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Music

Judy Collins on her platonic relationship with Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen had a way with words and, ostensibly, with women too. According to a Newsday article from 1992, Cohen found it particularly amusing that he was “an object of lust” during the 1960s. 

“It’s so curious, because I couldn’t get a date,” he said in response to the aforementioned label. “I couldn’t find anybody to have dinner with. By the time that first record came out, which rescued me, I was already in such a shattered situation that I found myself living at the Henry Hudson Hotel on West 57th Street, going to the Morningstar Cafe on Eighth Avenue, trying to find some way to approach the waitress and ask her out. I would get letters of longing from around the world, and I would find myself walking the streets of New York at three in the morning, trying to strike up conversations with the women selling cigarettes in hotels. I think it’s always like that. It’s never delivered to you.”

Cohen decided to depart Canada for New York in 1966, leaving behind his aspirations of being a poet and, instead, hoping to try his hand as a folk artist. His early days of destitution were spent at the famous Chelsea Hotel and the nearby Henry Hudson Hotel. 

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Finding himself among the underground creative bustle of New York, Cohen met a wealth of famous names in the arts, including Andy Warhol and his creative troupe named the ‘Factory’, which included the art-rock band The Velvet Underground. Inspired by the wealth of artist expression he was exposed to in New York, he set about recording the poetic songs that would eventually make up his 1967 debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen

Despite his modesty, during these uncertain times, Cohen met several women in the music business who would ultimately have a huge reciprocated impact on his creative output. Among these names were Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. 

Cohen appears to have been a wholly respectful gentleman and so the relationships were often mainly focused on friendship which would only in a couple of cases reach the point of intimacy. 

In 2013, reflecting on her first meeting with Cohen, Collins told CBC Music: “When I met Leonard, in 1966, he came to my house and was sent to me by one of our mutual friends who said, ‘This guy has just written some songs and he wants you to tell him whether you think they’re songs and whether there’s any point in sending them around to various singers, and he’d like to start with you.’ When he came to see me, he sang a few songs to me and of course, I started recording him right away and actually launched his career.”

She also detailed their close relationship in her book, Judy Blue Eyes – My Life in Music: “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.”

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