As I said when I included the original in my stab at a Leonard Cohen ICA just last December:-
Marianne Ihlen was the inspiration for so many of Cohen’s writings, songs and poems alike. They had met in early 1960, when they were both in their mid-20s, on the Greek island of Hydra. They would end up living together for the best part of that decade in Montreal, NYC and Greece. So Long Marianne, like many songs composed by others over the years, deals with a break-up. It is hugely autobiographical and its release in 1967 was a very early indication that Leonard Cohen was a different sort of songwriter and that indeed he was, at heart, a poet.
This doesn’t mope over the ending of a relationship, but instead looks back joyfully over an extended period in which two perfectly matched and compatible people had enjoyed life to the full, the ending caused by Cohen feeling he could not be content in a monogamous relationship. “You left when I told you I was curious / I never told you I was brave”. And not once did he blame her for what she did.
PS : In 2016, Cohen learned that Marianne was dying from leukaemia. He also knew, at this time, that his cancer was likely to result in his death. He was able to compose a final letter which was read to her, by a friend, as she lay 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.”
If that doesn’t bring moisture to your eyes, then there really is no hope for you.
And here’s one of my favourite cover versions of the song….
mp3 : Bill Callahan – So Long Marianne