Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 30: So Long, Marianne

patreon

Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

 

LM2.gif

So long, Leonard …

Since Leonard Cohen died ((Nov. 7th 2016), there has been a resurgence of interest in his songs, and many of them are now staples of acoustic sessions. None more so than So Long, Marianne. It has one of those choruses that, coming after an extended dominant cadence, both prepares and invites audiences to join in.

…………………………………………………………

Where did it come from? …

The song was inspired by Marianne Jensen, born Marianne Ihlen, whom Cohen met on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960.hydra.gif

Her husband, the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen, had recently left her and their six-month-old son alone on the island.

One day Marianne was in the village shop to buy  bottled water and milk. Cohen, standing in the doorway with the sun behind him, asked: “Would you like to join us, we’re sitting outside?”

He called her the most beautiful woman he had ever met, and they started living together. Some months later, he drove with her from Greece to Oslo so that she could finalise her divorce.

Later, he asked her and her son, Axel, to live with him in Montreal. She accepted, and they lived together all through the 1960s, spending time in New York, Montreal, and Hydra.

…………………………………………………………

Muse and inspiration …

The song So Long, Marianne came out on Cohen’s first album Songs of Leonard Cohen in lp.gif1967, by which time they were effectively in an open relationship and drifting slowly apart – though they always remained friends. Hence the probable farewell implied by the lyric.

Cohen dedicated his third volume of poetry, Flowers for Hitler, to Marianne, and she directly inspired many of his other songs and poems. A photo of her appears on the back cover of his second album, Songs from a Room.

…………………………………………………………

The final farewell …

Marianne Ihlen died of leukaemia in hospital in Oslo on 28 July 2016, aged 81. Cohen, also suffering from leukaemia, and with just over 3 months to live himself, sent her an e-mail that was read to her at her bedside:

Dearest Marianne,

I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand.

This old body has given up, just as yours has too, and the eviction notice is on its way any day now.

I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more.

Safe travels, old friend. See you down the road.

Love and gratitude.

Leonard

…………………………………………………………

Lend an ear and an eye …

eye.gif So Long, Marianne

© 1967 Leonard Cohen

SLM.jpg

…………………………………………………………

Taking the metre for a ride …horse.gif

To be frank, in the verses, the stress and metre are all over the place.

Both as a poem and as a song, the lyrics contain a fair sprinkling of odd, un-metred words (the technical term is anacrusis). 

And what seems the natural distribution of beats in the written lyric is not always followed when Cohen sings it –

Written, V1 seems to fall into a pattern of  lines alternating between 
1st-syllable stressed feet – 
trochees [DUM-dah] and dactyls [Dum-dah-dah) 
and 
2nd syllable stressed feet
namely iambs (dah-DUM):

  • “[Come] |ov-er |to the |win-dow, | my little | dar-ling|
    I’d like | to try |to read |your palm|
    [I] used to | think I was | some kind of |gyp-sy boy|
    before | I let |you take |me home |”

But, when Cohen sings the lyric, he drops a stress in L1 by racing onto “window,” and also rushes the 3rd line by taking the stress  off the expected “think”, and putting it onto the next word “I” .

Oddly enough, this actually tightens up the stress pattern by imposing 4 stresses on each line:

  • “[Come] |ov-er to the |win-dow, | my little | dar-ling|
    I’d like | to try |to read |your palm|
    [I] used to think |I was | some kind of |gyp-sy boy|
    before | I let |you take |me home |”

The variation between expected and sung metres continues throughout the song, and anacrusis (jamming in extra syllables) becomes even more pronounced. 

The length of lines becomes quite erratic, with some much longer than others and necessitating a kind of anacrusic babble to fit them into any kind of stress pattern, e.g.

  • “Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now”
  • “And just when I climbed this whole mountainside”

…………………………………………………………

Chorus in concord …chorus.gif

 

The effect of the syllable-jamming in the verses is to create a tension that is dramatically resolved by the heavily-stressed dominant cadence, ie the Vth chord – a stream of variants on D major – resolving onto the tonic (G major).

The chorus  solidly follows a 3  2  4  5 stress pattern with each stress on the 1st beat of a bar, and, in most cases, taking up most if not all of the beats in the bar

The only rushed beat is the final dactyl  in which “all again” once more breaks up the almost ponderous rhythm of the chorus.

  • [Now] so | long, |Mar-ianne
    [It’s] time that |we began |
    [To] Laugh | and | cry |and |
    Cry | and | laugh a- |-bout it|all again

…………………………………………………………

Keeping rhymes regular …bran.gif

The end-rhyme structure, as you’d expect from a poet like Cohen, is solidly regular (although using some half-rhymes).

In the verses, it follows a A  B  C  B  model –

  • “darling” “palm”
    “boy” “home”
  • “you” “much”
    “angels” “us”
  • “young” “park”
    “crucifix” “dark”
  • “now” “alone”
    “web” “stone”
  • “love” “blade”
    “curious” “brave”
  • “one” “again”
    “mountainside” “rain”

…………………………………………………………

The chorus is, allowing for half-rhymes, a straight A  A  A  A pattern,

  • “Marianne” “began” “and” “again”

…………………………………………………………

The key to the song …

keyhole.gif

 

If we discount the capo (which would raise the key a full tone) (two frets), the song is in G major until L3 of the verse when it briefly slides into the closely-related G mixolydian via the F major chord, before returning to G major in the next line.

 

  • G major:
    G  A  B  C  D  E  F#  G
  • G mixolydian:
    G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G

…………………………………………………………

The verdict? …judge.gif

The irregularity of the verses leads me to think that Cohen might have conceived of the song as a more free-form poem initially, before working it up into a song. 

His song needed a chorus, and the regularity of that chorus suggests to me that it came into being at the time of converting the poem. It is thus exactly as one would wish a song’s chorus to be: regular and catchy.

The melody goes into a higher range in the chorus, following the dramatic dominant cadence. The brief step into G mixolydian  adds to the drama, before we return once more to the dominant cadence which helps to punctuate the sections of the song.

Whether by serendipity or not, the contrast between looseness and solid, beat-based regularity creates a pleasing build-up and release of dramatic tension in the song – so Leonard gets away with it!

Despite being so memorable, So Long, Marianne is bereft of cliché. It’s poetic, beautiful, and evocative of the contrasts and contradictions of a real-life love affair. 

And that’s why it’s lasted and, hopefully, will continue to last!

…………………………………………………………rip.gif

Next time, you’ll once again be treated to me
tearing myself to pieces.

Yup, one of my originals coming up!

…………………………………………………………

Click here to return to Home page

Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s