Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

As a big music lover, I put Leonard Cohen in the same category as Bob Dylan. Amazing poets and songwriters, but voices so bad, it makes 75% of their catalogue unlistenable for me. Just like Dylan, I enjoy his songs more when they’re covered by others (Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah is a perfect example). 

So Long, Marianne is one of Cohen’s songs that I like, and it was nice to watch this documentary and learn about the muse behind the tune.

In 1960, Cohen had published a few books of poetry. He left Canada for Hydra, which isn’t a place from Captain America, but the Greek island where a handful of artists took acid, swam, had sex, and wrote by the light of the moon. Cohen started work on his novel, with his new love Marianne and her son. He was a good father figure to the boy, and he was the first man that made Marianne feel she was beautiful. 

Director Nick Broomfield has given us numerous bio pics: Whitney: Can I Be Me, Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, Kurt & Courtney, Biggie and Tupac, and Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madame. I’m guessing this will be the most well-received of all his pictures.

He throws himself into the story, by admitting he was Marianne’s lover while she was with Leonard. It makes me feel less sad for Marianne when Leonard took off as a songwriter, and never met a groupie or drug he didn’t like.

It’s such a bizarre trajectory for a career. Cohen had his first novel published in 1967, the summer of love (even in Greece), which reviewers said was unreadable (he did admit to being on a lot of acid). Some called it brilliant, albeit unreadable. He met up with Judy Collins and showed her some poems that he felt were more like songs. She recorded them, and they became hits. At one of her concerts, she implored him to come onstage to sing one. He had such terrible stage fright, he started crying in the middle of the song. He managed to get over that, and recorded his own songs. He quickly became very rich and famous.

At one point, Leonard even had Marianne and her son Axel come live with him in New York, after a very sweet message about not having his family with him. Yet, as we know from his song lyrics, the happiness doesn’t last …

Your letters, they all say that you’re beside me now/Then why do I feel alone? I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web/Is fastening my ankle to a stone.

While living with her, he was with Janis Joplin in a hotel, which he wrote about with these less than romantic lyrics:

I remember you well/In the Chelsea Hotel/You were talking so brave and so sweet/Giving me head on the unmade bed/While the limousines wait in the street.

There’s a lot of documentary footage shot by documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, who was at Hydra for awhile, too. His footage of Marianne helps flesh out this relationship that most know nothing about. It’s a shame that a lot of the movie just ends up becoming a Behind the Music about Cohen.

It’s nice that Aviva Layton, wife of Cohen mentor Irving Layton, states “Poets do not make splendid husbands.” And it sheds a lot of light on how being a muse, and having songs written about you, isn’t always as sweet as fans may think. It seems the Greek island of Hydra, had a lot of casualties — just as Haight/Ashbury and Woodstock did.

This documentary might only be for the Leonard Cohen fans, as it has many parts that were slow.

2 ½ stars out of 5

 

 

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