This article used by permission of the author, DrHGuy, and was originally published here
ABOUT THAT LEONARD COHEN & JONI MITCHELL THING
The Leonard Cohen-Joni Mitchell connection could have been the model for the Facebook relationship status classification, “It’s complicated.” They have much in common. Both are Canadian, both are respected singer-songwriters who came of age professionally in the late 1960s, both have roots in the folk movement, and both ran with the same Bob Dylan-Judy Collins group of colleagues.
The relationship issue that is key to a discussion of Mitchell’s Wizard Of Is, however, is her dramatic shift from infatuated admiration of Cohen, someone she considered an intellectual and artistic mentor, to her dismissal of him as “a boudoir poet.” This excerpt from a New York Magazine interview: characterizes the change in her perspective:
[Interviewer:] Were you similarly skeptical about the folk scene in New York in the late sixties?
[Mitchell:] No. I briefly liked Leonard Cohen, though once I read Camus and Lorca I started to realize that he had taken a lot of lines from those books, which was disappointing to me.
On the other hand, the end of their romance was not the end of their relationship. Long after both had moved on to new lovers, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell remained friends, frequently contacting and visiting each other. (1)
LEONARD COHEN AND JONI MITCHELL’S MUSIC
Given that singer-songwriters often sing and write about their own experiences, it is not surprising that Leonard Cohen had an impact of some of Joni Mitchell’s songs.
As noted in the aforementioned March 31, 2007 post about the Cohen-Mitchell romance and its aftermath, Leonard Cohen appears, according to various sources, in four or more Joni Mitchell songs: Rainy Night House, That Song About The Midway, The Gallery, and A Case Of You.
Shortly after publishing that original Cohen-Mitchell post, I noticed both of these artists had written and performed, within no more than a year of one another, assuredly nonidentical songs with the identical title Winter Lady.
JONI MITCHELL’S WIZARD OF IS & LEONARD COHEN’S SUZANNE
While the core issue of the dueling Winter Lady songs has to do with their significant differences, the Wizard Of Is – Suzanne comparison is all about similarities. (2)
The consensus among fans, in fact, is that Joni Mitchell has never released Wizard Of Is because of the strikingly obvious correlation of the melodies of the two songs and the possible references in Wizard Of Is to both the song, Suzanne, and its author, Leonard Cohen. (3)
phenry: One question I put out there a long time ago was regarding the song ‘”The Wizard Of Is” which Joni wrote and used to perform regularly. Back in ’98 when I first wrote about it as one of the songs she taught me, no one had ever heard of it. The thing is she wrote it to the tune and chords of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne and that was the song I really wanted to learn so I asked her to teach me the chords but only so I could perform Suzanne. Now someone has found the lyrics and a live recording and people now know I was telling the truth about the melody and chords.
On a more scholarly note, Lloyd Whitesell Assistant Professor of Music at McGill University, points out that Wizard Of Is is one of no more than six Joni Mitchell songs written in second person (i.e., the subject of the song is “you” rather than “I” although the narrative is clearly about the singer-songwriter). (4) Whitesell goes on to note
This syntactic move is striking in its divergence from everyday linguistic usage; nor does it have any obvious precedent in nineteenth century lyric poetry. Instead, the immediate influence is the poetry of Leonard Cohen, specifically the song “Suzanne” that uses the device throughout (“Suzanne takes you down/to her place near the river.”)
Even without the help of fan discussion boards and assistant professors of music, however, the resonance between Wizard of Is and Suzanne and the possible references in the song to Leonard Cohen are apparent. Readers are invited to listen and decide for themselves. (Lyrics to both songs follow the video.)
Joni Mitchell – Wizard Of Is
The Couriers Folk Club, Leicester: 1967
Wizard Of Is by Joni Mitchell
He’s a little like the sunlight
As he walks into your kitchen
Kinda golden like the morning
As he asks you what you’re fixin’
So you set the table pretty
With the flower that he brings you
And you flutter like a robin
When it’s found a friend to sing to
And you think you maybe love him
For he speaks to you in riddles
About little men and Kings
As he holds you like a wizard
And you watch the sunlight scatter from his ring
And the Wizard is your moon now
Your enchanted silver jester
And he fills the dark with moonbirds
While you smile to think that yesterday
You watched him from the shadows
Like a thief who’d come to steal him
With a ladder on a mountain
And you thought you’d never reach him
For he seems too high above you
And he speaks to you in riddles
Saying I am but a mirror
For reflection of your fables
And the happy ending stories that you hear
Suzanne by Leonard Cohen
Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.
1) It is worth noting that on Herbie Handcock’s River: The Joni Letters, the 2007 Album of the Year, Leonard Cohen is a featured artist, reciting the poetic lyrics to The Jungle Line.
2) A statistically surprising number of similarities also exist between Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning and Cohen’s Suzanne. (“The sun poured in like butterscotch” indeed.) But that’s another post.
3) Note: Wizard Of Is carries a 1966 copyright, and its only currently known recorded performance took place in 1967. Suzanne was written sometime in the 1960s and first published as a poem in 1966. Suzanne was performed in clubs and on Canadian TV by The Stormy Clovers in 1966. The first publicly released recording of Suzanne was on Judy Collins’ 1966 album In My Life with Cohen himself releasing it in 1967 as a track on Songs Of Leonard Cohen.
4) The Music of Joni Mitchell by Lloyd Whitesell Assistant Professor of Music at McGill University. Oxford University Press: July 2, 2008
5) Wizard Of Is lyrics found at Joni Mitchell.com. Suzanne lyrics found at LeonardCohenFiles.
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phenryon 2013-Oct-23 at 19:49:43 GMT-5: One question I put out there a long time ago was regarding the song '"The Wizard Of Is" which Joni wrote and used to perform regularly. Back in '98 when I first wrote about it as one of the songs she taught me, no one had ever heard of it. The thing is she wrote it to the tune and chords of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne and that was the song I really wanted to learn so I asked her to teach me the chords but only so I could perform Suzanne. Now someone has found the lyrics and a live recording and people now know I was telling the truth about the melody and chords.