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His and hers

Lauren Fox reunites Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell

New York City’s Lauren Fox conjures the “charged erotic climate of the hippie culture” in Olympia. Photo credit: Laurenfox.net

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In the summer of love, mid-July 1967, singer Judy Collins was one of the headliners of the famed Newport Folk Festival, along with Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Muddy Waters. Collins also taught a workshop for songwriters; among its attendees were Montreal poet Leonard Cohen, whose song "Suzanne" was about to become a hit for Collins, and Joni Mitchell, a young divorcée who'd just written "Both Sides Now," first recorded by Collins. Cohen and Mitchell were scheduled to play the Sunday, July 16 lineup. Collins introduced the two, who became romantic partners in an affair that lasted into 1968. Mitchell was about to achieve solo success after being "discovered" by David Crosby. Cohen's 1969 collection Songs From a Room would hit number 10 on the Billboard album chart, igniting a career that lasted till his death last November. Mitchell recently made her first public appearances after a brain aneurysm in 2015. Both have had immeasurable influences on popular music and artists.

Cohen visited Mitchell often in her New York City home, the Hotel Earle (now the Washington Square Hotel) in Greenwich Village. By 1968, Mitchell had moved to Lauren Canyon, Los Angeles; Cohen stayed with her for a month while working on a proposed movie adaptation of "Suzanne." "I went one time to his home," Mitchell told biographer Malfa Marom, "and I fell asleep in his old room and he sat up and watched me sleep. He sat up all the night and he watched me to see who in the world I could be." That memory inspired Mitchell's song "Rainy Night House," which observed of their affair, "I sing soprano in the upstairs choir / You are a holy man / On the FM radio." Mitchell later called Cohen "an early influence": "He showed me how to plumb the depths of my experience."

Cohen said their affair was "the extension of our friendship" and that "we have a special kind of feeling for the singers that we used to make love to."

In her upcoming concert at The Washington Center, singer-actress Lauren Fox, herself a brilliant New York cabaret artist, will pay tribute to Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. In 2012, Fox won a Nightlife Award for "Outstanding Cabaret Performance" that year. Her touring set comprises nine Mitchell tunes and seven by Cohen. New York Times music critic Stephen Holden called it "a spellbinding his-and-hers dialogue that conjures the charged erotic climate of the hippie culture," adding, "Ms. Fox's rendition of Mr. Cohen's ‘Hallelujah' was the deepest and most dramatically revealing of any I've heard." That's high praise indeed, given that "Hallelujah" is one of Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" (as recorded by Jeff Buckley) and has been professionally covered over 300 times.

LAUREN FOX: THE SONGS OF JONI MITCHELL & LEONARD COHEN, 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 5, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, $20-$37, 360.753.8585

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