On Friday night, I watched a documentary film called "Words of Love". It was all about the fifty six year long relationship between Leonatd Cohen and Marianne Ihlen. I found it tremendously moving but then I was always a Leonard Cohen fan - ever since I heard his first album in the autumn of 1967. By the way, that record included a song called "So Long, Marianne".
They first met in their mid-twenties on the island of Hydra in Greece in 1960. Marianne had been living there since 1958 and had a baby son called Axel. She was in a village grocery store when Leonard appeared. She said this:-
I was standing in the shop with my basket waiting to pick up bottled water and milk. And he is standing in the doorway with the sun behind him. And then you don't see the face, you just see the contours. And so I hear his voice, saying: ”Would you like to join us, we’re sitting outside?”
At first, in the unearthly sunlight of Hydra, far from the hustle and bustle of the so-called"real" world, they were a devoted couple. He wrote his novel "Beautiful Losers" on Hydra and Marianne supported him through that process.
His first instinct was to be a successful, published writer but in the mid-sixties he was drawn to songwriting and with the encouragement of American folk artiste Judy Collins he transitioned to the stage.
Gradually, he spent less and less time with Marianne on Hydra and they were often estranged. It wasn't the life that Marianne wanted and at the end of the sixties she moved back to her native Norway where she found an oil engineer to marry while she worked in oil platform administration.
But her special bond with Leonard continued through the decades. They remained in touch and you might say that Marianne was the only woman that he ever truly loved. It certainly seemed that way. She had cast a spell over him, similar to the one that he had cast over her.
In the spring of 2016, Marianne was dying in an Oslo hospital. She asked a friend to send Leonard the news. He was also on the path to lifelessness but he sent a heartfelt letter that was read out to Marianne on her deathbed:-
Well Marianne it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I've always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
- Your Leonard
The circle was almost complete. He was to die just three months later.
The documentary mapped a beautiful love story made all the more poignant because of the elements of tragedy that were part of it. For example, how could a singing poet truly settle down into a life of domesticity? This was not in his blood
But the greatest tragedy of all surrounds Marianne's son - Axel Joachim Jensen. To me he seemed like a victim of instability and he ended up damaged by drugs, living in mental institutions in Norway. He must be sixty years old now. Leonard Cohen was very fond of him and what happened to Axel certainly wasn't his fault.
So long Marianne...
|Marianne in old age|
So Long, Marianne is one of my all time favourites but I never knew the back story. It evokes great memories for me of a holiday spent in Gibraltar in 1978 with a school friend and we played that song endlessly, along with Suzanne - and Vincent by Don Mclean. We drove her parents mad. I will search out the documentary. Thank-you.ReplyDelete
With that memory you are bound to love the documentary Julia.Delete
I wish they'd find something other than the 'Stranger Song' they keep playing on television music archive programmes. It's interminable.ReplyDelete
Leonard Cohen is very much a Marmite man. You love him or you hate him. One of the first songs I learnt to play with my guitar was "Suzanne" and that was the first Cohen composition that Judy Collins ever heard.Delete
We all yearn for a life-long love story, don't we?ReplyDelete
I'm sorry that thereirs didn't quite work out but it didn't quite ever end, did it?
No it didn't. When he played his last concert in Oslo he sent Marianne and her husband, front row tickets. When he left the stage she blew him kisses. She was eighty years old.Delete
I just came back to reread this and see if you had replied. You are so faithful in doing that. And of course my typo jumped out at me. Sorry about that. It was early this morning which is no real excuse but I'll blame it on LOC.Delete
Lack of coffee.
That was a beautiful thing for him to do- to give tickets to Marianne and her husband. I love the thought of her blowing kisses at him.
This story is achingly sad but maybe that is more to do with a mood I am in. I'm not sure.ReplyDelete
I felt the same way when I watched the film.Delete
We all get old, don't we? I love Leonard Cohen and his music. One of the few CDs I own is him singing on his last world tour.ReplyDelete
Your opening question pinpoints the feeling of sadness that the film conveys. Once Leonard and Marianne dived in the warm Mediterranean or drank retsina laughing late into the night - when they were young dreamers - with little thought of death.Delete
That sounds like a fascinating documentary. I've always loved LC's songwriting, and I bought his biography, "I'm Your Man," which I haven't yet read. I'll be interested to see how he writes about Marianne. This is a love story I didn't know anything about.ReplyDelete
You might also love the documentary Steve. Marianne was, you might say, his muse.Delete
I'm not a Leonard Cohen fan but he certainly knew how to write.ReplyDelete
Yes he did Jenny - like him or loathe him.Delete
I listened to Leonard for a long time. I liked his songs and Marianne was one of my favorites.this was something I did not know about his life.ReplyDelete
I am therefore proud to have been the one who told you.Delete
What a sad love story, as all the best ones are. I do know you can love someone with all your heart and not be able to bear the thought of living with them.ReplyDelete
It was a fine era for music. My favorite was "Someday Soon". The cowboy who got away.
"Someday Soon"? Wasn't that by Ian Tyson - made famous by Judy Collins?Delete
The documentary would be far too sad...too emotional...for me to watch in the tender state I'm presently experience...the way I've been over the past couple of months. My tears are never far from the surface...ready to overflow. The documentary would move me greatly at any time...even more so now. It's too "close to home" from your description.ReplyDelete
My ex, Randall, passed away on 14th August. He had been ill for the past couple of years. We knew there was no escaping the prognosis, but that didn't/doesn't less my feelings of loss...of missing...I miss my longstanding, best friend....someone who knew "me".....
The last few months of this year, for him, were not kind. His passing was, in one way, of course, a release...but as I expressed above...it doesn't lessen the emotions...the depth, width and breadth of those emotions.
He and I, although divorced for many years, remained very good friends. Randall and I were mates. We spoke regularly...very frequently...every other day, sometimes every day.
We were in our late teens when we first met in 1963. He arrived in Gympie...a very handsome young man...to join the crew at Radio 4GY...as a radio announcer. Many of his peers then...and to this day...said he had one of the best (if not the best)voices they'd heard. He was memorable. I agree with their assessments. Randall's deep, mellifluous voice was the envy of many.
Randall, his brother(who was a rock over the past couple of years, and particularly during the last months) and I lunched together at a local establishment here at Mount Tamborine earlier this year, in January. I knew it would be the last time we would ever do similar together.
Thank you you for sharing this Lee. I didn't know that Randall had gone . He was the true love of your life... despite what happened. Rest In Peace Randall.Delete
Thank you, Yorkie...he was...always will be.Delete
Yes. Not a Leonard Cohen song, but of that era. When I hear it, I am instantly back to that time in my life.ReplyDelete
I spent many hours listening to Leonard in my 20s. Probably got most of his music on CD, though don't listen to music much these days apart from sometimes in the car. I have recently had " Old Ideas" in the car player. Apparently there isn't a great deal of actual singing in the film, so I was put off it for that reason.ReplyDelete
I hope you will watch it at some time Frances as you have a relationship with Leonard's songs that goes way back. Like you, music figures in mt life far less than it used to do.Delete
Well thank you for highlighting it, will watch it later. Poet/songwriter/singer/monk. He led a life that was different, with a voice like chocolate he inspired many a romantic mood. I also would probably be in tears listening to his music.ReplyDelete
With your Paul's passing, I am sure that some of Leonard Cohen's songs will have extra resonance for you Thelma.Delete