We Are Ugly But We Have The Music

Completion Date: 23 Jan 2019
Medium: Paint & ink on cardboard
Dimensions: 16 X 20 inches

These are lines from Chelsea Hotel #2, a song by Leonard Cohen from his album New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974).

New Skin for the Old Ceremony was his fourth studio album. On this album he began to move away from the minimal instrumentation of his earlier work, with the use of violas, mandolins, banjos, guitars, percussion and other instruments producing a more orchestrated (but nevertheless spare) sound.

Chelsea Hotel #2 refers to a sexual encounter in the Chelsea Hotel, probably New York City’s most famous Bohemian hostelry. For some years, when performing this song live, Cohen would tell a story that made it clear that the person about whom he was singing was Janis Joplin. Cohen would eventually come to regret his choice to make people aware that the song was about Joplin, and the graphic detail in which the song describes their brief relationship. In a 1994 broadcast on the BBC, Cohen said it was “an indiscretion for which I’m very sorry, and if there is some way of apologising to the ghost, I want to apologise now, for having committed that indiscretion.”

Cohen died the day before Trump got elected.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were talking so brave and so sweet
Givin’ me head on the unmade bed
While the limousines wait in the street

Those were the reasons, that was New York
We were runnin’ for the money and the flesh

And that was called love for the workers in song
Probably still is for those of them left

Yeah, but you got away, didn’t you babe?
You just turned your back on the crowd
When you got away, I never once heard you say

I need you
I don’t need you
I need you
I don’t need you
And all of that jivin’ around

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend
You told me again, you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception

And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said “Well never mind
We are ugly but we have the music

And then you got away didn’t you babe?
You just turned your back on the crowd
When you got away I never once heard you say

I need you
I don’t need you
I need you
I don’t need you
And all of that jivin’ around

I don’t mean to suggest
That I loved you the best
I can’t keep track of each fallen robin
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
That’s all, I don’t think of you that often