An extremely hot summer’s day saw me seek shelter in my favourite cinema. A film about the singer and poet Leonard Cohen caught my eye. Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love. The film documents the relationship of Cohen with Marianne Ihlen, the muse behind the very successful ballad ” So long Marianne.” The film begins in the beautiful Greek island of Hydra with footage of Leonard Cohen living the bohemian writers life with his Norwegian girlfriend and her son, Axel. She’s beautiful. It’s a time of free love, drugs and booze and pushing the boundaries. The tortured writer on the beach rather than a turret. He wants to be a writer, publishes a book that doesn’t sell and then travels to New York where he gravitates to the music scene… and as they say, the rest is history. She follows her man. Her son is banished to an alternative boarding school, Summerhill in the UK. As Cohen’s success as a musician increases her role as a muse and lover is diminished. On the road Marianne is one of many women Cohen has relationships with. It’s the 1970’s and a time of acid trips and open relationships. He scribes the song ” Suzanne” to another of his lovers and muses.
It’s never clear exactly what Marianne did with her life other than administer to Cohen’s needs. Nick Broomfield, the director, chronicles the relationship through to the final days when Marianne has returned to Norway, remarried and lives a very different life. Her son Axel has psychiatric problems and spends his life in an institution. Cohen goes on to be a famous musician, suffers bouts of depression and spends 7 years in a Buddhist monastery. His manager embezzles his money and in his 70’s Cohen returns to life on the road giving very successful concerts around the world. When performing in Oslo he sent tickets to Ilhen to attend his concert. Hearing of her illness and impending death from Leukemia in 2016 Leonard wrote to her………
I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too, and the eviction notice is on its way any day now.
I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Love and gratitude.— Leonard,