Suzanne (Leonard Cohen song)

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"Suzanne"
Song by Leonard Cohen from the album Songs of Leonard Cohen
Released 1967
Genre Folk
Length 3:48
Label Columbia
Writer Leonard Cohen

"Suzanne" is a song written by Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen in the 1960s. First published as a poem in 1966, it was recorded as a song by Judy Collins in the same year, and Cohen himself recorded it for his 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen. Many other artists have recorded versions, and it has become one of the most-covered songs in Cohen's catalogue.[1]

In 2006, Pitchfork Media listed the song #41 on their list of "The Top Songs of the 1960s".[2]

Background[edit]

"Suzanne" was inspired by Cohen's platonic relationship with Suzanne Verdal, the then girlfriend of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt. Its lyrics describe the rituals that they enjoyed when they met: Suzanne would invite Cohen to visit her apartment by the harbour in Montreal, where she would serve him Constant Comment tea, and they would walk around Old Montreal past the church of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, where sailors were blessed before heading out to sea.[3]

Verdal was interviewed by CBC News's The National in 2006 about the song. Verdal says that she and Cohen never had sexual relations,[4] contrary to what some interpretations of the song suggest. Cohen himself stated in a 1994 BBC interview that he only imagined having sex with her, as there was neither the opportunity nor inclination to actually go through with it.[5] She says she has met Cohen twice since the song's initial popularity; once after a concert Cohen performed in the 1970s and once in passing in the 1990s when she danced for him, but Cohen did not speak to her (and possibly did not recognise her). Verdal never benefited financially from the song's enormous commercial success.[6]

Cohen has stated that he was duped into giving up the rights for the song but stated that he was glad it happened as it would be wrong to write a song that was so well loved and to get rich for it also.[7]

In any case, its lyrics first appeared as the poem "Suzanne Takes You Down" in Cohen's 1966 book of poetry Parasites of Heaven, admittedly because of lack of new material (lyrics to a few other songs from his subsequent 1967 debut album were also printed in the book).

Recordings and cover versions[edit]

The song "Suzanne" was first recorded by Judy Collins, and appeared on her 1966 album In My Life. It was later released by Cohen himself on his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen

The song was also performed and recorded by Nina Simone on several occasions. It originally appeared on her 1967 studio album, To Love Somebody, and it appears on the compilation album Tell It Like It Is, in a live version at the Philarmonic Hall New York in 1969. Meshell Ndegeocello recorded a version of "Suzanne" in tribute to Simone's version on her album "Pour une Ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone".[8]

Other notable early versions were by Noel Harrison, whose recording was a minor hit, and Fairport Convention.[9] Fairport Convention were among Cohen's earliest admirers, and their take on "Suzanne" was sung as a duet between Sandy Denny and Iain Matthews for the BBC in August 1968; the recording was released on their BBC sessions compilation Heyday. Roberta Flack's version closes her 1973 double-platinum album, Killing Me Softly. In 1969, Herman van Veen's Dutch version reached fourth place on the Dutch Top 40 list.

It has since been covered by many other artists.[1] Early versions of "Suzanne" included those by Pearls Before Swine, Harry Belafonte, the latter of whom had earlier written and recorded a different song called "Suzanne". Tom Northcott's version charted in Canada in 1971. René Marie sings a version combined with Ravel's "Bolero" as a tribute to her father, who loved both pieces; a recording of this is on her 2003 album, Live at Jazz Standard.

Some remakes of the song in other languages include the 1967 French version by Graeme Allwright, covered by many, such as Françoise Hardy (1968), "Pauline Julien" (1969), Neil Diamond on Stones (1971), Nana Mouskouri (2002), Sylvie Vartan (2007), Alain Bashung (2008) ; the 1969 Dutch version by Herman van Veen; and the 1974 Italian version by Fabrizio de André (in his album "Canzoni").

The Flying Lizards released a version with detached, cold vocals sung over dark samples on their 1984 LP Top Ten. Peter Gabriel recorded a syncopated version of "Suzanne" for the Leonard Cohen tribute album Tower of Song, and Geoffrey Oryema performed it on the earlier tribute I'm Your Fan. Tori Amos performed this song during her Original Sinsuality Tour in 2005. John Howard covered the song on his 2007 E.P. The Bewlay Brothers. James Taylor took his own approach to it as part of his 2008 album Covers. Tangerine Dream covered the song in their 2010 album Under Cover - Chapter One.

Samples from "Suzanne" have also been used: Robert McKay used lines from Cohen's poem as chapter titles in his 1969 young adult novel Dave's Song. Verses of the song are played intermittently throughout the 1974 movie The Second Coming of Suzanne, starring Sondra Locke, Paul Sand, Jared Martin and Richard Dreyfuss. Rapper Plan B sampled the song for his Paint It Blacker mixtape, detailing a fictionalised account of a prostitute killed by the Camden Ripper and dumped in the river. The band R.E.M. gave Cohen a joint songwriting credit for their song "Hope" (on their 1998 album Up), in light of the similarity between the two songs. R.E.M. describe themselves as realising that similarity only after completing the song.

Current 93's "Lament For My Suzanne" is another take on Cohen's song. The song heavily features lyrics and themes from the original version.

A Czech Version exists, sung by Václav Neckář.

The song was recorded by the Canadian singer Patricia O'Callaghan on her 2011 album Matador: The Songs of Leonard Cohen with several of the verses sung in French.

Original piano variations on the music of the song were presented by pianist Simone Dinnerstein on the first hour of the 3 September 2013 broadcast of American Public Media's Performance Today program.[10]

Use in film[edit]

The song forms the opening and closing theme for the 1974 film "The Second Coming of Suzanne"

The song forms the theme for the final scene of Cohen's short movie I Am a Hotel released in 1983.

It's also used in one of the intermezzos in Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves.

Nick Cave performed the song in the film Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man.

The song is featured in the Werner Herzog movie Fata Morgana.

The song is featured in "A Home at the End of the World" (2004).

The song is played as a slow-motion backdrop to film of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in Adam Curtis's 2011 documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.

The song is played in the 1987 Icelandic movie, Skytturnar, where a woman plays the song on her stereo but the two main characters are dissatisfied with the song and instead play an Icelandic country song

The song is featured in the final minutes of Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller".

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Arjatsalo, J., Riise, A., & Kurzweil, K. (July 11, 2009). A Thousand Covers Deep: Leonard Cohen Covered by Other Artists. The Leonard Cohen Files. Retrieved on: 2009-07-12.
  2. ^ "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  3. ^ Simmons, Sylvie. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. New York: HarperCollins, 2012, p. 124-7.
  4. ^ Simmons, Sylvie. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. New York: HarperCollins, 2012, p. 126.
  5. ^ http://www.webheights.net/speakingcohen/bbctrans.htm
  6. ^ Maslin, Janet. "Searching the Soul of a Soulful Poet." The New York Times. September 14, 2012, C1.
  7. ^ Video on YouTube
  8. ^ http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009474GUK/ref=dm_dp_trk2
  9. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/song/t619235
  10. ^ http://performancetoday.publicradio.org/display/programs/2013/09/03/

External links[edit]