March 8: Eight Women sung by Leonard Cohen

March 8: Eight Women sung by Leonard Cohen


Music and words by Leonard Cohen

Cohen purchased the famous blue raincoat in London, where he arrived in 1959, after receiving a $2000 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. He is staying in a three-story boarding house in Hampstead. The owner, Stella Pullman, is passionate about literature and offers Leonard an opportunity that seems to come straight out of a film and not belong to real life: if he writes at least three pages a day of the novel he says he has in mind, she won't he will make him pay the rent. The woman's generosity is the driving force behind giving Cohen what he lacks: order and discipline.

Cohen immediately comes out of retirement to buy an old green Olivetti Lettera 22, which he would use for years and which will also be immortalized on the covers of his records. Returning to retirement, he stops at Burberry and buys “the famous blue raincoat”, which will remain with him until 1968, the year in which it is stolen from him in a loft in New York, and which will inspire one of the most beautiful songs of his parable artistic. It is the story of a triangle where, however, the feeling towards the antagonist is one of love, not hate: “And what can I tell you my brother, my murderer / what else can I tell you? / Maybe that I miss you, maybe that I have forgiven you / that I'm happy that you blocked my way.” She is Jane, who remains with Leonard (the last verse ends with the signature: “sincerely, L.Cohen”), but she remains forever in love with the man in the blue raincoat.


Music and words by Leonard Cohen

This is Marianne Ihlen, a beautiful model from Oslo. Leonard meets her on Hydra, a beautiful and wild island in the Saronic Gulf, on the Aegean Sea, close to the Peloponnese. There is no electricity or running water. There are no cars, only donkeys and mules. The only nightclub in the area plays music with a battery-powered turntable. On September 27, 1960, after receiving a letter informing him of his grandmother's death and an inheritance of $1,500, Leonard Cohen bought a house in Hydra. The priest goes to bless her with a candle, an elderly neighbor shows up every morning to wash the dishes and do the cleaning. Leonard realizes he has been accepted by the community when he receives regular visits from the street cleaner and his donkey. Only one element is missing in that idyllic picture.

It comes when Leonard meets Marianne. The two fall in love and move in together. She can be seen on the back cover of “Songs From A Room”. To her, ill for some time and with little to live, Cohen wrote a wonderful and poignant letter which said, among other things: “I have never forgotten your love and your beauty. See you soon at the end of the avenue.”


Music and words by Leonard Cohen

Leonard meets Suzanne Verdal, the girl for whom he will write not his most beautiful song, but his most famous song, at A Le Bistro, Montreal, on a freezing and rainy evening. When the two met, she was just 17 years old, frequented art galleries, wrote poetic verses and, above all, danced. To pay for her lessons, she works during the day, and then, in the evening, she spends as much time as possible, until dawn if the opportunity arises, talking about art and beauty. And to dance. Her favorite place is Le Vieux Moulin, where one night she meets Armand Vaillancourt, a sculptor, a beautiful man fifteen years older than Suzanne and, importantly, a friend of Leonard. Suzanne and Armand fall in love, then break up. That's when she decides to rent an old apartment in Old Montreal, where she invites friends and serves them jasmine tea, or Constant Comment black tea, small mandarin oranges and lychees bought in Chinatown.

A friendship (and nothing more) is born with Leonard. Suzanne takes him along the St. Lawrence River, behind Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, where sailors go to ask for protection (“and Jesus was a sailor…”) and where the Madonna looks at the sea and not the road . The two talk and are on the same wavelength (“she gets you on her wavelenght…”). Cohen wrote two poems for her, her first in 1965 appearing in “Parasites Of Heaven” (1966).
Curiosity: the first version of “Suzanne is more physical”, almost hardcore, but not without irony:
“Suzanne wears a leather jacket / her breasts tend to marble / traffic stops / people fall from cars”.


Music and words by Leonard Cohen

Although many initially think that the protagonist of the song is Marilyn Monroe, Nancy is a girl who really existed and who Cohen met. She lived in Montreal, came from a high-class family (her parents were members of Parliament and the Supreme Court of Justice), she was fragile and desperate, especially after she had had a child from a temporary relationship and her parents had decided to give the child up to foster care to avoid scandal.

After repeated hospitalizations in psychiatric clinics, Nancy, unable to bear the distance from her son, killed herself, at just 21 years old, by shooting herself in the temple, in her parents' bathroom, with her brother's gun. It happened because, as Cohen would say in a concert in Frankfurt in 1972, “there was no one who could tell her what I'm about to sing in this song”. Fabrizio De André's version is memorable.


Music and words by Leonard Cohen

“Chelsea Hotel #2” recalls meeting Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel.

Cohen began writing it in the bar of a Polynesian restaurant in Miami in 1971 and finished it in Asmara, Ethiopia. During a plane trip from New York to Shannon, Ireland, Cohen got help with the finishing touches from Ron Cornelius, his trusted guitarist and bandleader on four albums. Here the versions of his contribution differ: Ron says that the song was entirely written during that flight and that the #2 of the title is a small deception by Cohen, who made him believe that he had created a second, very different version for the album. from that conceived on an airplane; Leonard claims instead that he only took a change of chords from his friend and that the song is titled “Chelsea Hotel #2” because it tells of a meeting between him and Janis Joplin that actually took place at the Chelsea Hotel, and that it is therefore a song who wants to revive an event for a second time.

The first version was less poignant and lyrical and more concrete; it also contained a verse in which Cohen recounted spicy details of their encounter, starting from the noises that Janis made during intercourse.

“A great surprise laying with you, baby / Making your sweet little sound / See all your tickets torn on the ground / All of your clothes and no piece to cover you” short sound / See all your tickets torn on the floor / All your clothes and no one to cover you).


Music and words by Leonard Cohen

The poet Cohen has eyes above all for love. Unlike many of his colleagues, however, Cohen rarely sings about lost love, rather the love that never came (“I've wasted half my life / waiting for the miracle to come,” he sings in “Waiting For The Miracle”) and the pain of experiencing love during (“I myself yearned for love and light / but it must come so cruel – oh, so blinding?”, “Joan Of Arc”).

The story of Joan of Arc, also translated sublimely by Fabrizio De André, contains some of the best images of Cohen's entire poetic arc. As Cohen himself confirmed, inside there are two women: Joan of Arc and Nico, with whom Leonard was deeply in love. The haughty and detached image of him, “a cold and lonesome heroine,” reminded him of another heroine, whose story was perfect to tell. Personally I find the two-voice version proposed by Cohen and Jennifer Warnes on the album “Famous Blue Raincoat” even more beautiful.


Music and words by Leonard Cohen

The two sisters of mercy are called Barbara and Lorraine. Leonard meets them in Edmonton, probably in 1967 (Cohen himself is uncertain about the year). While he is walking, on a cold and snowy evening, he sees the two girls sheltering from the cold in a hallway. They invite him to join them. They soon end up in Cohen's hotel room, where, however, nothing as one might imagine happens.

The girls fall asleep and Cohen is forced to put aside “every possible sexual fantasy I had cultivated upon entering the room.” Unable to fall asleep, he writes a song watching the light coming through the window illuminate the girls and her dreams of him.


Music and words by Leonard Cohen

Cohen was inspired by a poem entitled “The God Abandons Antony”, written by Constantinos Kavafis, one of the greatest Greek poets of modernity, born in Alexandria, Egypt, where he spent the best years of his life. He began working on that translation in 1985, without ever being satisfied with it. There was something that eluded him, that he couldn't capture. One day, the revelation, when Alexandria city transformed into Alexander woman.

As Cohen himself stated: “I couldn't say goodbye to Alessandria, because I never lived there, but I could easily say goodbye to Alessandra who was leaving, because that name has a meaning for me.” One of the many songs, constructed each time from a different angle, where what is celebrated is the sense of abandonment and detachment, traumatic but inevitable.

Texts by Massimo Cotto, who published two books on Leonard Cohen: “The famous blue raincoats: Leonard Cohen. Stories, interviews and testimonies” and “Songs from a room”.