Cohen on Hydra

Leonard Cohen 'returns' to his beloved Greek island of Hydra.  A new TV series about the late singer, songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen has been filmed on the island, named So Long Marianne after one of Cohen's songs about his partner on Hydra.  Cohen had a second home on the picturesque island where he would spend many summer months writing music, songs and poetry, and the place was also where he met the great love of his life, Norwegian journalist-writer and model Marianne Ihlen.  The eight-episode series will star Alex Wolff as Leonard Cohen and Thea Sofie Loch Naess as his muse and lover Marianne Ihlen.  The filming locations include Hydra in Greece, Norway and Canada, with the series expected to premiere on Norwegian TV in 2024 before being distributed throughout Europe.

Most of the series primerily revolves around Hydra, where Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen lived and loved in the 1960s. During that time, they became acquainted with the Australian novelist Charmian Clift and her husband George Johnson, the matriarch and patriarch of a bohemian group of artists, writers, poets and painters who were exploring the new world of free love, drugs and artistic freedom, but also experiencing the rivalries and jealousy that accompanied their intense, interwoven lives on the island.

The Canadian songwriter enjoyed a successful career in music which lasted nearly 50 years.  He was among a handful of revered songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s, along with Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor, marking the two most important decades in modern music history.  Cohen, who began his adult life as a writer, travelled a great deal, which seemed to him mandatory for anyone who wanted to write from personal experience.  On Hydra, he found the serenity and solitude he longed for in order to pen his works.  This is where he wrote his two books, The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). It was also there where Cohen first met and fell in love with the beautiful Marianne Ihlen, his partner and muse for most of the 1960s.

Cohen found the native people of Hydra mysterious and intriguing, and he came to absolutely enjoy living there. The Canadian singer-songwriter and novelist later said that buying his island house was the smartest decision he had ever made. The island of Hydra is also where Cohen's two albums were conceived.  'Songs of Leonard Cohen' (1967) and 'Songs from a room' (1969) featuring spare arrangements and delivery of his poetic lyrics, established the young Canadian in the international music industry.  His themes throughout his musical career that spanned nearly five decades include faith and morality, isolation and depression, betrayal and redemption, social and political conflict, and sexual and romantic love, desire, regret and loss. 

Leonard Cohen's love affair with Marianne inspired some of the creator's most popular songs, and is one of the best-known love stories in the art world.  The two creators met and fell in love in Hydra, at a time when the beautiful Argo-Saronic island was the cradle of civilization.  Cohen once said about the Greek island, which in the 1960s had attracted some of the most creative minds of the world, "We were young and beautiful and full of talent, as if we were covered in gold dust. They all had special and distinct abilities. This is the feeling of youth. But on the wonderous Hydra, all this was multiplied".  Cohen's love of the island never ceased.

Cohen's international music career took off in the late 1960s, particularly after Judy Collins sang and recordered several of Cohen's songs, most notably 'Suzanne', and introduced Cohen to her vast audience.  In 1967, after appearing at the Newport Folk Festival, he was signed up by Columbia Records.  During this period, Leonard and Marianne started to drift apart as lovers.  Cohen would continue to support Ihlen and her son Axel and provide whatever help he could.  Their intimate relationship finally ended in 1972 after the birth of Cohen's son Adam, who was born from his relationship with Suzanne Elrod.  Nevertheless, Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen remained close friends for the rest of their lives and continued to revisit the island of Hydra whenever they could.

Three months before her death, Marianne wrote to her friend on 23rd April 2016 . . .  Leonard Cohen is a rare and great person, and I will always love and honour him.  I am glad we met that day on the port of Hydra.  He taught me so much about myself, something he saw in me while I was still blind.  Many years earlier Marianne said "Although I loved him from the moment we met, our romance felt like a beautiful, slow motion picture".  Marianne declared decades later that "I very often meet him in my dreams". 

Leonard Cohen died on 7th November 2016, in Los Angeles aged 82, only three months and nine days after Marianne, who died on 28th July in Oslo aged 81.  A message he sent her two days before she died was read out at her funeral . . . 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.  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.  Endless love and gratitude.  Your Leonard.