The other day I decided to watch the Leonard Cohen documentary on Amazon Prime, Marianne and Leonard. It illumated so much about Leonard Cohen that his music and even his poetry only really hints at. A colossus of sensual imagery, heartache, desire, longing, and bittersweet loss, Leonard Cohen’s work first struck me in the early 1990s as I was on my journey towards young adulthood, finding myself in a rivalry with one of my best friend’s for the affection of possibly one of the first girls to pay attention to me. What later became her game nearly ended a friendship that had endured to even today. I just wished him a happy 43rd birthday just the other day. I haven’t spoken to the girl really since she chose a third out of a selection of equally stupid and hormonal teenaged boys she had to choose from.
But as we both sat on either side of her in 1992, the only three people in her mother’s house, with her bare legs stretched across my friend’s and the rest of her lounging across my lap, we watched Pump up the Volume. It was a movie about teenaged angst, rebellion, censorship, and Samantha Mathis’s naked body. Quite possibly the first R rated movie I watched with a member of the opposite sex featuring nudity and atraction. At the center of it all was this song, a deep, resonant voice that began every pirate radio broadcast in the movie. Nothing really risque, other that than rumble of a voice that somehow evoked eroticism. It was a song about contrasts, betrayal, and irony; it was at the time Leonard Cohen’s most popular song: Everybody Knows. Since then I’ve seen this song played more times in strip club movie scenes than Pour Some Sugar on Me. Years later, a Jeff Buckley cover of Halleluja would overtake Everybody Knows as Cohen’s most recognizable song.
Later on, I got into Cohen’s music even more, with my favorites becoming Take this Waltz, and later the likes of Anthem, Suzanne, and the deceptively cheerful So Long Marianne. Marianne in the documentary is the same as the woman from the song. She was his Muse while living on the Greek isle of Hydra for a number of years throughout the 60s and 70s, all the way up until the end of their romance, as he ascended to the level of banging the likes of Janis Joplin and pretty much anyone else who feel for that velvety voice with the lyrics of a poet driving them.
The interesting thing about Marianne Ihlen was that she wasn’t just Leonard Cohen’s muse, but that of many artists and singers she encountered. Back in the extremely sexually liberal 60s, she had many lovers, some of which at the same time as Cohen. But as a tale as old as people have scratched each other’s names into stone walls or tree trunks, over time they drifted apart, though Cohen was involved in her life to some degree all the way up until the end of her own life. He even supported her financially as she drifted around the world like some unbound spirit, offering inspiration and encouragement to many she came into contact with.
Watching this documentary, I thought of the importance of the Muse to many artists. I think in my own process, I have had moments that have flooded my imagination with color, but no central person that has provided me with a continual source of inspiration. Unless you count the pain that has resulted from their loss. In which case, they aren’t really a Muse, are they? My muse would be like the ones I saw in the British Museum. Cold and broken figures carved from marble, existing now only as a pale semblance of what they once had been thousands of years ago. Headless. Fragile.
That’s okay, I guess. I do have good people in my life who continue to encourage me as I work. Some days I really don’t know what I’m doing or why. The words are just here and they end up on the page. Sometimes they don’t stop until I am exhausted, refusing to allow me to sleep, and even going as far as waking me early the next morning to start all over again.
The hardest obstacle I am facing now is wondering why I’m telling these stories. I think maybe because of those times I have spent around old people. Their skin translucent with age, the whites of their eyes spiderwebbed, the sheen of their pupils now glassed over a little bit with cataracts as they stare off into the distance, reminiscing about a battle they survived, or some great love affair. But now they have begun to wind down and they no longer tell the stories. They will eventually bring all of those tales with them to the end of their lives. You can’t take money, property, or wealth with you, and the same is true for the experiences we carry. Unless you tell someone about them.
So, I stay up late to tell the stories. They were wonderful to live, frightening sometimes, stupid even more often than that, but one day when I am gone, they will evaporate along with my spirit. Might as well write them down.
I don’t have a Muse like Leonard Cohen, not even the one whose suede jacket exuded the scent of her perfume like a storm cloud of flower blossoms wherever she went. Those are just the details that give everything dimension and life. But I do have the support of a few people who continue to follow my misadventures. I have those moments that I have lived and felt that my life was ringing like a bell, deep and resonant like the blown out voice of the Man himself, and those memories ignite something in me that should have been put out cold long ago. Those moments when someone has touched your perfect body with their mind.
Maybe that’s good enough. Sometimes this is more difficult than it seems. Those days when I question whether or not to write the stories down. These tales of heartache and love and sex and all the rest. Maybe those old people are right to let their memories die with them and I should just remain silent.
For now, I keep going. I think not putting those stories down would kill me faster than anything.