In the liner notes for Leonard Cohen: The Best Of, Leonard Cohen writes the following about this song:

I wrote this for an American singer who died a while ago. She used to stay at the Chelsea, too. I began it at a bar in a Polynesian restaurant in Miami in 1971 and finished it in Asmara, Ethiopia just before the throne was overturned. Ron Cornelius helped me with a chord change in an earlier version.

The American singer in question is Janis Joplin.

Proof you ask?:

  • "Though he has lately told interviewers that he regrets having let slip that this song was written to Janis Joplin, it's a detail he has regularly announced during concerts in recent years." - The Book of Lists: The 90s edition, page 88.
  • A firsthand noder report from Albert Herring - Leonard Cohen "explicitly said it was Joplin on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1978 or so."
I have a live recording of this wonderful song, and Cohen offers a relatively detailed account of the events in the Chelsea Hotel which would later inspire the lyrics. His unmistakable deep voice, haulting at various points, recounts:

"A long time ago I met a beautiful young woman on an elevator in New York City. I used to bump into her at about three in the morning every night. After a while I gathered my courage, and I said to her, 'Are you looking for something?' She said, 'Yes. I'm looking for something.'

"I could tell by the tone of her voice that she wasn't trying to realize some unfulfilled potential of her inner nature- that she was actually looking for something. I said 'Who or what are you looking for?'

"She said 'Kris Kristofferson.'

"I said 'I am Kris Kristofferson.'

"And I deceived her for many nights. And a long time after that, I found myself in a bar in a Polynesian restaurant in Miami beach, leaning over a napkin and one of those drinks they serve in a porcelain coconut shell, and I was writing a song to this very lady. I was the very image of myself, 40 years old. Thin. Neglected. With a great song on my mind. It took me a while to finish it. It's for Janis Joplin, at the Chelsea Hotel."

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