Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Post by garyrob »

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

Post by Steven »

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

Post by holydove »

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

Post by mohdashique »

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

Post by Gary Bonds »

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

Post by dar »

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

Post by B4real »

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

Post by jarkko »

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

Post by goofy2019 »

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

Post by goofy2019 »

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

Post by starchild1986 »

Nancy was mentally ill and had been to the psychiatric hospital several times. Mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were not well understood in the early 1960's and there are still a lot of unknown factors about the nature and the deep complexity of these illnesses. There are also a lot of taboos and stigmas so most people will say that they understand and that they sympathise but that's mostly just hypocrisy to dodge the issues.

The house of mystery can be seen as her head. They would all have sex with her but no one dared to meet her inside her deepest mental, emotional and spiritual struggles. They were not strong. They would touch her body but not her mind because it was infected with mental illness; this is why she was all alone.

In the House of Mystery
There was no one at all
There was no one at all

A house is a physical body that offers shelter but it is also a vulnerable construction if one is to seek refuge. A church is also a house and Cohen certainly saw that all religions point towards the same divinity, the same mystery. So the house of mystery is a sacred place.

The house of mystery can also be seen as life itself, which is both a physical shelter and indeed a mystery. In the house of mother earth, where the majority of normal people somewhat thrive in the shallow end, with casual meet ups, with not so many huge emotions and with not so many big existential questions, it's all fun and games, and there - as a cliché - everyone can agree that life is a mystery, but when it came to the life of Nancy - a girl with big emotions and big questions, big issues - there was no one who had the desire nor the courage to be there and live through it with her.

Nancy was puzzled with huge unsolved problems and there was no one to understand her nor to care for her, to open up into her house and shed light on things, there was no one to support her, to help her make sense of life nor to help her gain mental clarity. There was no one at all.

We told her she was beautiful
We told her she was free
But none of us would meet her in
The house of mystery
The house of mystery

They told her she was beautiful, but just her body anyway, and they just said that to make the ugliness of her troubles seem pretty, they just told her she was beautiful to make themselves feel good, because they didn't care or dare to face what she was living through.

They told her she was free, because it's easy to say for anyone who isn't living with mental illness and who just isn't experienced enough with suffering to really understand, and most of those normal guys she was seeing were probably just people who had their own problems and who just weren't empathetic enough to relate to a mentally ill person any better. They praised what they could seeand made sure to use her up. They only saw that she was physically untied but they didn't see how she was trapped because mental illness is not visible to the naked eye.

At the end, Nancy has died. Everyone who knows her story feels some level of guilt and that's why they see her everywhere. Their ignorance is turning into enlightenment. She has become pure consciousness. She is now the all seeing eye and she's happy that you too have come to see
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Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Post by I'm your fan »

Gary Rob:

"If she committed suicide, how are many men seeing her everywhere and coldly using her body for sex?"

I think this is kind of a flashback, where after Nancy's death you [we?] (And now you look around you/See her everywhere) you remember her, and you remember when she was alive. But with a sense of guilt. As starchild1986 wrote in the last message: "At the end, Nancy has died. Everyone who knows her story feels some level of guilt and that's why they see her everywhere".
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Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Post by pe swijngedouw »

this is one of many good reasons to come back to this forum "now and then" : people who pick up threads that live on for many years ; seeing people who, like real good friends do, reply to words from someone they've perhaps never met, but helping other people get better understanding of songs that are still full of mystery.
so, thank you, to all writers, moderators, and everyone like you who keep this forum alive.
... precisely ...
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Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Post by I'm your fan »

pe swijngedouw: And now, after reading your message, in moments like this I wish there is the "I like" button to push It. :D
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Re: Looking for an axplanation for "Seems so long ago Nancy

Post by SadrakKabir »

Hi Gary,
Are you still looking for an explanation of
'now you look around you, see her everywhere' ?
If so: just reply to
Meanwhile Considering the lady slept with everyone ( join the queue )
then ' Nancy wore green stockings' : no time to clean her Black Hood, this over-copulation results in the semen dripping out, turning green. Hence, the green stockings.
the 'now you see her everywhere is connected in a most peculiar way.
( a 45 besides her head an open telephone : a lady working with a pimp if not agency, used as sperm collector )
Check a former lady physian of famous football team, giving Happy End to all players and sells the outcome to the iVF Cuckoo Clinic.

any way if no response, all the best
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