In honor of Leonard Cohen’s passing, I thought I would take a moment to defend one of his most misunderstood songs. Cohen wrote this song about fellow legendary singer Janis Joplin after they dated briefly, and he was never shy about revealing that, routinely dedicating the song to her at concerts in his younger days. Because of this, and because of one explicit line in the first verse (‘giving me head on the unmade bed’), this song’s real content is often overshadowed by shock and exaggerated offense, to the point where Cohen eventually regretted writing it. In reality, it is a touching and poetic love song with all of the rich lyricism we came to expect from Cohen, albeit delivered in a backhanded manner. Like so much of Cohen’s work, it’s a deeply and quietly sad song, infused throughout with affection and regret and just a touch of anger (which is probably where the backhanded method of delivering the message comes in). Yes, the last line is ‘That’s all, I don’t even think of you that often’, but that statement is as transparently untrue as the lyrics to “If I Loved You”. All I can say is, if someone had written this about me after a breakup, I would have been deeply touched and flattered.
Verdict: This song is a masterpiece, and sadly, it’s one of the few Leonard Cohen songs where people tend not to notice that.