Watch Leonard Cohen perform ‘So Long, Marianne’ live in London, 2008
When Leonard Cohen made his highly anticipated return to the live arena after a prolonged absence even he was surprised by the level of anticipation that had grown in the years leading up to his comeback. The return culminated in a two-night residency at London’s O2 Arena and, amid the demand, two further nights at the English capital’s iconic Royal Albert Hall.
The legendary songwriter had stepped away from the limelight following the end of his previous tour which had ended all the way back in 1993. Cohen wouldn’t perform publically gain until some fifteen years later. The period away from the stage would be a fascinating transitional time in Cohen’s life, in which he spent a considerable amount time at a Buddhist monastery on Mount Baldy in California.
His first step back into the world of music came when the singer agreed to duet with U2 on ‘Tower Of Song‘, a performance that arrived in 2005 as part of a project alongside filmmaker Lian Lunson—the same director who documented the Hal Willner-produced Cohen tribute shows featuring the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker and more. That documentary, entitled Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, signified a full circle moment on a creative partnership. Cohen’s appearance wasn’t in front of an audience, but it certainly started a spark in him to dust off his gloves and get back in the ring.
In January 2008, Cohen finally announced details of his return. Kicking things off with an intimate theatre tour of North America, the singer’s his comeback made it’s way to Europe in emphatic style with an iconic set on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage which was topped off with his performance of ‘Hallelujah’ as the sun began to set.
That autumn would see Cohen return to British shores with a pair of two-night stays at London’s O2 Arena as well as at the aforementioned shows at the Royal Albert Hall, a moment which marked his first headline shows since 1993—and he was ready to make up for the lost time.
‘So Long, Marianne’ is one of the Canadian’s definitive songs which, like a lot of Cohen’s best work, came from a place of heartache following his split from Marriane Jensen. The couple, who met while Cohen was living on the Greek island of Hydra, would result in an intense romance before the pair would move to Montreal.
Tragically, both Marianne and Leonard both died of cancer in 2016, Ihlen in July and Cohen in November. When Cohen learned that she was sick, he wrote her this heartbreaking letter that read: “Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.
“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
Watch the poignant footage of Cohen performing this bona fide classic from London in 2008, below.