So Long, Marianne

Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Hallelujah’ was number 1, 2 and 36 on the British charts last week – in versions sung by various artists, including himself .

I first learned to appreciate Leonard Cohen when I worked one summer in London.  I arrived in town to find a job with no work visa and no idea how to look for work.  I was staying in a private hostel on Eardley Crescent in Earl’s Court.  After a few days of panic, I was hired on at that hostel.  One of the staff was fired for stealing from the guests and I asked for the job.  I spent the summer of ’78 there, making beds and serving cereal and toast to tourists.  

The big news that summer was the birth of Louise Brown, the first test tube baby.  It was also the summer of punk rock.  One of the other staff ,Carl, a young punk from Birmingham, used to wake up late sleeping guests by putting on, full blast, the Sex Pistols’s album “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.”   

The other staff were three Irish boys from poorer (they told me) areas of Dublin – Summerhill and Ballyfermot.  When they heard I was Canadian, one of our first conversations was about Leonard Cohen.  They were huge fans and told me he was big in Ireland.  I was invited to listen to a Leonard Cohen LP with them and heard it played over and over again all that summer.    When I hear any news of Leonard Cohen, I always remember his distinctive voice singing ‘So Long, Marianne’ – and their Dublin voices joining in loudly on the chorus.

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