Despite the vice-like grip that dead white men have on the
cultural canon, Greek myth would have it that it’s women we have
to thank for the joys of art,
music, philosophy and pretty much every act of human creativity. Specifically, we should direct our gratitude towards the Muses: divine offspring of the Olympian Zeus and the celestial embodiments of everything that can bevaguely described as “arty”.
Naturally, being goddesses, they’re in possession of cookie-cutter good looks – but that’s by far their least interesting quality.
With unparalleled talents in the arts, the muses were
fabled for helping Grecians forget their troubles, and supposedly served as inspiration to the writers of ancient civilisation.
Classical poets would begin their work with an ode to the muses,
wishing that theses deities would grant a smidgen of their talent
to the writerly endeavour at hand, and a twisted version of this
tradition has lived on in contemporary culture.
Specifically, the “muse” is alive and kicking – but it’s the songwriter, rather
than the verse writer, that has her in his (and it’s almost always
his) sights. The power dynamic, funnily enough, is also flipped.
Rather than the poet’s words aggrandising the lofty muses, the
songwriter’s lyrics break the muse apart, reducing her to a few
catchy lines or a plaintive chorus.
Many women have populated the songs of rock music and
whilst the women behind these songs never graced the limelight
themselves – though there are always exceptions to this rule –
they’ve made a profound impact on musical culture.
Visualising and documenting this impact was no doubt some of the rationale behind the freshly released documentary Marianne & Leonard:
Words of Love, which focuses on Leonard Cohen’s relationship
with Marianne Ihlen, who inspired the song ‘So Long, Marianne’
and several songs on Cohen’s first album.
Besides its nauseating title, there’s a lot that’s wrong with this Nick Broomfield-directed feature.
Feeding into the narrative of the “genius” musician, Cohen is genuinely described as someone who “couldn’t give himself to them [the many women who fancied him], because he couldn’t give himself away.”
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