Suzanne Cohen

Suzanne - 1966 #

**Suzanne **is the first track on Leonard Cohen’s 1967 debut album: Songs of Leonard Cohen. It was first published as a poem in Cohen’s 1966 collection “Parasites of Heaven”.

Suzanne Verdal, a platonic friend of Cohen’s is the inspiration for Cohen’s most idyllic song, *‘Suzanne’  *in  Montreal in the 1966’s. She was a single mother, a dancer, much younger than he, with an apartment overlooking the St. Lawrence River where she served him Jasmine tea.  Both were involved in fringe, alternative or hippie cults advocating free love and the liberation of the sixties.  They had a short platonic relationship before he leaves for a Folk Festival in Nashville. 

Suzanne was unaware of the song until she heard about it from a mutual friend.  She claims she first heard it on her car radio.  She claims Leonard never discussed it with her or contacted her about it. 

Leonard is fascinated by women’s voices, feeling that his own voice, like Bob Dylan’s is harsh and disagreeable.  Most of his live performances are accompanied by the sweetness of a chorus of women’s voices behind him. 

Later he meets Suzanne Elrod. The couple had two children: Lorca and Adam Cohen. A common misconception is that Leonard wrote the song Suzanne after her, however, Leonard had published the song in 1966, long before meeting Suzanne Elrod.

Suzanne #

* 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 you can trust her*

* For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind*


You can listen to her side of the story @:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgwQPydLSIw

Written in the style of folk music made popular by Tom Leherer, Woodie and Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan,  Cohen soon became one of the most accomplished singer of folk fringe love songs.  

Cohen is modest about his talent, acknowledging his voice is harsh and disagreeable.   His melodies tend to be simply, limited to four chords - like a chant rising and falling. The song is full of near rhymes - river, forever, tower, counter, …. It consists of three stanzas, with 7, 6, 7 lines and irregular syllables.   The refrain:  *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 * changes the subject from You’ve,  he’s, and she’s touched ….

The lack of physical contact suggests a spiritual purity not compromised by carnality.  

The post modern images refer to many Christian symbols, Christ walking on the water, dying on the cross (lonely tower) and the Lady of the Harbour - a chapel in Montreal.  It could of course also allude to the Statue of Liberty in New York. 

The song is unpretentious, emotionally engaging yet sincere, allowing the reader to make their own meanings.

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