A selection of quotes.

Joni Mitchell

“I’m only a groupie for Picasso and Leonard.”

“Leonard was an early influence. I remember thinking when I heard his songs for the first time that I was not worldly. My work seemed very young and naive in comparison. At the time I met him I was around 24, around the time of my first record. But thematically I wanted to be broader than he was. In many ways Leonard was a boudoir poet.”

“Leonard was a mirror to my work and with no verbal instructions, he showed me how to plumb the depths of my experience.”

“I think I’m rather Cohen influenced. I wrote ‘Marcie’ and afterwards thought that it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for ‘Suzanne.'”

“My lyrics are influenced by Leonard. After we met at Newport last year (1967) we saw a lot of each other. Some of Leonard’s religious imagery, which comes from being a Jew in a predominantly Catholic part of Canada, seems to have rubbed off on me too. Leonard didn’t really explore music. He’s a word man first. Leonard’s economical, he never wastes a word. I can go through Leonard’s work and it’s like silk.”

“So when I met Leonard, I said to him, “I need to read some books,” and he said, “What kind of books?” “Well, I hear people talking about books, and I got a kind of a chip out of my marriage that I’m stupid because everybody’s read a lot of books that I haven’t read. Give me a reading list.” He said, “Well, you’re writing quite well for someone who hasn’t read anything. Maybe you shouldn’t read anything.” He gave me his reading list, wonderful books: Camus, The Stranger; the I Ching, which I’ve used all my life; Magister Ludi; Siddhartha. A wonderful reading list.”

“I always think I don’t have to play the poet like Leonard Cohen does. You have to watch everything you say. I like to be dumb and ordinary because that’s where fun takes place. Leonard doesn’t have a lot of fun; he’s been studying all his life to try. I still like to and I have blessed friends who are capable of it.”

“I briefly liked Leonard Cohen, though once I read Camus and Lorca30 I started to realize that he had taken a lot of lines from those books, which was disappointing to me.”

“Unfortunately, in the Camus, I found he [Cohen] lifted lines. “Walk me to the corner, our steps will always …” That’s literally a Camus line. So I thought that’s like Bob Dylan … When I realized that Bob and Leonard were lifting lines, I was very disappointed. And then I thought that there’s this kind of a self-righteous quality about — you’re a plagiarist and I’m not. So I plagiarized from Camus in “Come In from the Cold” intentionally. I forget which verse it is, but when I put the single out, I edited that verse out. I just took it out.

“When I played ‘A Case of You’ for him, he said, ‘I’m glad I wrote that… Leonard got mad at me actually, because I put a line of his, a line that he said, in one of my songs. To me, that’s not plagiarism. You either steal from life or you steal from books. Life is fair game, but books are not. That’s my personal opinion. Don’t steal from somebody else’s art, that’s cheating. Steal from life – it’s up for grabs, right?”

“I have come to be able to finally enjoy my success, and to use it as a form of self-expression. Leonard Cohen has a line that says, “Do not dress in those rags for me, / I know you are not poor.” When I heard that line, I thought to myself that I had been denying, which was hypocritical. I had been denying, just as that line in that song, I had played down my wealth.”

“We Canadians are a bit more nosegay, more Old-Fashioned Bouquet than Americans… We’re poets because we’re such a reminiscent kind of people. I love Leonard’s sentiments, so I’ve been strongly influenced by him.”

“I went out to dinner with him [Cohen] one time. He was always hard to talk to. We were briefly romantically involved, but he was so distant, and so hard to communicate with. There wasn’t much relationship other than the boudoir. I thought there had to be more than that. So I asked a lot of questions of him, trying to get to the heart of it. I remember him saying, “Oh Joni, you ask such beautiful questions,” but he evaded the questions. We still became friends and he would stop to see me in Laurel Canyon from time to time.

“But years went by and I saw him less and less, and one night we went out to dinner and he hardly spoke to me. I felt uncomfortable. It felt unfriendly for the first time, and I said, “Do you like me?” And he said, “Well, what is there to say to an old lover?” I said, “Well, that’s kind of a shame. There should be many things.” He said, “Well, you like ideas.” And I said, “Well, you can hardly open your mouth without an idea popping out of it.” So after that, all he’d say to me [was] “Joni, they’ll never get us.” That’s all he’d ever say, “Joni, they’ll never get us.”

“He owns the phrase naked body… it appears in every one of his songs.”

— Joni Mitchell

Sources include Brian Hinton’s biography, “Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now” (Sanctuary 1995); Words and Pictures: The Arts of Joni Mitchell, an interview for Border Crossings with Robert Enright (2001); “Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period” by Michelle Mercer (Free Press 2009); “In Her Own Words” by Malka Marom (ECW Press 2014); “Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell” by David Yaffe (Sarah Crichton Books 2017).

Text is taken from the book, “Take This Walz, A Celebration of Leonard Cohen.” Edited by Michael Fournier and Ken Norris, published by The Muses Company, Ste. Anne de Belleview, Quebec, 1994.