Sunday, February 13, 2011

Judy Collins -- "Suzanne" (1966)

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Suzanne Verdal, the friend of Leonard Cohen's who is the subject of "Suzanne":

Suzanne Verdal
Leonard was a friend of my husband, Armand.  We were all hanging at the same places in Montreal -- Le Bistro, Le Vieux Moulin, which was the place to dance to jazz.  Black turtle-neck sweaters, smoke, beatniks and poets -- it was that bohemian atmosphere in the 60's.  Leonard spent hours at the Bistro.  He was quite a bit older than me but he saw me emerging as a schoolgirl, working three jobs to subsidize my dance classes.

By 1965 I had separated from Armand and was living with our little girl.  Leonard would come over and I would serve him jasmine tea with mandarin oranges, and light a candle.  It sounds like a seance, but obviously Leonard retained those images, too.  I was living in a crooked house, so old with mahogany and stained glass.  I loved the smell of the river and the freight trains and boats.  Out of my window was total romance. Leonard was a mentor to me.  We would walk together and we didn't even have to talk.  The sound of his boots and my heels was weird, like synchronicity in our footsteps.  He felt it, I felt it and we got such a rush just grinning at each other.

Cohen and Collins

We were never lovers of the flesh but on a very deep level we were.  I had the opportunity more than once but I respected his work and what he stood for so much, I didn't want to spoil it.  Also, Leonard is an incredibly sexual man!  He's very attractive to women and I didn't want to be just one of the crowd.

I left Montreal for the states in '68 and when I came back people said, "Have you heard the song Leonard's written about you?"  In my wildest dreams I didn't know it would be huge.  I felt flattered, but I also felt there was an invasion of privacy.  After that, things changed course.  I stayed true to the 60's.  He became this big pop icon and was not accessible any more.  It hurt.  The song is bittersweet for me.  Sometimes I'll be in a restaurant and hear it and I'll be overcome.

There's a book called "The Girl in the Song" that tells the stories of the women who were the subjects of 50 famous songs, including "Suzanne":

Verdal seems to have fallen on hard times.  A few years ago, she was essentially homeless.  Here's a link to a blog about her -- no entries since 2008, however.

Here's Judy Collins singing "Suzanne":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Suzanne - In My Life

Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. Lovely bit of info, goes well with the song. Thanks so much.
    I see suzzane as the church (although I am not religious). It holds the mirror to suffering of people, and necessarily of existance. I love the song about the girl, but I like it better as about the church, and the sweetness and pain of life.