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Leonard Cohen and Edie Sedgwick at the Chelsea Hotel by Joan Hawkins
Leonard Cohen and Edie Sedgwick at the Chelsea Hotel Written on the occasion of Leonard Cohen’s 82nd birthday
There is a legend about Leonard Cohen and Edie Sedgwick.
And it goes something like this.
Edie, Andy Warhol’s fastest rising superstar, was giving one of her famous parties at the Chelsea Hotel. Everyone who lived there was invited. But nobody expected that Leonard Cohen, the dapper dandy of late Beat-dom, would come. No one could picture Leonard Cohen—even then—doing the boogaloo in Edie’s apartment. And Edie’s was not the kind of place where a depressed poet could have a serious conversation about alchemy and The Book of Changes, about the magic of women and the Kabbalah, about whether the Jews were a doomed people. And these were the topics that interested Leonard Cohen.
So, there was a little hush when he arrived, wearing his famous blue raincoat, clutching a bottle of ouzo like a talisman. All the sweet young things parted to let him pass, and Edie trilled her enthusiasm at his presence in her rooms.
Now Edie’s party was not Leonard Cohen’s first brush with the Factory. He had watched Nico perform at the Dome. Going back to 8th Street night after successive night, always sitting front and center. Like everyone, he was mesmerized by her beauty. But he also heard the siren song in her voice, that spoke to him like prophecy. It was listening to Nico, people said, that gave Leonard the idea he could sing. And maybe he was looking for Nico when he arrived at Edie’s door. Weaving his way through the crowd, pulled by something he could not name.
There were drugs and music at Edie’s. And in the manner of 1960s parties, candles blazed everywhere. Women pressed forward, attracted by Cohen’s reputation as a ladies’ man and by the promise of something broken in him. But as much as he loved women, it was to the candles that Leonard Cohen turned his attention. Circumnavigating the room, trailing his long guitarist fingers along the wainscoting, he studied them so intently he scared the glitter children. Waving away all offers of drugs and wine, needing to stay clear-headed as he mapped the precise location of all the flickering flames, keeping—as he said-- the channels open.
Round and round the room he went, calling up every bit of arcana he knew. Wanting to make sure; reluctant even then to spoil the party, reluctant to ruin Edie’s good time. But when he knew for certain, he took someone aside. A man probably, since Cohen was a patriarch at heart.
“Those candles,” he said. “They’re arranged to cast a bad spell. Fire and destruction. Candle magic is powerful. She shouldn’t fool around with these things. Because they are meaningful. Her friends should tell her.” And with that the doomsayer of folk music tugged on his raincoat and was gone; in search of Enlightenment or another muse.
That’s where the legend ends. Nobody knows if Edie’s friends warned her. Told her that Leonard Cohen, who knew a thing or two about the occult, had read the candles and seen disaster. Or, if they did, what she might have done to outfox fate.
But one thing is known—a matter of historical record. The night following this particular party, Edie’s bed caught fire. Edie woke up just in time, made a dash for the door and collapsed in the hall. In a speedball-daze, her friends said. Her hands and arms were badly burned. Her room gutted. Her cat, Smoke, died. Her friend Bobby Andersen went to the hotel a few days later and rummaged through the ashes to see if anything was salvageable. There was nothing left. Just a hole in the floor where the bed had stood. And some lacey remnants of melted wax.
Bio from 2019:
Joan Hawkins is an Associate Professor in Cinema and Media Studies at IU Bloomington, and primarily writes creative nonfiction and poetry. She is the Chair of the Writers Guild at Bloomington, and her creative work has appeared in Sand, n+1, and the Performing Arts Journal. Her most recent book is an edited anthology, William S. Burroughs Cutting Up the Century (Indiana University Press). She has been a Leonard Cohen fan since she heard his first album at age 16.
David writes poetry, short stories, and writings that'll make you think or laugh, provoking you to examine images in your mind. To submit poetry, photography, art, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twitter: @davidLOnan1 + @feversof