Interview with Marianne Ihlen
by Kari Hesthamar, Norway, 2005
SO LONG, MARIANNE
SO LONG, MARIANNE
very quiet on the ocean today, or the sea…isprobably what we call it. Movement
Now let' see..
Hah, imagine having the stereo deck on so low. Opa,
Cohen: So Long, Marianne/Marianne sings along
know, last night… I had a very strange dream last night. During the past 40
years of my lifeI still dream about
Leonard. Irrespective of whether he is with someone else or what the scene is
around it, it is a positive dream for me. But last night he showed up again in
my dream. And then he says: ”Marianne, you must not talk so much.” And here I
am sitting looking at you, and you make me talk, talk, talk, talk. Yes, yes!
so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again
NARRATOR:”So Long, Marianne.” Leonard
Cohen's old Norwegiansweetheart. At
last I was to hear the story behind the song.
the weird stuff that is written, which is just wild fantasy. Very well. I have
never had the strength to describe how it was. There are very, very, very many
who have wanted to meet me, but it has sort of not... I have never understood
why. But it is much easier to talk about these things now than it has ever
been. And that is the only reason that I have felt like meeting you.
have seen the picture of her on the back of the record sleeve for "Songs
from a Room". Marianne in a white, Greek room. Sitting in front of the
typewriter belonging to Leonard Cohen. She looked so incredibly innocent and
young. Cohen said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met.
never felt that I looked like much at all. I didn't believe it when Leonard
said ”you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen”. And he has continued
saying that. But what I mean is that... I think I had too round a face. So I
have gone round looking down all my life. But after all I did have… you know
the sun bleached my hair, and after all you were … in Greece you were
so blonde, so blonde, so blonde, because there they were mostly dark. Skinny.
Almost no boobs. laughs To my great
then, what did he look like?
he was beautiful! Haven't you seen pictures of Leonard when he was young? Oh
yes, you have. He was marvellous. Neither did he think that he looked like
much. We both had problems. You have no idea. We often stood in front of the
mirror before going out and wondered who we were today and stuff like that. Oh
god, how strange we human beings are, you know... Look, there's a duck
are in her little house, at the beachside at Larkollen, where she grew up with
her grandmother during the war.
am so used to this curtain, but for you I actually ought to have raised it. pulls up the French blinds
has been married for 25 years. Is still pretty with grey hair and lines in her
face. Only a few weeks old Marianne was placed on her grandmother's kitchen
then my grandmother relates: ”And so I lifted you up, and then I looked deep
into your eyes, and I said: Finally you have arrived, my little princess!” And
then she had this kind of thing…”I see,
and I know, Marianne”. And she said this once when I was little. It was that:
”You are going to meet a man who speaks with a tongue of gold.” And when I sort
of think of the choice of men later, well it has been... I would say... the
most golden tongue of them all has without a doubt been Leonard Cohen, anyway.
Leonard Cohen: ”If it be your will”
If it be your will
a voice be true
this broken hill
will sing to you
this broken hill
your praises they shall ring
it be your will
let me sing
had after all a long time ago a great urge to be creative myself. Well, I was
going to try to get into the TheatreSchool.
And I was so opposed by my mother and father that I lost all my courage and
didn't dare. And I believe it was this which in a way made me run away. That
was what made the whole thing collapse.
was the end of the 50s, and she didn't even know that Leonard Cohen existed.
Marianne was 22 years old, and in love with the author and bohemian Axel Jensen
(well-known Norwegian author).
was going travelling. He was off to a country he had never been to. He had
travelled around the whole world before he met me. He managed to pull me up by
my roots. And so we made our way down to Greece in -58. I
ran away from home.
because the boat from Athens
happened to stop there, they landed on Hydra, where a lot of other artists had
isn't just something I am making up. Not because it was my island, but it is
the prettiest island in the Aegean.
Anyhow, first of all the harbour is formed like a horseshoe. And then the
little white-washed town just crawls up along the mountain all around the
place. And there are no cars. There are only stairways.
And the boat stops far from shore. And so you were
ferried in by smaller craft. And I arrived in mid December. And there was
storm, there was rain, and it was so cold. And then there was only electricity
one hour in the evening, and one hour in the morning. And paraffin lamps.
begin with we found a very small house that we rented, with an outdoor loo and
everything. And so Axel received an advance for”Line”, or was it”Ikaros”…? (well-known Norwegian novels)
And we went round searching for a house. And so we
found one that was magnificent. With a huge hole in the floor and whatever. I
mean, it was mostly ruins, but it cost 13 000 Norwegian kroner, so we couldn't
afford it. And again we rushed off. Onward. And we found one that cost 11 000.
And it looked like an eagle's nest. You know ”stuck in the mountain”. Now that
house is a … yes, it's owned by one of the biggest shipping magnates in Athens. And so now it is … it has
a swimming pool… It is situated so… You have it there! It hangs up there! Here
is the port down here. Then we had a dog and a pussycat.
beautiful. Is that you?
that's me. That's the way up to the house. Then you climb the stairs there.
That was the good time. But at a very early stage there was something that came
Leonard Cohen: ”Tonight will be fine”
Sometimes I find I get to thinking of the past
swore to each other then that our love
would surely last
You kept right on loving, I went on a fast
Now I am too thin and your love is too vast
see, Axel and I we walked barefoot. We had two clean T-shirts and two pairs of
trousers each, and were poor. But we were clean. The first prominent man we met
see, the island consisted of some enormously rich families, who no longer lived
there permanently. They came down on weekends, with baskets of flowers, and a
cook's maid and servant and all that. So we were invited to these cocktail
parties, as they were then called, , ”for drinks”. ”Before dinner.” And we landed in
that… and there we met Onassis.
Jacqueline Kennedy was there, and Princess Margareth
and… And then all the famous artists arrived.
you see, the first year on Hydra was fantastic, because he wrote and he wrote
and he wrote. And I ran down and shopped and bought food and … Yes, I was his
Greek Muse, who sat at his feet. And he was the creative one.
But then all these other women entered
our life. First time it was one with dark hair, and then... What did Marianne
do, then? Yes, she dyed her hair. Jet black. Woke up in the morning and sort of
saw black hair on the pillow and wondered "god, who is this?" laughs It was damned tough. It sure
also Axel had to go to Norway
all the time. Yes, for the publishing of books and god knows what. Oh, it's
such a long story that it can hardly be made all that short, but...
story I have always heard is that Leonard Cohen stole Marianne from Axel
Jensen. In reality it was always new women who were taking her place. Finally
she decided to leave Axel and Hydra.
was strong enough to say: ”All right, now I'll travel home to my father, and
he'll be proven right.” It wasn't Axel I was going to marry.
then you returned to Norway,
is that it?
but before that I had to pass by my best friends in Athens. And who but Axel Jensen
comes visiting. At that point he'd been boozing for 6 weeks. The woman who was
to come didn't show up. Sold the ticket, pocketed the cash. And that evening he
said he wanted to marry me. And so I said yes, because that was what I really
wanted. That was after all what I wished to do. It was what I had hoped would
happen. I do not regret it...
Leonard Cohen: ”Stranger Song”
It’s true that all the men you knew were dealers
who said they were through with dealing
Every time you gave them shelter
MARIANNE:I love this song.
I know that
kind of man
It’s hard to hold the hand of anyone
who is reaching for the sky just to surrender
was the summer of 1958, and Marianne and Axel were married in the English
church in Athens.
who is reaching to the sky just to surrender.
year later Marianne was expecting achild. Little Axel was underway.
An then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind
you find he did not leave you very much
not even laughter
Like any dealer he was watching for the card
that is so high and wild
he’ ll never need to deal another
what happened afterwards was just sad, because I went home, had my baby. By
then Axel had published a new novel, and couldn't stay in Norway very long
at a time because he would then have to pay taxes to Norway. So I
didn't come down with my baby before … Little Axel was just over 4 months, 4 ½
months. And by then Axel was way over the hills again. In the meantime he had
found yet another woman. And in the middle of all this commotion Leonard Cohen
was standing in the shop with my basket waiting to pick up bottled water and
milk. And he is standing in the door way with the sun behind him. And then you
don't see the face, you just see the contours. And so I hear his voice, saying:
”Would you like to join us, we’re sitting outside?”
I reply thank you, and I finish my shopping. Then I go outside. And I sit down
at this table where there were 3-4 people sitting, who lived in Hydra at the
you remember what he looked like?
was wearing khaki trousers, which were a shade more green. And also he had his
beloved… what we in the old days called tennis shoes. And he also alwayswore shirts with rolled up sleeves. In
addition he had a beautiful little sixpence cap.
What I didn't know when I met him was that he knew
everything about what had happened before I returned. Because after all he had
been there, and realised what was going on. So I think that already when he saw
me he had enormous compassion for me and my child. But I remember well that
when my eyes met his eyes I felt it throughout my body. You know what that
her fingersIt is utterly incredible.
then I was on my way up Kala Pegadia, to my little house. And the last hump is
very, very steep, so you are completely drenched in sweat when you reach the
house. And the basket was very heavy. And there she was, that sweet little
Eveganina, who had been with Axel and played with him. And so she left. And
then I was very… I was almost a bit intoxicated. Right away I put on some
music, I remember. Danced around a bit, and thought it all of a sudden was such
fun to be with my son and... felt it was simple and fine and... And even if he
wasn't put to bed at once it wasall
right. A lightness had come over me.
Cohen: ”I’m Your Man”
If you want a lover
do anything you ask me to
if you want another kind of love
wear a mask for you
you want a partner
if you want to strike me down in anger
was May 1960, and Marianne was 25 years old. But even though she danced herself
home after her first meeting with Leonard Cohen, it was still Axel Jensen she
was waiting for. He had set off on a boating trip to find out if he ought to
chooseMarianne or his American
I remember when we were saying goodbye to him and seeing him sail off I
actually was a bit happy, because I felt that after all perhaps there was still
hope. Therefore I invited some friends up to my little house, since I couldn't
go out all that much, as I had the baby. And I can remember it was the
blossoming season. It was the end of May, and the whole veranda was full of
these flowers which are white in the middle and yellow all round. So I'd pinch
the flowers off, and put them in an envelope with a small note on which I
wrote: ”I love you.”
young American, who was visiting Marianne, noticed her putting the flowers in
the letter. Next day he continued his journey to Athens. Marianne's letter was sent
with the same ship.
that was a strange story, because Axel Jensen hadn't intended to go off on that
boat and find out whom he really loved. He voyaged to the next island and met
this woman, and then the two of them sailed together to Athens. And at American Express,
next day, there they both were, and Axel picked up his mail, opened that letter
and these flowers fell out. As it happened this American was queuing beside
them waiting for his mail, and he thought: ”This must be the letter from
Marianne. This must be Axel.” After all he didn't know him. So he took the ship
back to Hydra. And he came up to me, and he says: ”I just had to tell you,
Marianne, that they are together.” ”He's not out yachting to sound out his
feelings.” At that I understood now it's all over. sighs
ouff, I can't relate all of this here. There has been so much. There's been so
much. I don't know how I have taken it, when I think about it.music Now we need some tea..
Cohen: ”Hey that’s no way to say goodbye.”
loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
It's quite incredible. sings
many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
now it’s come to distances and both of us must try,
eyes are soft with sorrow,
that’s no way to say goodbye.
Great heavens, what an uproar all the time…
So Leonard and I began to meet. Early in the day we
would maybe go down to the beach. Sometimes little Axel and I would accompany
him up to the small house he had rented, for it wasn't so high up.And we'd prepare lunch. And then little Axel
would fall asleep, and then he'd read poems for me, and then… So we started
seeing each other during the days.
But that story that Axel all the time… ”Leonard Cohen
took my wife or whatever he calls it” No, it was… that wasn't how it was. He
even drove me all the way home to Norway in this
car that Axel had brought with him down there. I wasn't exactly pampered in
being used to meeting a man who behaved the way he did. I have to say that. He
in fact reminded me very much of grandma. Her energy, her enormous presence.
You could really trust in him. It was like... is it really possible to be so
fond of me as he says he is? You know?! I can impossibly be all that much.
He then drove me all the way home to Norway in this
car. That was when I understood this was something more than friendship. But at
that point I was knocked out. I was very... that's when reactions set in. One
after the other. But when he went back to Montreal it didn't
take long before I received a telegram: ”Have house, all I need is my woman and
her son. Love Leonard.” That's how it was.
Marianne emigrated from Oslo
with tiny Axel and a couple of suitcases of clothes.
I emigrated. And I remember little Axel and Leonard sat in the bathtub writing
on a typewriter under water. laughs
It's really weird to think about, but when I saw
Leonard's hands for the first time, it was like seeing my father's hands.
Slightly stubby. But he could type fast on a machine. laughter
is a very beautiful poem which is unpublished. And I have to show it to you. I
really am not much at reading, but I can try.
Music(Leonard Cohen: ”Undertow”)
MARIANNE:This is for you
It is my
It is the
book I meant to read you when we were old
Now I am a
as an empire
You are the
woman who released me
I saw you
watching the moon
You did not
hesitate to love me with it
At night I
saw you dance alone on the small wet pebbles of the shore line
welcomed me into the circle
More than a
happened in the truth of time
In the truth
I saw you
with a child
me to his perfume and his visions
demand of blood
Leonard Cohen: ”Undertow”
With a child in my arms
And a chill in my soul
And my heart the shape
Of a begging bowl
little Axel and Leonard remained living in Montreal for a year
before they returned to Hydra.
how strange. That's on Leonard's terrace. February –63. When Axel was three.
He's been wearing a T-shirt you see, he is black and brown on his arms and
legs, but not on his tummy.
So how was Leonard as a father?
actually, he… I was terrified that Axel was going to disturb him, because he
had to write. But what happened was that Axel would be lying prone on the floor
drawing. And didn't say a word. He was a nightmare with me. Then he would…
uhuhuhu. You know what kids are like with mother. And so then Leonard would
elegantly open the door into his tiny atelier, and say: ”Axel, I need your
help.” And then it would be deadly silent in there for two hours. And little
Axel drew and Leonard wrote. That's how I experienced it. And little Axel was enormously
proud. He called him Cohne.
Oh, those years were really good. Very
good. We sat in the sun and we lay in the sun, we walked in the sun, we
listened to music, we bathed, we played, we drank, we discussed. There was
writing and lovemaking and... It was absolutely fabulous, you know, to have it
like that. During five years I didn't have shoes on my feet, you know. Sure,
sure, in the wintertime I had something on my feet, but... And I met many
beautiful people. Now they are cast to the winds. Some are dead. Many are dead…
Now I have to put the rolls in the oven.
Leonard Cohen: ”Dance Me to the End of Love”
Dance me to your beauty with a burning
through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
to the end of love
to the end of love
MARIANNE:More letters from Leonard. Would
you say there are many love letters, then? I'm quite sure. And there's
Leonard's Russian bed. Iron bed. Isn't it great?
INTERVIEWER: It's awesome..
MARIANNE:Yes, that's me. In my… my Mari
Mekko dress. I have been a model a lot.
INTERVIEWER:I must sayyou have really especially beautiful
pictures. This isn't one of those usual average family albums you have here.
MARIANNE:laughs No, it isn't. But then again I have never
lived one of those average family lives either, I have to honestly admit. After
all that was what I was trying to escape from.
and Leonard were lovers into their second year. However the break-up with Axel
had suffered such a big shock that I was in a state of shock in which I sort of
wasn't neither here nor there. I didn't have a foothold. And at the same time
having a child and all. It was really tough. I think that in many ways I maybe
was able to float a bit above the difficulties which I found myself in the
middle of. I was not much present in myself. But I didn't know that at the
time. So if he hadn't been so patient then I don't know if we would have been
together. For when I was dancing Greek dances and drinking retsina he would sit
there waiting for me till I was finished dancing and drinking my retsina. And
then we went home together. And then it would be so incredibly peaceful and so
harmonious to be with him, because there was such tranquillity. One could in a
way say that it was a bit old-fashioned. The way you in many ways would think
it would be fantastic that a young boy can be, right? And it made a strong
impression on me.
Cohen: ”Because of”
Look at me, Leonard
Look at me one last time.
then they bend over the bed
cover me up like a baby
that is shivering
Like a baby
Like a baby….
I guess I was seen for the first time, perhaps. That is very important. Later
in life I have realised that Leonard saw something in me that I wasn't aware of
at the time. So I don't know if you remember some lines from his latest CD.
”Look at me one more time, Leonard.” And that… Then I thought: ”Why is he still
writing songs that I actually have noted down the first line of or a part of
the chorus, in jest to myself?” Because very often I have said when I have met
friends and acquaintances: ”Oh, I would have loved to have met him now, so he
could see me now.” Know what I mean? And then along comes that song.
Oh, look at me, Leonard
at me one last time
Cohen:Look at me , Leonard
they bend over te bed
at me one last time
they bend over the bed
cover me up like a baby
me up like a baby
that is shivering
Llike a baby…
it wasn't only Marianne who wanted to be seen by Leonard Cohen.
MARIANNE:laughs Most of all I wanted to cage him
in and lock him up. Swallow the key. No, I was jealous. Because he was so
incredibly sought after. And also he was a … he was so entertaining and so
courteous and so... All the time... He was equally compassionate towards
everyone, in a sense. For example, if he had finished working he would go down
to the port earlier, for example. Then we would eat dinner later, and then I
would wait for the babysitter and perhaps I would come down an hour or two
after him. And every time he would be sitting at the table with some or other
fantastic woman. laughsAnd… like Helen who stands up and says: ”Now
I have conquered your man!” You know.
But I mean, it was all a joke, and it was just good
friendship. But it riled me each and every time. laughs It was like being stabbed, you know. That's the way it goes
when you choose those kind of strong, handsome, tall and dark, handsome men,
right? Good gracious. All the girls were panting for him. You have no idea how
hurt I felt. And that destroyed so much. But after all it was my own
insecurity. I should have just held my head high and thought: ”But it is me he is living with. It is me he has chosen.” And then… Yes, I
would dare go as far as to say that I was on the verge of killing myself due to
it. I just wanted to die.
There was this fabulous young model from New
York, who came to Hydra. And they disappeared for an entire day. And so I
imagined all kinds of things. I curled up like a small foetus, and built a
large wooden coffin around me, an imaginary one, of course. People who passed
by actually thought I was dead.
do you mean "people who passed by actually thought you were dead"?
no, but I actually remained lying on the floor there, so I did. 24 hours. I
refused to communicate with the outside world.
I don't want to stir up more sorrow. Oh!
how much pain one can suffer!
Cohen:”Bird on the Wire”
bird on the wire
a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Yes, it's Tarjei there. Come on. Yes, come on then.
You'll get lunch today as well, you lucky devil. Yes, come here, you, Tarjei
Vesaas (a swan, named after a famous
Norwegian author). Powerful fine bird. He has survived, he has. Yes, you're
fine aren't you. It's a lonely life, isn't it?
If I, if Ihave
I hope that you can just let it go by
”Like a bird on the wire
have tried in my way to be free”
is great to write songs, for you can actually manage to say a lot which you at
the moment maybe aren't able to carry out. But by and by that's what you have
to do to survive.
on the Wire”... That was when electricity came to Hydra, you know,and they would land on these strange wires
that suddenly cut right in front of the window. Just like notes.
Therefore I felt that it was also my song. But of course everyone refers to ”So
but you have always been her that got that fantastic song...
Yes… But he has written a lot of other good stuff too. My goodness. I have
started to read some of his poems again. I sat here yesterday reading many
poems. For I think the poems he has written to me … I feel more at home there.
Then it's about us. Much more than in”So Long, Marianne”. This little one here, for example.
sort of feel.., I have participated in that book, in many ways.
In addition it is dedicated to you.
it? Yes, perhaps it is. Is it? I haven't even considered that. Are you sure?
No. leafs Oh, there its says so, yes!
Discretely out on the left side.
I didn't know that. But that was nice. Yes, but I was a part of it. We have
written it together.
than five years had passed since Marianne and Leonard met for the first time.
Leonard wrote poems and songs, and eventually commuted more and more between
Greece, Montreal and New York. Marianne and tiny Axel remained alone on Hydra.
often had to cross the great dam, as we said. Both in search of inspiration,
and for to, as he said: ”… become a little more miserable again.” And then we
couldn't afford to travel all of us. Therefore I was often alone on Hydra. I
was. And it came to the point where I didn't want to be alone anymore. I felt
it was awfully sad. It wasn't enough to play home and castle and all that
stuff. It therefore resulted in me asking to come along. And that period there,
it... it was dramatic, on very many levels.
career was accelerating, and after about three years on Hydra the small family
again moved back to Montreal.
was when ”Sisters of Mercy” was written. Leonard travelled a lot. It began to
dawn on me that something was about to happen. Yes, how long at a time does one
remain in love before one has to renew oneself? I can exactly recognise the
situation in our lives we were in then, where you suddenly find that you cannot
communicate properly together. We couldn't get anywhere. I didn't understand
what he was saying, he didn't understand what I was saying. I could not put
into words how I felt. Leonard naturally immersed himself in his writing, and
continued with his songs.
And in order to try to alleviate
everything I left for Mexico, to visit my old friend. I took little Axel with
me. And it was a very strong experience. Among the indians. In those mountains.
Well, it was absolutely incredible. At that point I had a feeling that I in a
sense was very close to God. I was almost convinced that I would never come
down off that mountain.
that was my sojourn from Montreal, when the world was in danger of falling
apart. When I returned I brought back a woven Mexican blanket. And it was the
man and the woman. So when I came home to Montreal Leonard and I sat under that
blanket a while. Then we actually began sitting still both of us and letting
everything settle down.
had had so many retreats, and we tried and we tried. Neither of us really felt
like giving up completely.
Now I just have to sit and become warm again
wasn't permanently back in Norway again until 1973. 38 years old.
you like to hear my singing bowl?
Hum of the
Music”I tried to leave You”
Greece is a good place
To look at the moon, isn’t it
You can read by the moonlight
You can read on the terrace
You can see a face
As you saw it when you were young
There was good light then
Oil lamps and candles
And those little flames
That floated on a cork in olive oil
What I loved in my old life
I haven’t forgotten
It lives in my spine
Marianne and the child
The days of kindness
It rises in my spine
And it manifests as tears
I pray that a loving memory
Exists for them too
The precious ones I overthrew
For an education in the world
MARIANNE:This relationship was a gift to me. And a
gift for Leonard, I might
also add, not to
underestimate myself completely. And that's what it was. However, I think it
has been sort of an opener for the rest of life for us both, for better or
worse. Just this morning I was reading, a few short lines, you know, which you
can read a couple of every day, where I repeat and repeat this about it being
through the hardest blows in life that you really have the chance to move on,
as it were. Out of the sorrow, you know.
What is the distance between weeping and laughter? I
mean, it is the whole of that… It's good on one side, and it's bad on the other
side. I mean, when it's dark it's dark because light is gone. And when it's
light then darkness is gone. But it is the same thing.
tried to leave you, I don’t deny
closed the book on us, at least a hundred times.
wake up in the morning by your side.
life resides in my body. You carry your entire past in your body. It is the one
who remembers when there was pain. When there was joy. When there were difficulties
and when you were afraid. And a couple of times today I have felt that I have
held my breath. Memories stirred and woke, sort of.
And then I feel like saying like Leonard, but this is
coming from me: ”Don’t believe a word
I’ve said. Don’t believe a word I’ve said. It’s all a dream.”