Stranger Song, Indeed: Judy Collins Sounds Off On Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, & The Man Coming Down From An Acid Trip

While “the man coming down from an acid trip” plays a significant role in a curious story in Judy Collins’ book, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes – My Life In Music,1 he ranks as only the fourth strangest participant in an anecdote dealing with him, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Judy Collins herself.

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes includes accounts of Judy Collins’ connections with Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, most of which have been previously available, but certain excerpts provide a unique perspective on the relationship between the three iconic singer-songwriters.

We begin with an tale that offers some new (at least to me) and odd (again, at least to me) content and is set forth in an even more peculiar, downright eccentric construction:

Joni and Leonard met for the first time at that concert [the Newport afternoon concert] and began a love affair. Still, everyone was a little off-center. 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. Joni wrote “That Song About The Midway” about Leonard, or so she says. Sounds right: the festival, the guy, the jewel in the ear.

If I were still grading freshman comp papers (part of my work-study job in college), this paragraph would be covered in red ink, my scrawls asking, first of all, why a sentence about Joni and Leonard meeting and beginning a love affair is immediately and inexplicably followed, first by the non sequitur, “Still, everyone was a little off-center,” and then by a scene portraying the narrator in bed with a man unknown to her “who was coming down from an acid trip and wanted [her] to comfort him, no sex involved” while Leonard Cohen sings The Stranger Song “[without] paying any attention at all to what was happening on the bed.” There’s more, but let’s not linger over further violations of narrative exposition principles.

It doesn’t require the skills of a hot-shot shrink (my job after coming to my senses and opting for medical school rather than a post-graduate English Lit program) to detect signs that Judy Collins may have some unresolved anger directed toward Joni Mitchell and that Leonard Cohen is somehow involved.

The juxtaposition of those last three sentences is unmistakably telling (as is that devastatingly passive-aggressive phrase casually dropped into the second line, “or so she [Joni Mitchell] says”):2

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. Joni wrote “That Song About The Midway” about Leonard, or so she says. Sounds right: the festival, the guy, the jewel in the ear.

Note: The consensus among pop music cognoscenti is that “That Song About the Midway” was inspired by David Crosby rather than Leonard Cohen. This excerpt is characteristic:

[“That Song About the Midway”] was a very “Goodbye David’ song,” said Crosby. “She sang it while looking right at me, like, ‘Did you get it? I’m really mad at you.’ And then she sang it again. Just to make sure.”3

All this lends a special poignancy to a phrase that has become a mantra for Judy Collins in recent interviews and on-stage banter with her audiences; it appears in this book in its most complete form:

I have always been grateful that I did not fall in love with Leonard in the way that I fell in love with his songs. I could have, certainly.

Judy Meets Joni – Judy Loses Joni

Al Kooper introduced Joni Mitchell to Judy Collins.

I’m struck by this passage by Judy Collins:

I also wonder whatever happened to the friendship I thought I had with Joni. She disappeared from my life, and in spite of my efforts to reclaim that closeness, there is still a wall I cannot fly or climb over.

Really?

Judy Meets Leonard

Mary Martin introduced Leonard Cohen to Judy Collins.

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 Nov 21, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com.

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  1. Judy Collins. Crown Archetype, October 18, 2011 []
  2. Note: It gives me no joy to point out the bitterness Judy Collins expresses in this passage. I have been and continue to be an admirer of Judy Collins and have repeatedly acknowledged the pivotal role she played in jump-starting Leonard Cohen’s career as a singer-songwriter. []
  3. The women who inspired Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s greatest hits by Larry Getlen. New York Post: April 13, 2019 []

3 thoughts on “Stranger Song, Indeed: Judy Collins Sounds Off On Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, & The Man Coming Down From An Acid Trip

  1. They met and began a live affair. They were never intimate. Oh please. Judy Collins has insisted for years that she and Cohen were never lovers. There’s a video of them performing together where she silences him because she fears he’s about to say too much and blow her cover. A sad spectacle

  2. Yes that’s the one. She ‘hushes’ him theatrically when he talks about (is it the Chelsea hotel?)
    If she’s not worried he’s about to blow the whistle on the inevitable intimacy… what then? Why would she be so concerned? LC was very diplomatic and changed topic quickly.
    What’s your take on her spooked reaction?

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