There was a Leonard Cohen shrine on either side of the Chelsea Hotel front door as I arrived and Cohen’s throaty ruminative music was swelling out onto the sixth floor of the Chelsea as I approached the suite of Tony Notarberardino, the Aussie photographer who had organized the wake for Cohen, one of whose most beloved songs is called ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2,’ and which opens memorably:
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,you were talking so brave and so sweet,giving me head on the unmade bed,while the limousines wait in the street.
I was trying to remember what floor had I been in when I first stayed in the hotel. The eighth? Virgil Thomson, the great composer was there, and would die in the hotel two decades later, as was Charles James, the couturier, whose designs so impressed Halston.
I remembered going upstairs with a composer of movie music who had turned his whole penthouse suite into an aquarium.
He had been dismayed to find a dead shark beside its tank on his floor.
“Gee!” he said. “Something must have scared it.”
All gone. Notarberadino has been in the hotel 22 years, busily photographing such residents as Debbie Harry, Sam Shepard, Grace Jones, Abel Ferrara and Susanne Bartsch, but he is now just one of just fifty tenants left, so what with doors marked with Xs and shrouded-off rooms, the place has the ominous allure of a movie set, when you know the script has something creepy up its sleeve.
I dunked my bottle in the kitchen—the wake was BYOB—and wandered into the main room, which was hung floor to ceiling with pictures, including several by Vali Myers, the artist who had been seriously tattooed way before tattooing went mainstream, and who had also been a Chelsea resident.
There were some of Notarberadino’s own photographs of former hotel residents, such as Ossie Clark, Dee Dee Ramone and the late great clublord Arthur Weinstein. Cohen had not been a longterm resident of the Chelsea, like the above. But that was where he would stay in New York.
There was a chandelier on the floor. Well, of course! Where else would it be in the Chelsea? The place was filling with faces, many familiar, like that of Stuart Braunstein, a partner in such sorely missed clubs as Collective Hardware on the Bowery and W.i.P. on Varick and Vandam, and who was with Betsy, the daughter of the British artist, Richard Long.
The mood was raw nostalgia—for the hotel as it had been and for the times that the music had brought vividly to mind, his music was continuing to swell through the space, and I was awaiting the rather timely song, ‘The Future’ that goes: ‘I have seen the future, baby/It is murder.’
Cohen was put on pause and there were performances, often Cohen-centric, as when the magnificent Toni Lane sang, yes, ‘Chelsea Hotel’ I and II. Which, arguably, was why we were here. Lola Schnabel, one of art dealer Julian’s daughter, arrived, with Maurizio Cattelan, the artist who has recently presented a solid gold lavatory to the Guggenheim, thereby presenting the art world with a second rarity, a Daily News cover.
Other arrivals included Veronica Varlow, who Notarberadino describes as “a burlesque dancer. And a witch.” Well, again of course. This is the Chelsea Hotel.
Or it was the Chelsea Hotel. ‘The Future’ still hadn’t played when I left. There have been further changes to the lobby of the hotel, but nobody seems to know what will happen here eventually.
I walked past the dual Leonard Cohen shrines had perhaps bulked up a bit. It isn’t so long since I had walked past a David Bowie shrine on Lafayette. Who else, other than rock stars, touch enough people to get shrines nowadays? Would there have been a Kim Kardashian West shrine if the burglars had been psychos in Paris? Okay, perhaps. Who else? Don’t let’s go there.