Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts

Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen and the Story of 'So Long Marianne'


So very sad to hear of the death of the brilliant Leonard Cohen,  writer, poet, singer, performer, philosopher, lover and all round amazing human being. Someone who spoke to so many hearts and minds. 

This is a piece I wrote last year and I wanted it to be my own personal tribute to Leonard and Marianne.  See you on the other side.
'Deep in the Green Lilac Park'
'We met when we were almost young
Deep in the green lilac park
You held onto me like I was a crucifix
As we went kneeling through the dark'
So long, Marianne
Leonard Cohen

Marianne is my blogging name.  I borrowed it from the beautiful Leonard Cohen Song 'So Long Marianne' when I started writing this blog quite a few years ago now when I was putting my life back together again following the devastating breakdown of my marriage, which left me a single mother of three young boys. Not an easy time.  It seemed appropriate.

I had never really considered that the song might be based on a real Marianne until my new husband, who is inured to my lifelong love affair with Leonard Cohen and his music, bought me a copy of  Kari Hesthamar's eponymous book recently.  The book is based on interviews with Marianne about her life and particularly about her long relationship with Leonard with whom she lived off and on for the best part of a decade and which took place mostly on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra, and which I found quite fascinating.  A more contemporary version of the Bloomsbury Group as it turns out! 

Marianne was only 23 years old when she left her native Oslo to live on Hydra with her then boyfriend, the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen, and they joined an artists' and writers' community there. She married Axel and gave birth to his son back in Norway but on her return to Hydra she was abandoned by him and left to raise her son alone.  Leonard introduced himself to her at the local cafe and she became his muse and the inspiration for some of his earlier poems and songs.  

My musical tastes were formed in the late 60's and early 70's when North American and Canadian Folk/Rock were part of the sound track of my life.  Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan were constantly being played in my student house in Leeds and I was lucky enough to see some of these talented artists, including Leonard Cohen, live in the early 70s.   

Leonard Cohen wrote some stunningly beautiful and thoughtful contemporary poetry and prose but did not achieve recognition until he turned his poetry into songs and developed his talents as a singer/songwriter and became the voice of a generation.  He has continued to write and record music and to perform his music live all around the world until well into his seventies.  His style has matured and somehow both lightened and deepened, and some of his lines are exquisite.  As a performer, he is mesmerising.  I still enjoy listening to his music which I find timeless and evocative.  His is the voice that has stayed with me through the decades.

I found this unusual version of 'So Long Marianne' on YouTube recently and wanted to share it. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Stockholm to Helsinki, Part III - Finland

Island hopping in the Baltic, sunset
Having a deadline is never a good idea on a sailing holiday, but despite extending my trip to compensate for the delayed launch of the boat, my pet sitters were getting restless (as well as increasingly expensive) and I had commitments, so a flight home had to be booked.  We decided on Helsinki for my return flight as my husband, who was planning to stay on for a couple more weeks, was keen to carry on to Tallinn in Estonia, so Helsinki was en route for him.  However this involved the serious business of 'making passage' rather than the idyllic island hopping we had been enjoying. 

It took a long day's sail in the Finnish Archipelago to bring us to the island of Juomo, and we arrived, tired, around 5pm to find a full harbour with no available moorings and a strong wind making moving on difficult.  This was a situation which required ingenuity, so we did something we hadn't tried before which involved literally poking the boat's nose (bow) between the sterns of two boats already moored up, and tying onto the middle cleats of their boats.  This meant that to actually get off the boat onto the island we had to clamber across the German host boat, placating them later with a glass of Single Malt Scotch whisky, which went down well!  

The next morning started badly, with the Germans knocking us awake at 7am on the dot (5am English time), followed by a trip to the heavily overused compost loos with no hand washing facilities - no running water on this island - then another long, windy day at sea, with the sails up, mostly stuck on a port tack (heeling over to the left, the sea washing our deck) which makes doing anything at all hazardous and tricky. Even the kettle was on the floor, and I had a splitting headache! A toxic combination as I really dislike any sailing that involves needing to strap onto the boat but sometimes it just is like that.  Definitely a 'Should have gone on a Mark Warner holiday' melt down moment. 

Our next stop at Rosala was pretty much the equivalent of a motorway service station but it was relief that, with very little wind the next day, we were motoring, not sailing and more or less upright.  Five hours later we arrived on the Finish mainland at the charming seaside town of Hanko, where we decided to stay for a couple of days.  I could get the train from there to Helsinki and I was pretty much at the end of my boat tolerance. Time now to relax and enjoy a final weekend in Scandinavia.


Mind the gap!
This is how we get on and off the boat - in England small boats are usually moored alongside a pontoon, but the rule is 'bows to' in the Baltic and Scandinavian boats have an opening at the front, like the next door boat, but not ours.  You literally have to take a deep breath, step onto the small space between the ropes holding the plank before you can grab hold of the stay.  I don't know what Health and Safety would have to say...

Hanko is a former spa town and has been heavily fought over with Russia, but it has been left with a legacy of beautiful villas and almost deserted beaches.  The light there is magical and it is an attractive venue for artists and musicians.  We loved exploring this unexpected and unusual town with its almost empty beaches, boutiques, bars, restaurants, hotels and delis and I quickly decided that package holidays can wait.  This was so special.  The weather was overcast when we arrived, but we still found the evening light created a haunting atmosphere on the beach.


Rocks, Hanko, Finland
English woman abroad!
View from the Water Tower - Villa Park
View of Hanko, Finland
On our second evening in Hanko we went for a walk around the town after a boat supper and heard the most stunning live music coming from the hotel on the beach and had to investigate. Playing in the courtyard was a professional Finish guitarist and his Belgian wife, who had the most beautiful voice.  They were performing a cover of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game to a small and very appreciative audience. Sadly, they were just about to finish when we arrived, but we discovered they were playing again the next evening (my last) in another small venue on the harbourside. It was a superb evening and despite knowing we had an early start the next day, and I had two long days travelling in front of me, we stayed right to the end, falling into our berths at 2am.  After all, you only live once.

Helsinki Station
The next day, it took two trains to Helsinki, another to the airport, a four hour flight back to Gatwick, a train and taxi to my son and daughter-in-law's home in South London for the night, more trains the next day, wishing I hadn't got so much luggage to trail behind me, and finally home to Suffolk.

Addendum.  We were sailing in Scandinavia in July and early August.  Although the summer days are long it quickly becomes cold after mid August and most boats are tucked away by then.  It was already cold at night when I left at the end of July and we were glad of hot water bottles and duvets!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

'You stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear...'

'I met you on the Midway at a fair last year
And you stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear'
That Song about the Midway
Joni Mitchell

I love this vivid evocation of Joni Mitchell's meeting with Leonard Cohen from 'That Song About the Midway'.  As hugely talented fellow Canadian singer/songwriters, they were destined to meet and fall in love (they actually met at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967).  Leonard became the inspiration for several of Joni's songs although, intriguingly, her inspiration for these particular lines probably came from Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'

'It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear'

Music holds our memories.  I only have to hear Joni Mitchell singing to be transported to another time and place.  When I listen to 'The Gallery' or 'Rainy Night House', both attributed to her relationship with Leonard, I am 20 years old again and back in my room perched high above a ravine in my student house in Leeds, sharing with four girlfriends and learning to negotiate the complexities of life, love and relationships in between studying and voraciously reading everything I could get my hands on.  Literature, along with music, has always been a passion and this was the music that formed the sound track of those years. 

Listening to Joni's 'A Case of You', also thought to be about Leonard Cohen, instantly has me back on the overnight train from Madrid to London, travelling alone after a disastrous holiday with a college boyfriend who was studying there (but at least I got to see the Velazquez's at The Prado, so it was worth the trip in the end!), but the face I drew on a map of Canada during that endless, uncomfortable night, was that of my first love, lost to the charms of Montreal, never to return to the UK. 


Sunday, 23 August 2015

'Deep in the Green Lilac Park' (Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen and the story of So Long, Marianne)

'We met when we were almost young
Deep in the green lilac park
You held onto me like I was a crucifix
As we went kneeling through the dark'

So long, Marianne
Leonard Cohen

Marianne is my blogging name.  I borrowed it from the beautiful Leonard Cohen Song 'So Long Marianne' when I started writing this blog quite a few years ago now when I was putting my life back together again following the devastating breakdown of my marriage, which left me a single mother of three young boys. Not an easy time.  It seemed appropriate.

I had never really considered that the song might be based on a real Marianne until my new husband, who is inured to my lifelong love affair with Leonard Cohen and his music, bought me a copy of  Kari Hesthamar's eponymous book recently.  The book is based on interviews with Marianne about her life and particularly about her long relationship with Leonard with whom she lived off and on for the best part of a decade and which took place mostly on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra, and which I found quite fascinating.  A more contemporary version of the Bloomsbury Group as it turns out! 

Marianne was only 23 years old when she left her native Oslo to live on Hydra with her then boyfriend, the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen, and they joined an artists' and writers' community there. She married Axel and gave birth to his son back in Norway but on her return to Hydra she was abandoned by him and left to raise her son alone.  Leonard introduced himself to her at the local cafe and she became his muse and the inspiration for some of his earlier poems and songs.  

My musical tastes were formed in the late 60's and early 70's when North American and Canadian Folk/Rock were part of the sound track of my life.  Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan were constantly being played in my student house in Leeds and I was lucky enough to see some of these talented artists, including Leonard Cohen, live in the early 70s.   

Leonard Cohen wrote some stunningly beautiful and thoughtful contemporary poetry and prose but did not achieve recognition until he turned his poetry into songs and developed his talents as a singer/songwriter and became the voice of a generation.  He has continued to write and record music and to perform his music live all around the world.  His style has matured and somehow both lightened and deepened, and some of his lines are exquisite.  As a performer, he is mesmerising.  I still enjoy listening to his music which I find timeless and evocative.  His is the one voice that has stayed with me through the decades.

I found this unusual version of 'So Long Marianne' on YouTube recently and wanted to share it. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

"It's coming near Christmas..."

"It's coming near Christmas, they're cuttin down trees
They're puttin up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace".

Joni Mitchell 



There's always magic in the air at Christmas.  I love to think of people through the ages celebrating the winter solstice in one way or another, from the ancient pagan tradition to our more recent Christian era.  Despite the commercialisation, it is a wonderful occasion to have a family get-together, share a feast, the warmth of our homes and the giving and receiving of gifts.  I cannot think of a better way to distract us all from what can be a rather depressing and miserable time of year, the short days and often dank weather.  I love the sense of anticipation and goodwill, the lights going up on trees in houses and gardens, the bustle of Christmas markets and the smells of the Christmas cooking wafting through the house. 


And yet, increasingly as time passes, there is such a complex layer of emotions simmering away beneath the surface and I think this is particularly the case where marriages have broken down and families have been fractured and reconstituted.  More than anything, I miss my small sons and their joy and excitement at this time of year, the carol concerts and nativity plays that used to fill my days, whilst at the same time I look forward to seeing the grown-up versions of two of my three sons and spending some time with them; the youngest, sadly, having decided not to join us this year.  My partner, too, misses the family Christmases he shared with his own children when they were an intact family and from which he is now excluded, even as we prepare for them to come and visit on Christmas Eve,  knowing that they will be leaving early on Christmas morning to spend the rest of the holiday with their own mother and her new husband.  


And, of course, this is the first Christmas without my mother.  Bittersweet.


Life is full of challenges and changes, adjustments and adaptations, the weft and the warp. Christmas puts our lives under a microscope and exposes the flaws as well as the beauty of what we create.  It is a time of joy as well as sadness, but this Christmas I hope, mostly joy.