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 a sexual relationship,[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.

Other notable early versions were by Noel Harrison, whose recording was a minor hit,[8] and 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] including a young Bruce Springsteen in his band the Castiles.[9]

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.

Use in the media[edit]

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".

The song is featured in Jean-Marc Vallée's 2014 American biographical drama film Wild.

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.allmusic.com/song/t619235
  9. ^ "Cover Song Spotlight: "Suzanne" by the Castiles". Legends of Springsteen. 

External links[edit]