Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Who inspired Suzanne by Leonard Cohen?

'Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river'


So it's RIP Leonard Cohen. Poet, song writer and performer even in his final years. He will be missed. But what about his most famous song, Suzanne?

A much covered tune, including by the early Fairport Convention, Suzanne has a melody that can properly be described as haunting.

The inspiration was one Suzanne Verdal, then the partner of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, whose most famous work is a giant fountain in San Francisco dedicated to Quebecan independence. Cohen says that 'everyone was in love with Suzanne', including him, although, as the song says, he could only 'touch her perfect body' with his mind.

She was the one that pout the breaks on the relationship. She said in 2006 “Somehow, I didn’t want to spoil that preciousness, that infinite respect that I had for him… I felt that a sexual encounter might demean it somehow.”

Cohen met her in Montreal, and they would walk by the St Lawrence River before popping back to her place for 'tea and oranges'.

An early eco-activist, she was big into recycling, which is why  "she's wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters" and "she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers". This wasn't terribly fashionable at the time and so probably explains the line ‘you know that she’s half crazy but that’s why you want to be there.’

Suzanne travelled the world as a dancer and by the late nineties she was living in a home made shack with her seven cats and working as a dance instructor and massage therapist. However a serious accident ended her dancing career and she ended up broke and homeless.

The song appears in the soundtrack of last year's Reeth Witherspoon film Wild, based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, as Verdal was a friend of the author's mother. It seems everyone really did love Suzanne.

So as Cohen humself shuffles off this mortal coil, his works remain, including this wonderful, bittersweet, hymn to a unrequitted, but still beautiful, deep and emotionally charged love affair.

Cohen missed Suzanne, and we now miss him.

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