“So long Marianne” – Leonard Cohen’s last letter to his muse and friend

When I read about Cohen’s last letter to his muse, former girlfriend and friend Marianne Ihlen, in this interview by CBC it struck me again that Leonard Cohen is an incredible poet.

So long, Marianne

When Leonard Cohen got the sad news that Marianne Ihlen, his former girlfriend and the woman behind the songs “So long, Marianne”, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and “Bird on Wire”, was dying of leukaemia, he wrote a letter that recently surfaced on the internet. Ihlen’s friend Jan Christian Mollestad told the radio station CBC in an interview that after notifying Cohen, he received a letter from him within two hours for their mutual friend.

As Mollestad told the radiostation in an interview:

“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.”

The power of those two sentences struck me like a lightning, when I read that, I felt very sad. It seemed to me like a lifelong story was coming to a tragic, inevitable end. And this story is somewhat also linked to my life.

My personal history with the song

You can tell that I’m a big Cohen fan, if I am actually writing about this. I also have a very personal relationship to that specific song “So long, Marianne”. It is one of those songs that lets you go back in time to a very specific moment in your life. Everybody has those special songs (and moments) and for me it is this one.

Back in 1996

I was born in 1980 so by the time of the writing of this article I am 36 years old. My story with “So long, Marianne” begins exactly 20 years ago, when I was 16 and deeply in love with a girl. We went to the same school and would see eachother almost every day, but you know how things are when you are 16. You are shy and somehow never find the courage to tell the other person how you feel about things.

We started spending a lot of time together, she would visit the house I was living in. My father had an impressive collection of Leonard Cohen vinyl records which we would put on while we were spending time together.

We would grow closer and and after what seemed like months, one evening, we ended up at a friend’s house after a long night.

I remember vividly her face as we still clumsily tried to hide what actually was written in our faces. The time passed, our friends went to sleep one after another while we saw the sun rising to welcome the next day. At some point her lips touched mine – or mine touched hers – and in the background, Leonard Cohen was singing “So long, Marianne” for us.

Things come and go, as did my first love, but I always relate this song to this specific evening and the girl I shared it with. When that song comes up playing somewhere, I get into a sentimental and nostalgic mood.

Cohen’s songs are very often about love and losing it, about finding and losing friends. Songs such as “Chelsea Hotel #2″, which is about his relationship with Janis Joplin, which would soon after their relationship die.

The power of Cohen’s songs relies in his lyrics, which feel genuine and unpretenious, even if the song is about the love of two world-known musicians like the latter.

Even if it is just a short letter that Cohen wrote to his friend, it felt so much in line with his artistic work, honest and genuine that I couldn’t do otherwise to deeply feel sorry. Sorry, that Cohen had lost a dear friend and sorry that at the end, most things end.


Do you feel like playing some 60ies music? Check out the Beatles Backing Tracks here. Do you want to write an amazing love song yourself? Here is a guide for songwriting on the guitar.