I heard a lot of Leonard Cohen’s music as I was growing up. He was one of my mother’s favourites: my father always said Leonard Cohen’s music was music to slit your wrists to, but my mother listened nonetheless.
Some of his music and lyrics are morose. Some his music is hauntingly beautiful and will bring a tear to your eye.
Earlier this month I read the heartbreaking note that Leonard Cohen, who is now eighty years old, wrote to his onetime lover and muse Marianne Ihlen shortly before she died from leukaemia on July 29th this year.
Cohen met Marianne Ihlen on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960. They lived together for nearly a decade and Ihlen was the inspiration for one of Cohen’s most famous songs ‘So Long Marianne’. I invite you to listen if you don’t know it. My favourite lyric is “ we met when we were almost young ”.
Marianne Ihlen’s friend contacted Cohen in July to inform him that she only had days to live. Leonard Cohen responded a couple of hours later with the following letter:
“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.”
The simplicity, grace and romanticism of his lyrics and of the letter makes one marvel at the beauty and depth of feeling in his words and at the profundity of his love.
That’s unless you know that Leonard Cohen had many lovers and many muses throughout his lifetime. Marianne was not even the only muse and lover to make it to the back of an album cover. Those of you who know his music will know that Suzanne was also immortalised in his beautifully captivating lyrics.
Let me introduce you to Suzanne:
So, I think it is probably quite clear that Leonard Cohen’s songs Suzanne and So Long Marianne are not actually about his lovers and muses Suzanne and Marianne. These songs and lyrics were about Leonard Cohen and how he saw himself within the world.
Let’s not be bitter though. I would be happy to be a disposable lover and muse if I could be immortalised in such enchanting poetry.
Leonard Cohen … if only we met when we were almost young.