Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"Chelsea Hotel No. 2"

The Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan is where Leonard Cohen lived while in New York in the 1960s. He chose the Chelsea because he knew that there he'd meet people of a similar artistic bent, which he did. The famous Chelsea was the home away from home for the likes of Mark Twain (!), Charles Bukowski, Dylan, Tom Waits and Brendon Urie, to bring it into the modern age. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 was written at the Chelsea in early 1964.

The hotel is memorialized by Cohen in two forms, "Chelsea Hotel No. 1," whose focus and main "character" is the hotel itself, and "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," about Janis Joplin. When introducing this song in concert, Cohen would talk about meeting a famous singer in an elevator of the Chelsea, which led to the sexual encounter described in the song. "I wrote this for an American singer who died a while ago. She used to stay at the Chelsea, too." It's not often that a tribute song contains a description of a blowjob from the deceased (The only other fellatio that I can recall in song is Lou Reed's "Walk On the Wild Side"). Cohen ID's the song's heroine in an interview, but has since expressed regret for exposing Joplin as the subject. While we can't speak for Janis, the depiction of her as a courageous, loving singer captures her independent spirit, and maybe she would have liked the fellatio line. 

Chelsea Hotel No. 2

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, 
you were talking so brave and so sweet, 
giving me head on the unmade bed, 
while the limousines wait in the street.

Those were the reasons and that was New York, 
we were running for the money and the flesh. 
And that was called love for the workers in song 
probably still is for those of them left.

Ah but you got away, didn't you babe, 
you just turned your back on the crowd, 
you got away, I never once heard you say, 
I need you, I don't need you, 
I need you, I don't need you 
and all of that jiving around.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel 
you were famous, your heart was a legend. 
You told me again you preferred handsome men 
but for me you would make an exception. 
And clenching your fist for the ones like us 
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty, 
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind, 
we are ugly but we have the music." 

I don't mean to suggest that I loved you the best, 
I can't keep track of each fallen robin. 
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, 
that's all, I don't even think of you that often.