Sunday 31st July
This was the first Leonard Cohen song I remember hearing. It must have been early 1969, I was with Carol and we were living for a few weeks with three crazy Canadian guys in Stockwell. It was a dump of a flat and almost a commune with people coming and going and constant drunken parties. Late in the evening and the Canadians would put on Songs of Leonard Cohen and this song, and Suzanne of course, became our late night companions. I was struck instantly by the refrain – “So long Marianne, it’s time that we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again”. How brilliant – to use the repeated and reversed laugh and cry in the same line. But the whole song was brilliant especially the lines “You say that you’re beside me now, why do I feel so all alone. I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider’s web is fastening my ankle to the stone.” It has been a song I return to all the time, I never tire of it. But what became of Marianne?
Marianne Jensen was just 23 when she met Leonard in 1960 on the Greek island of Hydra where a sort of pre-hippy colony was living. He was standing in the doorway of the tiny village shop and he invited her to join her. They lived together in Montreal, Hydra and New York. Leonard called her the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and dedicated many poems (some later becoming songs) to her. Leonard wrote his books ‘The Favourite Game’ and ‘Beautiful Losers’ in Greece and many of his songs too. Later in New York as Leonard became famous they split up. As lovers do.
Carol and I split up a couple of years (as lovers do) after I first heard this song too. When she left I bought myself a record player and my first record was Songs of Leonard Cohen. I would lie awake at night, my son asleep beside me and listen to songs of Love and Loss and think of Suzanne and the Sisters of Mercy and of course, Marianne. The song and Leonard’s voice helped to heal the wound.
Marianne, who later became Marianne Ihlen, died on Thursday. So long, Marianne, it’s time that we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.