The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: Song #453…So Long, Marianne by Leonard Cohen (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #453: So Long, Marianne by Leonard Cohen.

In 2016, Marianne Ihlen passed away from cancer at age 81. Those who knew her all say that Marianne Ihlen lived a full, rich and happy life and passed away without any regrets. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to say that. Marianne lived a life that inspired her partner at the time, Leonard Cohen, to immortalize her in song. Not everyone can say that they were immortalized in song, either. Marianne Ihlen was loved and admired by all who knew her, let’s find out why.

I firmly believe that there is a core part of ourselves that is truly us. That part that forms what we believe our true identity to be. That part of ourselves that draws others toward us, too. Some of those who enter our orbit, stay. Those that stay lend us part of their essence and, in doing so, contribute a part of themselves to the tapestry of our own lives. We are enriched and lifted up by association and are changed for the better for the rest of our days. This is most true when the centre of this personal exchange is Love.

Leonard Cohen met Marianne Ihlen on the Greek Island of Hydra when he was still Leonard Cohen the man and not yet, Leonard Cohen the star. They met in the early 1960s. It was a very Bohemian time on Hydra. Artists and poets and philosophers explored the outer limits of their ideas there. Marianne Ihlen found herself alone there with her child after being abandoned by her writer husband at the time. Leonard Cohen saw her and declared her to be the most beautiful woman in the world. I am not sure how pragmatic her attraction was to Cohen or how magical but, regardless, they joined together as a family. For most of the next decade, she and her son lived with Cohen; first on Hydra and then later, in Montreal. She is widely credited with helping to encourage Leonard Cohen in pursuit of his creative endeavours, as well as acting as his first editor and muse as he completed his projects. She was immortalized, not only in song but, also in image. She graces the back cover of his second album, Songs from a Room. The “room” in question was the bedroom they shared on the Island of Hydra. As she sits at a typewriter, wearing only towel, there is no questioning her beauty nor her influence.

Eventually, Leonard Cohen the man transitioned into Leonard Cohen the star and the demands of fame ended his union with Marianne Ihlen of Norway. Marianne and her son returned to Oslo, where she lived out the remainder of her days. She found new love and contentment with a business executive there. She pursued Bhuddist philosophies and championed environmental causes. Eventually, late in her years, she developed the cancer that would later claim her life. But, as she lay dying in hospital, word of her condition reached Leonard Cohen who, himself, was not well. He reached out to his former Love in the form of a letter. His words to her were, as follows:

Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart. I think that I will follow you 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.

This was the reply he received shortly thereafter from her family.

Marianne slipped slowly out of this life yesterday evening. Totally at ease, surrounded by close friends. Your letter came when she could still talk and laugh in full consciousness. When we read it aloud, she smiled as only Marianne could smile. She lifted her hand, when you said you were right behind her, close enough to reach her. It gave her great peace of mind that you knew of her condition. Your blessing for her journey gave her extra strength. Her friends and family, who all saw what this message meant to her, all thank you with deep gratitude for replying so fast and with such love and compassion. In her last hour, we held her hand and hummed “Bird on a Wire” *(A Cohen song that she inspired him to write based on her observations of life outside of their bedroom window on Hydra.) while she breathed so lightly. When we left the room, after her soul had flown out of the window, on to new adventures, we kissed her head and whispered your everlasting words…… So long, Marianne.

A link to the music video for “So Long, Marianne” by Leonard Cohen can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

A link to Leonard Cohen’s website can be found here.

A link to a website dedicated to Marianne Ilhen can be found here.

Rolling Stone Magazine is to be commended for their support of beautiful and important music such as “So Long, Marianne”. Thanks for inspiring me to write this post. A link to their website can be found here.

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