The relationship between Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen was one of mutual respect and brief romantic involvement. Mitchell was a young and impressionable folk singer who looked up to the older and more experienced fellow Canadian Cohen, even occasionally using him as a guide for her own music.
Mitchell had professed admirations for Cohen’s work, specifically citing ‘Suzanne’ in the book Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words: “Leonard did ‘Suzanne’, I’d met him, and I went, ‘I love that song. What a great song.’ Really,” she said. “‘Suzanne’ was one of the greatest songs I ever heard. So I was proud to meet an artist. He made me feel humble because I looked at that song, and I went, ‘Woah. All my songs seem so naive by comparison.’ It raised the standard of what I wanted to write.”
When they were briefly involved in a relationship, it seemed like a perfect meeting of the minds. As it turned out, their romance wasn’t destined to last. At the very least, the two writers managed to get some material out of it: Cohen with the poem ‘Two Went to Sleep’ and Mitchell with ‘Rainy Night House’, which appeared on her third album Ladies of the Canyon.
As Mitchell remembered, “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 night, and he watched me see who in the world I could be.” Dedicated and romantic or creepy and weird? You decide!
Still, Mitchell would continue to praise Cohen’s work. When assembling her own Artist’s Choice compilation album in 2005, Mitchell included Cohen among some of her favourite musicians, alongside Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Edith Piaf, and Steely Dan. Mitchell singled out ‘The Stories of the Street’ from Cohen’s 1967 LP The Songs of Leonard Cohen.
In the album’s liner notes, Mitchell’s assessment of Cohen is said from a place of greater maturity. “Leonard – the boudoir poet – the hungry ghost – the perennial penitent. Young girls take him seriously. I did. He seemed so worldly to me as a young woman. He gets funny as you get older. I guess I can call him Lenny now.”