Leonard Cohen–So Long, Marianne

One of the finest songs ever written, Leonard Cohen’s So Long, Marianne is a bit misleading in its title.  Instead of a story of two lovers parting, Cohen tells the story of two that can’t quite seem to separate, saying goodbye without meaning it and unable to tear themselves from their relationship.  The song is a cyclical story of farewell and renewal, where so long never really means goodbye.  Unlike Bob Dylan’s Farewell, which sees the singer wanting to stay but knowing he needs to leave, Cohen attempts to part ways, but always finds himself drawn back.  He tells Marianne, “I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spiderweb/is fastening my ankle to a stone.” Meanwhile, she goes from holding onto him like a “crucifix” to leaving when he said he was “curious.”  And while the whole affair could turn quite dour, Cohen makes it sound positively romantic with a swaying 3/4 composition that overswells into a grand chorus of girl group backing vocals to contrast his sincere delivery.  It’s a song that can completely transform based on your mood, from plaintive to hopeful in an instant.  When Cohen delivers the line “We met when we were almost young” I can’t quite decide if it’s one of the saddest or most endearing I’ve ever heard.  His voice, like the lyrics, is loaded with emotion without being conspicuous in meaning.  It is the final element in the intersection of craft and artistic instinct at which the song stand alone.

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