So Long Marianne: A Love Story
By Kari Hesthamar
A few years ago I went to the Hunter Valley in New South Wales to see a concert. Set amongst the vines of one of Australia’s premier wine regions, the concert was one I had anticipated for many years. Having missed him on his previous tour I was determined this time to go. And fortunately for me I did, as three years later the great Leonard Cohen would be dead. Arguably one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets and musicians, Cohen presented as a reclusive and esoteric figure but one who laid it all bare in his music, albeit somewhat cryptically. His music that night brought me to tears.
“So Long Marianne” was one of his most famous and successful songs. The song was written after the break-up of his relationship with Marianne Ihlen, a young Norwegian whom he met in the bohemian and rustic artists’ colony on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s. This book is the story behind that song. The story of Marianne.
Twenty two year old Marianne Ihlen arrived in Hydra with her writer husband and set up house in a rustic and ramshackle house on what was then a little travelled Greek island. They joined a group of international artists and writers that included Australian writer’s Charmian Clift and George Johnston, and the then little-known Canadian poet, Leonard Cohen. Marianne’s relationship was volatile and when her husband abandoned her and her young child, Leonard stepped in to take care of them and thus began a love story that would be immortalised in one of the worlds most beautiful love songs.
The story is dotted with interesting and bohemian characters but most notably is the island itself. Hydra back in the sixties was a rustic island where few had running water or electricity. It was an escape from societal expectations for those who could afford to do so or who had the wherewithal to live a life on their own terms, often in opposition to what family and society expected of them.
So Long Marianne: A Love Story is an intimate account of Marianne’s life and is complemented by previously unpublished material by Leonard Cohen, including poems, letters and photographs.The book also includes interviews with Cohen who remained friends with Marianne until she died in early 2016. Poignantly and somewhat prophetically, Cohen sent a message to Marianne when she was on her death bed.
‘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.
“Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”‘
Cohen died a few months later.
So Long Marianne