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Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 11:52 am
by ciegalo
Hi to all,
First, thanks for the website & the forum !

I got to know LC a couple years ago, with "Songs from a room". This album chills me all the time... I put my ol' tape in the player again this morning, and stumbled again on the song "Seems so long ago, Nancy"... I can't seem to grasp what it means.

"through a semi precious stone" : does it refer to some kind of a drug haze ?
"A forty-five beside her head" :does it refer to a gun ?
"an open telephone" : ?

As a non native-English speaker, I am at loss with some of the poetry ;) , although the atmosphere is incredible throughout the album. Although it is not my favourite, I'd like to understand it better.

Any idea ? What is the message ?

Thanks in advance !

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 12:26 pm
by Arno
the forty five refers to the caliber of a gun (.45) and is an image for her suicidal tendencies/plans

an open telephone I think means she took the phone off the cradle so that noone can call her while she lies there.

the semi-precious stone I dont really know...

for me the song is about someone who thinks about whether he could have prevented someone from killing himself. "we told her she was beautiful we all told her she was free, but none of us would meet her in the house of mystery..." they half-heartedly tried to help her, but ultimately he knows that they never gave her the help she needed.

and now he is haunted by the guilt (see her everywhere)
and I now realize that my interpretation is total crap as I study the song more closely ;)

well lets finish my version anyway:

"many comb her hair" could be the people that preserve her body for the funeral

but in the end, he is forgiven although she is dead, since at least now he came to her...

so that was my crap-interpretation of a great song ;)

take care

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 2:09 pm
by jurica
i think your interpretation is quite valid, Arno, but i think these questions are not 'the point'.

'looking at the Late Late show
through a semi-precious stone.'

...that could easily mean: through spectacles. or even glass on the TV set.

'open telephone' and .45 are as you said, i think.

the story is, to summon:
a little girl is lonely.
the girl grows and descoveres sex.
she commits suicide.
her memory hounts the narrator.

the question i'm wondering about is: 'what is THE HOUSE OF MISTERY'?

the term was often used for gothic novels of horror and suspense, and i think it stands for sexuality here, but i'm not very sure.

what do you think?

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 2:26 pm
by Arno
as you may have guessed, I have not mentioned the house of mystery because I simply dont have a clue what that means... sexuality seems ok (in general and in this context ;) ) and at least doesnt smash my thesis ;)

take care

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 3:39 pm
by lightning
"Looking at the late late show through a semi-precious stone" recalls to me psychedelic glasses that were sold at head shops of the sixties in various faceted jewel colored glass. They were meant to enhance the effects of psychedelic drugs. No-one in the house of mystery meant to me a spiritual emptiness that she tried to fill by sleeping with everyone but, of course, couldn't. The song seems to be a warning against a "cheap thrills" lifestyle as well as a message that your friends can't save you. "Which man can save his brother's soul? Oh, man, it's just self-control"--Bob Marley, Zion train.

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 6:33 pm
by lizzytysh
Welcome to the Forum, Damien :D ! Such a great name 8) ~ one I've always loved!

Perhaps my 'interpretation' of certain lyrics in the song came about because of what I witnessed with some women in the sixties. The "free love" 'movement' during that time resulted in some women being exploited sexually, getting 'used up', and left feeling bitter. The quick "Oh, I love you.....sleep with me" with additional pressure from the 'free love' perspective, if they at first said no, "Don't you believe in free love!?!" [i.e. "Aren't you hip?"]. When I saw some women get exploited and 'used up' ["But he said he loved me!"] ~ it's nothing new, really, that's true; but, at the time, it wasn't just going against parental training, but the peer pressure and climate of the times really leant themselves to it and were pushing many women in that direction. That's not to say that there weren't women pushing/pressuring men, as well ~ the film "Chelsea Walls" shows an incident of that, too .

"through a semi precious stone" ~ I remember those glasses that Lightning speaks of, and I agree that this is what is being referred to. Even smoking marijuana and wearing them brought a different 'reality,' so "drug haze" is still in the ballpark with it.

"A forty-five beside her head" ~ yes, a .45 gun, with which she committed suicide.

"an open telephone" ~ to me, this has always described her having called someone at the last moment to say goodbye, to tell them what she was about to do and then she did it; though I can also see where it could be her removing the phone from the hook, so as not to be interrupted.

The "many comb her hair" and "we told her she was beautiful / we all told her she was free, but none of us would meet her in the house of mystery..." ~ for me, this has always been a description of the 'free love' aspect. Combing her hair is an act of intimacy, which many were privy to. The sensual delights of the time brought people together in these tactile ways, i.e. the feel and sight of her hair whilst being combed would be exquisite for a man who is stoned. "We told her she was beautiful" ~ the flattery of seduction; "we all told her she was free" ~ 'free to go to bed with me,' as I'm enjoying your body, your hair so much; you are so beautiful, I want to sleep with you, isn't that enough? You're free, I'm free, love is free, let's make love."

"But none of us would meet her in the house of mystery" ~ this has always been symbolic for marriage, a 'closed-in space' with restrictions. They were willing to use her, but not to marry her ~ marriage being the commitment to that 'great unknown' [of what's to come]. It was more about having sex and moving on, to experience the next person, rather than joining with someone in a physical/psychological space with 'walls' [the house] that creates parameters/restrictions by virtue of commitment. They all wanted to 'stay outside' where they could be and remain 'free'. Marriage was still a "mystery" to them, one they weren't yet interested in exploring or resolving. It seemed that Nancy was hoping to marry.

It sounded to me like Nancy finally became so overwhelmed by the cumulative, ultimate 'rejections' of her that she took her own life. It seemed to me that Leonard felt tremendous compassion for her plight, and saw the disparity between men being able to have sex freely and not be judged; yet, women were still [despite the 'free love' movement] judged and 'thrown away' as the result of their engaging in sexual expression.

As I said, my interpretation is certainly coloured by what I witnessed. I agree with Lightning that the song addresses a "cheap thrills" life, and then 'chronicles' the depth of the very real psychological/ultimately-physical damage that it can do to a person; in this particular case, Nancy. It seems Leonard included himself in this grouping, as well; and that Nancy's death forced him to view his own activities through a different lens, with a certain sense of guilt and even vague feelings of responsibility bringing about the song.

~ Lizzy

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 7:47 pm
by jurica
i think you both offered great interpretations.

what about Honesty?

'In the House of Honesty
her father was on trial,
in the House of Mystery
there was no one at all,
there was no one at all.'

so there's noone in her spiritual world. noone she can relate to in her mistic inner world. what about her father? why is he on trial? is it teenager's rebelion? is she questioning his not-honest world of false emotions and burgeois morality?

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 8:33 pm
by Tony
"In the house of honesty"

Her father was a judge.

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 10:31 pm
by margaret
As Leonard introduced this song in live concerts, it was about a certain person he had known, I understand , a friend of his family. Her father was indeed a judge as Tony said. She did in fact kill herself when feeling alone and unwanted. The song is about how when all the sexual freedom was happening in the sixties, there was still a different attitude to women who indulged in this compared to how men were viewed. Attitudes are still rather that way too. Nancy ended up feeling used and not really wanted or respected any more, and decided to commit suicide. Leonard appears to be saying that the same rules for men should apply for women too, and he rebukes the men who used Nancy and others like her then ceased to respect her.

Posted: Sun Jul 04, 2004 11:59 pm
by altinkum
This has always been one of my favourite Cohen songs. The line "The house of mystery" I have always read to be the mind itself, so I think he is refering to her own thoughts and how it is hard to really know how another is thinking or feeling. I read somewhere that she actually killed herself after climbing into her brothers home, but maybe I am wrong there.

Posted: Mon Jul 05, 2004 12:32 am
by lizzytysh
The "house of mystery" as her mind sounds feasible, too, Altinkum. Perhaps, no one with whom she could share her deepest, innermost thoughts....they were only interested in her sexually, not what she thought or felt. 'Meetings of the mind' held great significance during those times. Intellectualism was a big thing.

Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Posted: Mon Jul 05, 2004 12:42 am
by ciegalo
Hi all,
Wow... i step back in meat world for a couple hours and I find a book's worth of very intersting interpretations... Thanks to all who contributed to making the lyrics clearer.

I had somehow gotten the idea that it was about suicide, althought, as I'm not familiar with the period, I did not relate it so much to the "free love period". Lizzytysh's description of it brings an upside-down quote to my mind: "free as in free beer, not freedom". Sorry to open-source contributors for "reversing" the quote ;) . Anyway I particularly like the idea behind hair-combing (intimacy) and the house of mystery (mariage).

Don't you believe, then, that this song is also about helplessness ? About the lack of courage of many people, drug-induced or not ? I may not be as fatalist as Lignthing in this regard, but the song definately sounds like a warning.

About "the house of honesty" : yes, I had also related it to justice. But I had thought of a more ultimate justice, that of God who is the father of all ? Gasp, does "on trial" mean prosecuted ? My explantation doesn't hold... :(

I guess this song climbs up the ladder of my appreciation now that I understand it better. Although it still is not my favourite... Ever listened to the "Story of Isaac" late at night, after breaking up with a beloved one ?

Thanks again,

PS, regarding my first name :
When you choose names for your kinds, try to make sure people can pronnounce it in different languages ;) Damien is a nice name, but not many can pronounce the last syllable... not that it matters that much "here" LOL.
PS2 :
Try to find a name that's not been used for a vilain in a horror movie. Ever seen "The Omen" ;) ?

Posted: Mon Jul 05, 2004 3:55 am
by lightning
David Boucher in "Dylan and Cohen, Poets of Rock and Roll" says that part of the charm of Leonard Cohen's work lies in his ability to create mystery. The House of Mystery is where he has his writing desk.

Posted: Mon Jul 05, 2004 10:31 pm
by jurica
margaret wrote:Her father was indeed a judge as Tony said.
why is the judge on trial? what is this House of Honesty? it's not court, because he's the judge there, so it must be some place else.

Posted: Tue Jul 06, 2004 12:12 am
by Joe Way
Just two quick observations: The .45 before her head probably resonates because the 45 rpm record was also the most popular recorded music option for all young people in those days-so it has a little double meaning.

Also the line, "many comb her hair" echos a line from a famous W. B. Yeats poem called, "In Memory of Major Robert Gregory" who also died young. The line reads to the effect, "What made us dream that he would comb grey hair."