Thelma (aka Lightning) at Chelsea
in 1969 with her friend Francis

Also read:
The Story of a Legendary
New York City Hotel

written by Christof Graf
for The Leonard Cohen Files


by Thelma Blitz

It was weird to go back to the Chelsea Hotel after thirty- some years of not having been there and see the changes. For example dingy pale yellow halls and walls were painted white and clean . The No-Smoking Zone signs told me why even the ghosts like Janis Joplin, Jerry Ragni, co-author of the musical that brought hippiedom to Broadway, Hair, Shirley Clarke, avant filmmaker of The Cool World and The Connection which opened the world of the drug addict to the cinema, Harry Smith, experimental filmmaker, American folk music anthologist, producer of the Fugs First Album, magus and revered eccentric, as well as Robert Mapplethorpe stunning, homosexual black/white art photographer and my friend Francis, poet, madman and beautiful loser par excellence, don't want to hang out there any more. I recall all the fierce smoking that went on in the 60's and it wasn’t always tobacco.

That could be one factor that kept Leonard away from New York City, another is the possibility of terrorist attack imagined in First We Take Manhattan and The Future. It surely wasn't the prices of the rooms which seem to have increased by ten fold keeping less financially successful artists out. Marianne Faithfull, an ex-druggie, was reported to not want want to stay at the Chelsea when performing in NYC because of its reputation for drugs, but stayed there anyway. The omnipresence of drugs that marked the old days seemed also gone.

Mr. Stanley Bard, manager (in the photo with Lizzytysh), used to accept pieces of artwork as rent but I doubt if he still does though the amount of art in the lobby has increased exponentially as well as the rent.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s there were no Chelsea Hotel T-shirts, no web sites, no special rates for tourists or extra charges for “Leonard’s room”. The Chelsea was a landmark, a special realm, but it did not exploit its specialness. You could go to the Quixote, have some paella and bottle of Marquis de Riscal wine even if you were on welfare. You might see movie stars like Warhol’s Viva, Lennon/Ono’s Virginia Lust, Jane Fonda, or rocker/poet Patti Smith, famous artists you admired and, if you weren’t plagued by envy, you could talk to them. You might go to their rooms, smoke with them, party with them. Maybe they would make connections for you, offer you their literary agent, a chance to see a famous producer with your script.

Among them one of the most highly respected was the majestic and gracious Leonard Cohen. People would whisper to each other when he was there, “Leonard is in the hotel.” When he came to a gathering like the British magician Stanley Amos’ exhibit Clothing is Art or attended a soireé in Harry Smith’s room, it made the event even more special. When he would write a poem for one of the beauteous ladies of the court, she might go tearing across the lobby loudly proclaiming her immortality.

The Chelsea was like a big boho fraternity house. People used to say "Where to go after the Chelsea? There's nowhere." or "There's no life outside the Hotel." It was like a movie set. Consciousness was heightened. Life was lived “en artiste.” Magic was afoot. But now an enchanted poetic world seemed prosaic and ordinary.

I wish the people who had gone there had had a more meaningful ChelseaHotel experience but perhaps it can't be courted or ordered up.

Other ghosts whose names I forgot to mention were master beat poets Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, folk singer Phil Ochs, pop artist Andy Warhol, dazzling chanteuse/model Nico, punk musician Sid Vicious and his tragic girlfriend Nancy Spungen, author Mason Hoffenberg, poet Dylan Thomas, radical designer Charles James, poet/ art collector Isabella Gardiner. All these once walked the dingy halls of the palace headquarters of the New York underground, heads held high, and are no more. But you can't go home again said Thomas Wolfe who once occupied room 528.

Wybe and Willy Lageveen (Holland)
in the room Leonard used to live in

Nikki Olson (Alberta), Koy and Richard Cooper (UK)
Fiona Harrington and John Pennifold (UK)

Jason Simons and Sean McCallon (California) with
Evelyn Stein (New York), the guide of our walking tour

Photos © 2004 Eija and Jarkko Arjatsalo,
Richard Faber (face), Kim Solez (the group),
Sean McCallon (puppets), Thelma Blitz (antique key)