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…
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.”
In his 1996 biography, “Joni Mitchell,” Brian Hinton offers his “own uninformed guess … that ‘A Case Of You’ is also about Leonard Cohen.” Mitchell herself, according to Sheila Weller, told “a confidante in the mid-1990s that it was about Leonard Cohen” but told Estrella Berosini the song was about another lover, James Taylor.1
Source Note: “I am as constant as the Northern Star” is from Julius Caesar: Act 3, Scene 1, Page 4:
I could be well moved if I were as you.
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks.
They are all fire and every one doth shine,
But there’s but one in all doth hold his place.
So in the world. ‘Tis furnished well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive,
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion. And that I am he
Let me a little show it even in this:
That I was constant Cimber should be banished,
And constant do remain to keep him so.
Photo of Leonard Cohen atop this post from York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, F0433, Photographer: John Sharp, ASC01709.
I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Apr 24, 2018.
- Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon–And the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller. Atria: April 8, 2008. P 314 [↩]