Leonard Cohen – So Long, Marianne

21st June 2021 · 1960s, 1967, Music

Leonard Cohen’s song So Long Marianne reminds me of my first job, and the time I left home and moved to London when I was 17.

After I left school in the summer of 1975 with dismal A-level grades (no uni for me) and an eagerness to enter the Outside World after ten tortuous years of public school, I got my first job, working at Christie’s.

Nothing fancy, like an auctioneer or an expert in antiquities: I was a porter. It was a manual job and mostly involved filing paintings and other objets d’art.

Every now and then we might bring them up from the store rooms in the bowels of the building in St James’s, to be sold at auction, where I would enjoy the tension of seeing vast sums of money being bid at lightning speed by the well-heeled clientele.

The other porters were mostly long-serving Cockneys who bitterly resented the wealth that surrounded them (I remember them once deliberately knocking a bit off the gilt frame of a Turner in the lift, chortling with pride at their destruction), and the privileged elite who worked there.

Most of all they resented their ranks being invaded by the occasional posh boy whose dad probably knew one of the directors. In my case that was true – my parents’ neighbour, Nigel Proudlock, was exactly that, and had got me the job.

Fortunately there was one other fellow my age (17) with a similar sort of background. Despised by our supervisors, the pair of us were given the most menial jobs, which suited us just fine.

We would move a few pictures around and then sit in the back of a store room, surrounded by some of the most priceless art in the world, sneakily smoking from a bashed-out Coke tin converted into a primitive hash pipe until it was time to go home.

Since I was commuting daily from my parents’ home in Essex, an hour-long journey each way on a Honda 50, and therefore had no social life, I was eager to move to London.

One day my new friend Ben Buchanan asked me if I’d like to move into his flat in Kensington, where he lived with his mum and a couple of other lodgers, after one of them left. I moved in like a shot.

His mum, Gretchen, was not like mine. She was in her thirties, wore boho chic before it was chic and seemed to host constant parties. Young men and women came and went with bewildering frequency, music was played all day and much of the night, and a haze of marijuana hovered over the rooms of the flat in Southwell Gardens like a permanent smog cloud.

I loved it there.

Gretchen had a large record collection and I remember she had a fondness for an old dude with a gravelly voice called Leonard Cohen. Whenever she put his album on, Ben and I would last until about halfway through the first song, Suzanne, before being overwhelmed by an urge to slit our wrists.

Oh how we loathed it.

Later, of course, we grew up and came to appreciate the Songs Of Leonard Cohen. None more so than this song, which still brings me to tears most times I hear it.