One day, in 1960, when I was aged nine and three quarters, my father went to an audition. He arrived home with something we had never seen before. It was a radiogram. Ten years later this radiogram would play Leonard Cohen’s songs and change my life.
That winter’s evening back in 1960 we were all fascinated and delighted with our new fancy wireless. A Rosemary Clooney LP came with it. We had never heard of her. We knew about Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and Jim Reeves but not this American singer. My four sisters and I gazed at the cover of the LP and thought she was just gorgeous – blonde and beautiful. Our father put on the record. “Botcha-me, I’ll-botcha you and ev’rything goes crazy,” sang our new ‘radiogram’ and the eight of us danced with delight around the kitchen.
As we got a little older we discovered that we could tune into Radio Luxembourg perfectly on the wireless of this new device. We owned a bar, where both our parents worked at night. As soon as all the babies were in bed, our lessons done, the rosary said and our parents busy in their bar, we tuned into ‘The Station of The Stars’ and got to hear real pop music at last.
Read more: Saint Patrick's Day long ago, rural Ireland 1959
A new television was acquired in 1963. This was placed in the sitting room. As the rest of our family watched "The Andy Williams Show," "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Lucy Show" (in black and white) my sisters and I stayed in the kitchen, beside our radiogram.
We had no spare money to buy records so throughout the sixties, we listened to all the songs we loved on the wireless…From a "Jack to a Queen," "The Carnival is Over," "These Boots Are Made for Walking," "Daydream Believer," "Honey," "Where Do You Go To My Lovely," "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and the wonderful Beatles' hits. We could listen to all these songs on Radio Luxembourg.
However, this ‘foreign’ station did not play the music of the Irish showbands. One of my sisters had joined The Dickie Rock fan club. As we lay in bed Dickie’s face beamed down at us from the posters on the wall.
Another sister was a Joe Dolan fan. We tuned our radio to Pop Call every Wednesday night to hear Larry Gogan play their songs. We jived and huckle-bucked with each other around our old kitchen as we dreamt about meeting our ‘Mr. Wonderful,’ in Roseland, or Dreamland Ballrooms. Our record collection remained very small during all these years.
1970 dawned and I was to celebrate my 20th birthday. My life at that time was bad and sad! I was in college in Dublin, and while my best friend Mary was planning to go to America to work for the summer, I had to return home. My youngest brother was a baby. He was the tenth child born to my mother. Our house was full of children and our bar business wasn’t doing well. My parents couldn’t afford to employ help in the house or business so I had to stay behind. And, worst of all, I had no boyfriend – nor any sign of one! I was fat and dull, longing to be pale and interesting!
I spent the day of my birthday very depressed. My heart was low. My life was empty, my love life non-existent. I yearned for a boyfriend, a man who would understand me, who would know how I felt, who would smile a special smile at me. And even though I lived in a house full of people of all ages, I was lonely. My very heart was lonely.
The postman had to knock on our door as the big square parcel couldn’t fit into the letterbox. “It’s for you, from AMERICA!” screamed my little sister. Mary had sent an LP for my birthday. ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen,’ it was called. I had never heard of this singer. “You’ll LOVE him,” her letter said. “He’ll speak to your very soul.”
And that is exactly what he did. His lyrics captured my feelings of loneliness perfectly. All that summer, as my siblings watched "The Fugitive" and "The Flintstones" in the sitting room, I sat by the radiogram in the kitchen, alone. Except I didn’t feel alone anymore. For I now had Leonard Cohen. ‘I loved you in the morning, our kisses sweet and warm. Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm.” The misery of his songs appealed to my melancholy mood so perfectly.
My mother would pass through the kitchen. “Leonard Moan, again,” she’d sigh! “If you’re depressed, girl, why don’t you go to The Devotions?” I didn’t need to go to The Devotions. Leonard Cohen talked to my soul.
I’ve been a fan ever since. Whenever I hear "Suzanne" or "So long Marianne" I am immediately transported back to that kitchen, our radiogram and my wonderful soul-mate of that lonely summer, Leonard Cohen.
May he rest in peace.