I’m sure many of you remember one of Leonard Cohen‘s earliest hits, dating back to 1967 on his first album, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen‘.
I remember that album very well indeed . . . I used to sing songs from it to myself as I cycled to school and back. Many of its songs were later used in the soundtrack to the film ‘McCabe and Mrs. Miller‘.
A lot of people today, who came to Leonard Cohen’s music later than us old farts, don’t realize that the song was about a real person. Marianne Ihlen and Leonard Cohen had a ten-year relationship, and remained on good terms all their lives.
Sadly, she contracted leukemia recently. The Telegraph reports:
Her close friend Jan Christian Mollestad told Canada’s CBC radio that he had contacted Cohen, 81, to tell him Ihlen was dying of leukaemia and had only a few days to live.
He recalled: “It took only two hours and in came this beautiful letter from Leonard to Marianne.
“We brought this letter in to her the next day and she was fully conscious and she was so happy that he had already written something for her.”
Mollestad, a documentary filmmaker, read the letter to Ihlen before she died.
He recalled: “It said, ‘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 for 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.”
Mollestad told host Rosemary Barton that when he read the line “stretch out your hand”, Ihlen had stretched out her hand.
“It was a very nice gesture from both of them,” he said.
“Only two days after, she lost consciousness and slipped into death. And when she died, I wrote a letter back to him saying in her final moments I hummed A Bird on the Wire because that was the song she felt closest to.
“And then I kissed her on the head and left the room, and said ‘So long, Marianne’.”
Reflecting on Cohen and Ihlen’s relationship over the years, Mollestad recalled: “What Marianne said, was Leonard was the one who loved her for herself, who opened her up and let her feel that she was worth loving, not only because she was beautiful outside, but he really was interested in her.”
There’s more at the link.
That was a lovely and very tender farewell. I’m not ashamed to admit I had a tear in my eye reading that. Yes, I’m a sentimental old so-and-so. What of it?
In Marianne’s memory, here’s her favorite song.
Rest in peace, Marianne. Thanks for your inspiration, that brought us Leonard’s song. It’s meant a lot to me down the years.