Shortly before Leonard Cohen’s 1960s-era muse Marianne Ihlen died from leukemia late last month, he sent her a very touching letter. “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,” he wrote. “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 for 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.”
Cohen and Ihlen split decades ago and haven’t had much contact since, but they lived together for nearly a decade after meeting on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s. She inspired some of his greatest love songs, including “So Long Marianne” and “Bird on a Wire.” Here’s video of him performing “So Long Marianne” on German TV on October 31st, 1979. He was in the early stages of his Smokey Life tour, which took him all over the world in support of his LP Recent Songs. His backing group included bassist Roscoe Beck and backup singers Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson. He’d work with all three of them for decades to come.
Cohen has kept a very low profile since his Grand Tour wrapped in Auckland, New Zealand on December 21st, 2013. He did celebrate his 80th birthday in 2014 by releasing the new album Popular Problems. There’s been word about any other recording or touring activity, but let’s hope that when he said he’d follow Ihlen “very soon” into the afterlife he didn’t mean that soon. Popular Problems is perhaps the greatest album ever released by an octogenarian. He’s got a lot more life left in him.