Thursday, November 16, 2017

You Want it Darker: Janis Joplin, revisited

I've been here before, but let's add another layer to this mystery, shall we?

Leonard Cohen interview, backstage, Glasgow 1976.

1976 was the year Cohen began announcing at concerts that Janis Joplin was the woman immortalized in his song(s) Chelsea Hotel #1 and #2.  It was also the year he gave this little interview, much of which is hard to hear because of the background noise, and the interviewer's Glasgow accent.

At around 8:30, the Scottish interviewer asks him to talk about about Joplin.

Leonard answers:

"There was something in her voice that was unmistakable.  'I don't mean to suggest that I loved her the best' ... I mean, I knew her. She wasn't my best friend or anything but I bumped into her often in hotels  around the States ... I love her music ... (sounds of liquid being poured, glasses and bottles clinking) ...

"I remember I was at a hotel with her in Los Angeles ... I think it was the Landmark Motel... and she was being given an award by one of those magazines like Melody Maker or some American equivalent of Melody Maker. I think it was Down Beat.. and I was there when they handed her the prize and she was like a kid, she'd gotten the prize as best woman singer of the year and it was like Christmas.. and it was real... I mean ... She was there..."

There's a lot wrong with that story. It also includes an astonishing confession.

1. The Landmark Motel was where Janis Joplin died. 

She moved into Room 105 on August 24, 1970 and stayed there til the night of her death on October 4, 1970. During those weeks, she was mainly working in the studio recording her second album Pearl.

2. While Joplin was getting settled at the Landmark, Leonard Cohen was far away in Europe.

He was wrapping up his tour in the UK (notably with a concert at the Isle of Wight on August 31). Then Jimi Hendrix died, in London. Leonard flew to America a few days later and recorded Songs of Love and Hate in Tennessee during the week of September 21. So if he 'bumped into her' at the Landmark in L.A., it could only be after September 25, in the ten days before she died.

3. The "award" he says she received - for which he claims he was present - was imaginary. 

She never received an award in her lifetime. The April 4, 1968 issue of Down Beat did feature Joplin on the cover but there's no record of any award. At the 1971 14th Annual GRAMMY Awards she was post-humously nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, for Me and Bobby McGee and Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for her album Pearl.  Carole King swept the awards that year. Ironically, it wasn't until 2005 that she finally received the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award at the 47th annual GRAMMIES.

Melody Maker's readers voted Joplin "World's Top Female Singer" for 1969 in their readers' poll, according to this front page story from October 10, 1970, which appeared five days after her death.

Melody Maker's 1969 annual reader poll awards were held at the Savoy Hotel in London but there is no evidence Joplin attended to pick up her prize. Her only solo trip to England had been six months earlier when she played the Royal Albert Hall on April 21, 1969, to rave reviews in the press. 

By contrast, 1969 was a bad year for Leonard whose second album, Songs From a Room, went generally unnoticed and unloved. 

In 1976, either he was confused, or he made up a story to cover a serious slip: he'd just admitted to the interviewer that he'd been with her at the Landmark which is associated with her sad end.

According to reports at the time, including in Rolling Stone, Joplin was found dead between the bed and the night table in her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel after failing to show up at the recording session on October 5. There were needle marks in her arm. Her mouth was bloodied and her nose was broken. Presumed cause of death: heroin overdose, self-administered.

According to one account, she left the downtown club where she had been partying with band members and friends, and went back to her hotel in the company of a taxi driver and "a fan."

Leonard Cohen's affair with Joplin remains legendary. Meanwhile, Chelsea Hotel #1, the original version, was rarely performed, if at all, after 1972. It's worth a listen. The rambling conclusion, about fishing beside a stream in Tennessee, compares Joplin to the one that got away. It leaves a strange impression: that he was in the room with Joplin as she rode "the Midnight Train' to her death.

On his 1979 "Field Commander Cohen Tour" I listened from the rear of the stage as Leonard retold the story. That time, too, he stumbled: "We fell into each other's arms and -- after she died --" The audience gasped, there were some giggles. Not missing a beat, a smiling Leonard recovered, and quickly had them in stitches. "It wasn't my embrace that killed her. My kiss is poisonous, but it's not deadly."

Good old Leonard. It wasn't the only time he had tantalized an audience with the hint of Kill and Tell. Back home in Montreal, as a young poet in the 1950s, Cohen had gained notoriety with a poem entitled "Ballad" about the ritual murder of a woman in a downtown rooming house, written ironically so as to suggest the poet-narrator was in fact the murderer.

Scholar Ruth Wisse, who studied with him at McGill, commented on this poem in her article "My Life Without Leonard Cohen":

'Leonard Cohen's Montreal ... was my very own, at once familiar and made mythic in marvelous phrases.

"My lady was found mutilated / in a Mountain Street boarding house...." Rushing to meet a friend at Ogilvy's, at the corner of Mountain Street and Ste. Catherine, I wondered behind which familiar door the lady's purple blood was staining the sheets.'  

Ruth Wisse avoids directly stating what, at the time, must have been a haunting suspicion: how did the twenty-something student know so much about a grisly murder on the street where he lived? The fact is, Leonard Cohen had a reputation for being dangerous and crazy, that ran alongside his growing fame as a musician.

We should all wonder at the way he fooled us with "marvellous phrases" -- and why we let him get away with it. He still stalks the streets of downtown Montreal, but now he's even larger than life, than he was when he was alive. 

Kelley Lynch, his former manager, described to me how, in 1988, Cohen would ask her to lock him in at night, after work, when she left his Montreal house. This, he said, was because he had an uncontrollable urge to "go out and kill people."

Of course, I'm not accusing him of murdering Joplin - there's no proof, and he had no motive. Unless he was some sort of contract killer, working for the CIA. A distinct possibility.

But no one nowadays would think of accusing Leonard Cohen (post-humously) of sexual abuse, violence against woman, or worse. Least of all his obsessed fans. After all, Leonard is now our heavenly guide to living in an 'imperfect world.'  That clever cliché disguises the reality: we're struggling to survive in the aftermath of a program of mind control designed by the very same crowd that gave us Leonard Cohen as our flawed Messiah. It's pop psychology for the brain-dead and those too lazy to think. 
Speaking of "crack":  The 'crack in everything' that we now celebrate as some divine gift, is a religious-sounding euphemism bandaging a gaping wound. It's a kabbalist metaphor for the controlled schizophrenia of modern life in a world dominated by organized crime.  It can't be healed with more drugs.

This is not the human condition - it's slavery built on a lie.  And it's not our mission unless we choose to accept it.



Ann Diamond said...

Why was Janis Joplin killed? That's a question I haven't explored much, except to note that she had a way of telling the truth that must have bothered some people in the music business. In 1970 her handler/boyfriend Kris Kristofferson had dropped her for another woman. She appeared on Dick Cavett and had this to say about men - but must have been talking about Kristofferson :

Smart, straight-talking women like Joplin were considered 'undesireable' - given her popularity, she could have gone on to expose a lot of people.

She also gave an interview saying her sexual encounters with Jim Morrison and Leonard Cohen had been disappointing to say the least: "They gave me nothing."

It was convenient to portray her as a drug-addicted, manic-depressive has-been at 27 - making her death-by-overdose seem almost like a merciful exit from a life of pain. But who really knows why she died? Or why evidence of homicide was never investigated --

Ann Diamond said...

Elsewhere I've written about Kris Kristofferson, who played a key role in the careers of a number of musicians including Joplin, Sinead O'Connor, and Leonard Cohen.

Ann Diamond said...

According to this Hebrew scholar, the Talmud does not consider the killing of a non-Jewish woman as a punishable crime.

theindividual21 said...

High profile targeted individual reveals all by exposing FBI and U.S. Government misdeeds…