons. Ecco: 2012.

Joni’s connection with Leonard was complicated. For a comprehensive look at the Leonard Cohen-Joni Mitchell relationship, see Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell: Just One Of Those Things. Originally posted September 3, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“I remember being overwhelmed by the fertility and the abundance of her artistic enterprise” Leonard Cohen On Joni Mitchell’s Musical Mastery

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She [Joni Mitchell] doesn’t read music and it really is fully developed from the god’s head. She just came out that way. When I When I saw her detune a guitar, for me, just tuning the guitar is an ordeal, worrying if I can tune the damn thing. I was so relieved when I finally had guitar techs. It was always an issue for me. To see Joni just twist those little knobs, tuning the guitar in about thirty seconds, into all different strings that nobody had ever heard, and nobody’s ever played it. That indicated to me immediately that there was something very remarkable going on. Same with the piano. I was staying with her in Laurel Canyon when her piano arrived. She sat down and played the piano. Just to hold all those tunings in her mind indicates a superior intellect. I remember being overwhelmed by the fertility and the abundance of her artistic enterprise, because it was so much more vast and rich and varied and seemingly effortless than the way I looked at things. Naturally, I was very impressed and somewhat intimidated.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe. Sarah Crichton Books (October 17, 2017). Photo by Whoknoze – Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

“I am as constant as the Northern Star” From Leonard Cohen (& Shakespeare) To Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You

No lover gave her poetry like Leonard, and even after their affair ended, she continued to communicate with him in song; most memorably in “A Case of You.” She recalled that Cohen told her, “I am as constant as the Northern Star.” Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar says this to Brutus, and it’s not far from there to “Et tu, Brute.” “I knew it was from Julius Caesar,” Cohen recalled, “but I didn’t say it with Shakespeare’s irony. I think I actually meant it in relation to her.”

“When I played ‘A Case of You’ for him, he said, ‘I’m glad I wrote that,’” Joni recalled. The song begins: Just before our love got lost you said, “I am as constant as a northern star.” And I said, “Constantly in the darkness Where’s that at? If you want me I’ll be in the bar.” It was a tension that spoke to a schism in their songwriting …

Leonard got mad at me actually, because I put a line of his, a line that he said, in one of my songs. To me, that’s not plagiarism. You either steal from life or you steal from books. Life is fair game, but books are not. That’s my personal opinion. Don’t steal from somebody else’s art, that’s cheating. Steal from life – it’s up for grabs, right?

From Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe. Sarah Crichton Books (October 17, 2017).

DrHGuy Note: Included in Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell: Just One Of Those Things: is a discussion of songs Mitchell wrote which have been identified by some as having been inspired by her relationship with Leonard Cohen: “Rainy Night House,” “That Song About The Midway,” “The Gallery,” and “A Case Of You.”

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Hear TLV1 Podcast: Malka Marom’s Great Canadian Songbook: Joni, Leonard and I

When Malka Marom, a Canadian-Israeli musician and broadcaster, walked into a destitute Toronto night club in 1966, she was swept off her feet. The music, played by Joni Mitchell, mousy-looking and still unknown, was unlike anything she had heard before. Soon thereafter, they became lifelong friends; Marom’s book Joni Mitchell in Her Own Words is a compilation of conversations they had over a 40-year period. She is now working on another book, featuring conversations with another great Canadian singer-songwriter: Leonard Cohen.

From podcast description

The April 23, 2018 podcast can be heard at Malka Marom’s Great Canadian Songbook: Joni, Leonard and I

“You Changed the Way Women Sing, and the Way Men Listen” from A Few Lines For Joni by Leonard Cohen – 2013

Joni Mitchell at the 2013 Luminato Festival

Master Poet. Master Painter. Most Subtle Technician of the Deep.
You are indeed Queen Undisputed of Mind Beauty.
Star-breasted, Disguised as a Ravishing Piece,
You Changed the Way Women Sing, and the Way Men Listen.
What an Astonishing Victory over the Unforgiving Years!

A Few Lines for Joni by Leonard Cohen
Written for the 2013 Luminato Festival, Toronto

 

Note: Back in 1967, when she and Leonard were still together, Joni changed the name of her publishing company from Gandalf (a nod to The Lord of the Rings) to Siquomb. “So,” Joni told me, “based on the Tolkien books, I invented this kingdom: Queen SIQUOMB (She Is Queen Undisputedly of Mind Beauty), HWIEFOB (He Who Is Especially Fond of Birds). They lived in Fanta on the border of Real (Ree-al).”

Both the lines by Leonard Cohen and the explanatory note are from Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe. Sarah Crichton Books (October 17, 2017). Photo by David Leyes – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.