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.
There’s something strongly aesthetic in Rufus Wainwright’s appeal, one that goes beyond physical beauty. It’s there in his voice, his melodies, his considerable artistic ambitions and range of endeavor, even in his occasionally playful sense of fashion. I think that is one of the reasons why I chose this is as followup to the Bluebirds Fly and Hallelujan slideshows. Certainly and underlying theme of that was the potential transcendance of art and even the artist in that he or she can continue creating minor (or even major) epiphanies in people’s lives long after they are gone. This one, sticking fairly closely to the song’s narrative, looks more at art’s role in our more personal, private lives, even in those parts of ourselves that we never reveal to anyone. The main liberty it takes is the way it plays with subject and object, so that Rufus is sometimes the desiring subject (the young girl who narrates the song in memory), and at other times the desired object: The Art Teacher. Hope you like it (the audio is Rufus’ performance on Tiny Desk Concert).
I was somewhat taken aback when my when–after watching the slideshow–my psychologist suggested that it felt so personal because it was, and that the woman narrator’s memory of the art teacher paralleled my own with an important person in my life. After a moment’s reflection, I realized he was right, so this one’s for Gordon, and Rufus, of course.
To some extent, this video/slideshow is a product on my anticipating getting to see Rufus (and possibly even meet him) at the Northern Stars event at the Ford Theatre in Los Angeles this Sunday. I actually had another slideshow ready to go, which I quite like, on “The Art Teacher,” but it is more or less set in New York. In other words, it was not Canadian enough. Bluebirds Fly, my last slideshow has gotten a good deal of positive response, and I suspect one of the keys to its success was its sense of place in that it is very much set in Montreal.
Certainly Rufus’ interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is one of his most successful and famous covers, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it until I ran into Choir! Choir Choir!’s version on YouTube (a highly successful video on just about every level, by the way). This 2016 performance was part of the Illuminato festival in Toronto, a festival which has been going on since 2007, and that Rufus has been involved in at least 3 or 4 times, according to the Luminato Wikipedia page. I have been to Toronto three or four times, but never for this festival, which I now would really like to attend, possibly in 2018. I quickly found some terrific images from the festival, and I had the idea of interweaving slideshows with the video (not exactly a mashup, but certainly a heavily edited version of the original). Thus the verses are mostly slideshows portraying details described in the song, often illustrated with evocative images from the festival, and sometimes with pictures of Rufus (who I sort of re-conceptualize as David), while the choruses are mostly from the original video (the most difficult part was getting the audio to synch properly). Almost half of this passage2truth edit is simply the Choir! Choir! Choir! performance with Rufus (which is pretty terrific), I keep the original end credits, and try to make clear that I am only responsible for the inserted slideshows and the edits (in other words, where film clips begin and end). I think it may have even more impact than the original, but I am probably too close to it to judge. In any event, I hope you like it or–if nothing else–it will inspire you to go see the original uncut (or at least not by me) video on YouTube (it’s got almost six million views). In a way I can’t quite explain (other than it being the Toronto-centric counterpart to the Montreal-centered slideshow from last week), it does seem like a natural extension of the feelings first explored in Bluebirds Fly.
I basically made this in response to a challenge from my psychologist to try to make a wholly optimistic, even happy slideshow. If you look at the ones I’ve posted so far, although they may evolve from hurting to healing, none of them are exactly odes to joy. Frankly, I haven’t posted the really dark ones, although you can see most of them on my YouTube channel. This one, for example, looks at the Holocaust and Holocaust denial, while this one looks at notable killings in Texas. None of them offers much in the way of consolation or hope, but they both came out of a very dark place and time in my life, which was actually only several months ago. I still wonder if they aren’t more accurate evaluations of the human condition that this one, which was inspired partly by my boyhood love of Donovan, and in part by my psychologist’s challenge. While there is a lot I like about it, at times it does seem a little false and phony to me (kind of like what is called a “Hollywood” ending, which is so popular precisely because it does not reflect what people too often experience in their actual, empirical and subjective experience). Personally, I’ve always been tempermentally inclined to agree with Dorothy Parker:
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Actually, I thought that the “To Build a Rocket Boys” slideshow did a better job of getting across the emotional complexity of experience while at the same time maintaining a generally optimistic thrust.
Certainly, I do not deny the possibility of happiness, even with other people, despite Sartre’s famous saying about them. It certainly exists, and some people are better at it than others, porbably mostly because of their natural predisposition, but also because external circumstances–often beyond their control–inevitably impact them. Anyway, I hope you like it, and that it makes you feel good about yourself, other people, or both; if nothing else, perhaps it will hold out the possibility that things might get better.