Listening to Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2” was a kind of revelatory experience. While I had heard the song before, it suddenly seemed to have a remarkable emotional depth where all sort of insights lurked. Although I had heard it before a few times (mostly Cohen’s version, I think), I had not heard it with his introduction in which he explains how he came to write the song about what seems to have been a fairly brief encounter with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel in New York (uploaded by rhino49 in 2008). As Rufus’ live version also includes a brief introduction from Cohen in which he praises the yonger singer’s performance, it seemed obvious that what I needed to do was stitch Cohen’s introduction to the live audio of Rufus’ performance, with a few pictures of other celebrities who stayed there (yes, that is Joni Mitchell, and–in other photo–Rufus, although long after the events narrated in the song) while keeping the focus on Leonard and Janis. In some ways, although I didn’t plan it that way, this is a logical followup to the “Leftover Wine: Little Girl Blue” slideshow I did last week, while the joining of a revealing live introduction to a different version of the song being introduced echoes what I did earlier on “Bluebirds Fly.” Anyway I promised something accessible and moving after last week’s “As an unperfect actor” (which has actually gotten a more positive response than I expected), so I hope this achieves that. I hope you think so too.
I have a somewhat hazy yet clear memory of learning about Janis Joplin’s death over the evening news. I would have been thirteen at the time, and I feel sure I must have seen her perform on some television show or other. We watched This is Tom Jones fairly regurally (my Mom was a fan), so it is quite possible I heard her sing “Little Girl Blue,” although I can’t say I remember it. Still, it was only after her death that I became familar with a broader range of her work. I was (and am) very impressed. I also remember reading Buried Alive, a postuhumous biography of Joplin by her publicist Myra Friedman, which successfully conveyed Joplin’s inner anguish. When I started collecting records a few years later, I got all of her albums.
I was also aware of Melanie Safka (she performed as Melanie at the time), although mostly from her hit single “Brand New Key.” A few years later, when I was buying records, I got her Leftover Wine; Live at Carnegie Hall cd and was particularly impressed by the title songs. As with Joplin’s song, it seemed to convey a deep sadness along with a powerful emotional wallop. In the back of my mind, I found myself wondering if Melanie had written the song about Joplin after her death. This is not the case, as her Candles in the Rainalbum (which included the song) came out a about six months before Joplin’s death on October 4th, 1970. It is far more likely that Melanie wrote the song about her own struggles with fame and self-acceptance. Still, it strikes me as a very appropriate and powerful soundtrack to the slideshow I compiled about Joplin’s life.
I have included two video clips of Joplin performing. The first is an excerpt from her performance of “Summertime” in Frankfurt in 1969. I like it because it show a gracious spirit in action, making sure that the camera focuses on the guitarist while he is playing his lead. I also think the look on her face during the instrumental break is a thing of utter beauty, expressive of a kind of artistic transcendance that she unfortunately couldn’t maintain away from the stage. The second clip is, of course, her performance of “Little Girl Blue” from This is Tom Jones. It has become fairly widely available, but it just seemed to be the perfect way to follow up and conclude the slideshow. I do not own the rights to any of these, and all monies generated by YouTube ads go to the copyright holders. This is fine with me, as this is intended to be a fan-tribute video, not a commercial one. Hope you enjoy it (you can always close your eyes and just listen, both artists are pretty amazing).