Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2016 8:51 pm

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby garyrob » Thu Jun 09, 2016 9:09 pm

Joining this thread 12 years later...

I really enjoyed the thoughts shared so far, which gave me new insight into the song.

I want to mention one aspect that I didn't notice anyone discussing, which concerns the following lines:

And now you look around you
See her everywhere
Many use her body

If she committed suicide, how are many men seeing her everywhere and coldly using her body for sex? At least that's the question I had when I first heard the song, and I wasn't clear on it for years afterward.

But eventually, when I saw LC in concert, he completely cleared up any "mystery" in the lines by changing "Many use her body" to "Many use her style of body". Not as elegant, certainly, but much clearer. You (or probably LC) see her everywhere - women look like her and even have bodies like hers because the memory is imprinted so strongly due to the sadness of the suicide. (And I think a possibility for the next line, "Many comb her hair", is that it may reflect the fact that having the knowledge of Nancy's terrible unhappiness and suicide might want make you want to show real warmth and affection to "Nancys" you meet now -- perhaps, for example, by affectionately combing their hair.)

I suspect anyone reading this thread will want to take a look at the following Web page: http://www.challies.com/articles/seems- ... go-nancy-0. It was written by the real-life Nancy's nephew, who corresponded with LC about the song, and it contains a photo of her.
Posts: 2140
Joined: Tue May 03, 2005 12:32 am

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby Steven » Sat Jun 11, 2016 6:51 pm

Hi garyrob,

Welcome to the forum. Can't offer an explanation; only Leonard Cohen might be able to do that.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the song and for linking to the article. I share your take that
the lines you referenced came about from an arising of memories. When strong memories arise they
can have all the power of present moment experience, hence the "now." Taking no issue whatsover
with what you said. Yes, too, about "warmth and affection" with the words "comb her hair." Those
words are particularly tender and people can understand them as having to do with a nurturing of the
"little girl" inside a hurting woman (and women, in general), though few realize that's part of what
makes the words emotionally effective. Not sure that Leonard Cohen intended for people to be kinder
to people in the now as a result of the words. I'm sure he'd be happy that the words may have this
Posts: 1562
Joined: Sat Jul 25, 2009 5:38 pm
Location: Connecticut

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby holydove » Sat Jun 11, 2016 8:34 pm

Leonard has offered an explanation. In one interview, I remember Leonard saying, "If Nancy was born a decade later, she would have been the coolest kid on the block". And in Leonard's intro to the song at the 1970 IOW concert, he said to the audience, about Nancy, ". . .she was right where you are now, but she didn't have the horizontal support that you have. . . there was noone around to light all those matches" (referring to his earlier request that the members of the audience light matches so they could locate one another).

So my take on it is that Nancy was ahead of her time, in terms of her thinking, her consciousness, & her lifestyle. The song lyrics, (e.g., ". . .none of us were very strong/ but Nancy wore green stockings/ & she slept with everyone"), indicate that Nancy lived a kind of "free love" lifestyle, but she was born in 1943, so she would have been living that kind of lifestyle around the late "50's/early '60's, which was several years before it became the popular norm during the hippie generation, & that's why she was so alone, & did not have the horizontal support of an entire generation of people in her age group. Then, in 1969 & the early '70's, when the song was released & later performed live, & Nancy, sadly, was already gone - by that time, there were many, many young women who were thinking the way she thought, feeling the way she felt, & living the kind of lifestyle that she wanted to live; thus the lines: "and now you look around you/ see her everywhere/ many use her body/ many comb her hair".
Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Feb 19, 2017 2:29 pm

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby mohdashique » Sun Feb 19, 2017 2:40 pm

I am already late, hope I am going to make sense,

House of honesty: A marriage life of her parents
House of mystery: Anything that gives pleasure of what perceived as love

In the hollow of the night
when you are cold and numb
you hear her talking freely then,
she’s happy that you’ve come,
she’s happy that you’ve come.

These lines bring in sense of regret and sympathy. And good moments you had with her are hurting you now.
Gary Bonds
Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Feb 04, 2018 10:20 pm

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby Gary Bonds » Sun Feb 04, 2018 10:48 pm

Hi everyone!

A very late reply to this thread, but maybe it adds something worthwile.

I was reading about the disappearance of Dorothy Arnold on Wikipedia when I came across a tidbit that made me think of this song.

Dorothy Arnold was a wealthy unmarried heiress who disappeared one day on Manhattan in 1910.

One theory of what happened to her is that she was in fact pregnant out of wedlock. Since this was socially unacceptable at the time, it was arranged for her to make a discreet trip to an illegal abortion clinic. The procedure didnt go well and she died and since it was all illegal she was made to disappear. Her family had plenty of reason not to admit what had actually happened to her, and kept up the pretence that she had just vanished into thin air.

As it happens, there were actually witnesses on the record to this. When an illegal abortion clinic in Bellevue, Pennsylvania was raided by the police (after numerous young women had gone there to never return), one of the doctors at the clinic told the police that Dorothy Arnold had in fact died there and been burned in a furnace in the basement.

Now for the interesting part. That establishment was popularly known as "The House of Mystery". Due to it being a house where young women went never to return.

Considering the circumstances of real-life Nancy (got pregnant out of wedlock; had her kid taken away; killed herself) I think pretty strongly points to that this is what Leo alludes when he uses the phrase "House of Mystery" in Seems So Long Ago, Nancy. A phrase that superficially sounds romantic but in reality refers to a place where young women perish all alone and deserted for the "sin" of getting knocked up.
Posts: 393
Joined: Fri Aug 23, 2002 1:53 am

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby dar » Wed Feb 07, 2018 3:04 am

Lizzytysh, Lightning? Do you guys remember "back in the day" someone posted about their Aunt Nancy and her time in a mental institution, her friendship with LC and her suicide? Not sure if I'm remembering right...old age coming on. Always nice to see you both on line and hope all is well.
User avatar
Posts: 6558
Joined: Sun Jun 07, 2009 4:49 am
Location: Q'ld, Australia

Re: Looking for an explanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby B4real » Wed Feb 07, 2018 8:30 am

Hi dar,

I remember some things about that because I posted a couple of relevant links some years ago.

Here's Jarkko's in 2005 https://www.leonardcohenforum.com/viewt ... ncy#p40173
(looks like that link can't be found now)

and mine in 2010 https://www.leonardcohenforum.com/viewt ... 29#p219932
and 2011 https://www.leonardcohenforum.com/viewt ... cy#p265607
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ me ...... The magic of art is the truth of its lies ~ me ...... Only left-handers are in their right mind!
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 7115
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2002 1:01 am
Location: Espoo, Finland

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby jarkko » Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:04 pm

The real story of Nancy byTim Challies has been moved to this address:
https://www.challies.com/articles/seems ... o-nancy-2/

Nancy was Tim’s aunt.
1988, 1993: Helsinki||2008: Manchester|Oslo|London O2|Berlin|Helsinki|London RAH|| 2009: New York Beacon|Berlin|Venice|Barcelona|Las Vegas|San José||2010: Salzburg|Helsinki|Gent|Bratislava|Las Vegas|| 2012: Gent|Helsinki|Verona|| 2013: New York|Pula|Oslo|||
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed May 22, 2019 11:53 pm

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby goofy2019 » Thu May 23, 2019 12:07 am

a little late...

I ve listened to the song now for about >30 years. And from the beginning on I see a young girl who is alone. Being up late at night looking a senseless distant tv show with a useless glass jewel in her hands with empty eyes. My impression is the answer is included in verse 3 when Nancy wears 'green stockings' and "she sleeps with every one.."
I somehow can't get rid of the impreession there is something about sexual abuse (in the house of honesty her father was on trial) the lonesomeness resulting from it, the helplessness of the bystanders, may be even of these who follow in the line of abusers...

The "house of mystery" could be the promisses going out from a hopeful and mysterious developement every young is dreaming of - "there was no one at all" : a failing promise

" Sleeping with everyone in green stockings" might be the metaphor for useless wasting herself away - as it is typical for borderliners or abused people...
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed May 22, 2019 11:53 pm

Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Postby goofy2019 » Thu May 23, 2019 12:18 am

and of course: the 45 is the gun. The open telephone is Nancy having dialed the number of her friends. She lies on the bed - her friends talking to her through the telephone, trying to prvent her from pulling the trigger...

and es we learn from verse4 she decided to pull, decided not to listen to people anymore who anyhow have no explanations, no hopes, nothing in the "house of mystery"

When you look around you: you see victims of sexual abuse everywhere (many use her body), 'many comb her hair' might be a metaphor for even worse pedophils...

I always have a very bitter and sad taste by listening to the song

Return to “Leonard Cohen's music”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest