Thursday, March 13, 2008


I mentioned several posts ago that The Dave Clark Five was to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past Monday. That same day, Canadian poet/songwriter/performer Leonard Cohen was also inducted. Although I don't agree that Cohen should be in that particular hall of fame, he should be in some hall of fame, somewhere, for his haunting lyrics. Perhaps the Modern Poets Hall of Fame?
One of my favorites of his poem/songs is "Suzanne." I have read several bloggers who identify strongly with the song. I did as well. I wanted to be Suzanne. I thought I WAS Suzanne.
Reading the lyrics now, I see that Cohen actually used very few words to describe Suzanne. But with those words, I can conjure up this Bohemian, artistic, half woman half child. I can imagine her eccentric but pretty clothing, watch her choreographing her dances, and be with her as she whiles away the evenings with her compatriots in funky little cafes. I can visualize her quaint place by the river, with its houseplants, several cats, beaded curtains, fabrics draped on furniture and scarves draped over lamp shades.
I wanted to be a girl like Suzanne. I still do.
Did you know there was an actual Suzanne? Her name was Suzanne Verdal. She really did have a place by the river in Montreal in the early 1960s, and she really did feed Cohen tea and oranges. She was the muse of dozens of poets in Montreal's beat scene, but Cohen was the one who immortalized her.
She recalls, "I went and was very much interested in the waterfront. The St. Lawrence River held a particular poetry and beauty to me and (I) decided to live there . . . Leonard heard about this place I was living, with crooked floors and a poetic view of the river, and he came to visit me many times. We had tea together many times and mandarin oranges."
She says she and Cohen were never lovers in the physical sense, but they did have a deep spiritual union.
I took the above quotations from The Story of Suzanne, an interview she gave to BBC radio. You can read the entire interview here:
At the end of the interview, Suzanne was asked what the song meant to her now. Her reply:
"There’s a little bit of a bittersweet feeling to it that I retain. I guess I miss the simpler times that we lived and shared. I don’t mean to be maudlin about it, but we’ve kind of gone our different ways and lost touch and some of my most beloved friends have departed from this planet into the other spheres. And there’s sometimes a very real homesickness for Montreal and that wonderful time."

(Interviewer) Saunders: "So it almost has become a symbol of your youth, if you like?"
Suzanne: "Oh absolutely, and for many of us, I hold dear this time, very much so."
I, too, hold those days very dear. And perhaps that is why this song means as much to me now as it did then.
By Leonard Cohen

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
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind.
I am not really a fan of Leonard Cohen's singing. I actually prefer listening to his beautiful poetry performed by other artists. The most beautiful song, ever, in my opinion, is "Hallelujah" as performed by Jeff Buckley on Buckley's CD "Grace".
Another CD that I listen over and over again to is a Cohen tribute: "Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen." On this, "Suzanne" is performed by Peter Gabriel. Other artists who interpret Cohen's songs on this CD include Tori Amos, Suzanne Vega, Don Henley, Sting and The Chieftains, Trisha Yearwood, Bono, Elton John and Willie Nelson ("Bird on a Wire").


Naturegirl said...

Julie I love listening to Leonard Cohen! You and I seem to enjoy listening to the same artists!!
Yes my poor Canadaian friends are so-o-o-o snowed under..worst ever!!
I sure hope my little neighbor is feeding the animals!!
sun kissed in AZ.. NG

Miss Robyn said...

I have never ever heard of Leonard Cohen or the song Suzanne! maybe I live in some kind of sheltered world?

Joyce said...

I have never heard of that song or the artist singing it so I went to the trusty "U-Tube" to see if they had it and sure enough they did....and once it came on..I STILL hadn't heard it before. HA!

I have a link for you if you want to see Leonard Cohen singing this song at a hotel in Canada.
They might have some other versions as well.
See ya!

Lila Rostenberg said...

I have always loved Leonard Cohen! What a wonderful post! It is so interesting to learn a bit more about Suzanne, and I think we are all "Suzanne" somewhere in our soul!
(H-mmm great topic for a collage!)

LW said...

I loved this song from the first time I heard it sung by Judy Collins. Thank you for all the information about Susanne. I read the interview and I think I like my own romantic interpretation better, the one that I conjured as a teen. I also love Cohen's Hallelujah but not sung by him…


gma said...

Leonard Cohen is a favorite of mine...but I have to be in the mood for him. Suzanne is an amazing song!Yes I do like other people singing his songs (however his gravely voice does add some angst)...I also love the "Song of Bernadette" and "Joan of Arc"
very dark but cool!!!!

AutumnZ said...

I've been doing a little series on "what I love about my fellow bloggers." Zip over to my blog to see what I said about you.
kitch and giggles dot blogspot dot com

Gill said...

I love Leonard Cohen. I can't help it. Sigh.
Anyhoo, Julie thank you for the St.Patrick's Day card, it reminded me I had forgotten!!!
You are sweet to think of me. I hope you give Leonard a chance, he takes some getting used to, like Bearnaise sauce or any other acquired taste.

Anonymous said...

I haven't thought about the song Suzanne in ages but reading the lyrics I could hear Judy Collins rendition. Thanks for sharing this. It was a nice trip in the "way back" machine.

Liz said...

There's a wonderful young woman (well, she looks young to me...I'll be 55 in the twinkling of an eye) who actually met the real Suzanne who inspired this Leonard Cohen song....

She met her around this time last year in Santa Monica, CA. Her maiden name was Suzanne Vardal and she was from Montreal. She was homeless and living in a truck camper. She had fallen from a ladder a few years ago, broke her back, and is currently living on disability income.

She was down on her luck and looking for affordable housing while living in the camper with four adopted cats.

This young woman has started an org. to help her find housing. It's called Suzanne's Angels and you can contact her at or "Suzanne's Angels on

This young woman...(hey, she may be in her 30's, but that's young to me) is named Moira and she's ridden mototcycles to and from Alaska. She's truly a compassionate
woman who has befriended Suzanne. She says Suzanne has alot of dignity and never complains...nor does she ask or expect help....but admits that this homeless situation, while experiencing intense back pain at times, has been very hard.

Please email Moira at: to ask how you can help....or go to Suzanne's Angels on for an update. The last blog post I read from the former is dated Jan. 23rd and Suzanne was on a waiting list to get low-income housing in the Santa Monica, CA. area. I'm so happy for her that she ran into Moira last year.

Moira says she's an amazingly talented and wonderful woman who is currently penning her memoirs.

And Moira's blog post ( incl. photos) of her trip to and from Alaska is incredible to read. Sometimes one feels perched on a boulder in Big Sur right beside her as she waxes eloquently about the view of the grand Pacific ocean.....lots of cool photos, but her descriptive writing is the icing on the cake! She doesn't miss a person or a thing and describes it all beautifully!

I've lived long enough to KNOW that when we cast our bread upon the waters, it comes back to us abundantly! Moira's compassionate concern in helping Suzanne as much as she has certainly came back to her in droves as she tackled the Alaskan-Canadian Highway on her beloved motorcycle last summer and fall.

Everytime she had problems....and there were plenty..(mechanical and otherwise) people always seems to show up to help out. I think she had her own angels looking out for her and providing an abundance of help for her...just as she's attempted to provide it for Suzanne.

Most importantly, she doesn't view Suzanne as a charity case. She views her as a dignified, passionate, fully-alive artistic fellow human being...who just happens to be down on her luck.

I hope some of you out there in cyberspace will be moved to reach out and help Suzanne through Moira. After all, as talented a poet and songwriter as l\Leonard Cohen is, the song "Suzanne" just wouldn't exist, in its present form, without this real woman who inspired it!

Sorry I've rambled on so long...thanks for listening. Liz