“Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen
Song of the Day
“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.”
“Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen was released in 1967. It was first published by Cohen as a poem, in 1966. The song was recorded by Judy Collins in the same year as Cohen released it. It was the debut single from the album Songs of Leonard Cohen.
Many other artists have covered the song. “Suzanne” has become one of the most-covered songs in Cohen’s extensive catalog.
Cohen’s platonic relationship with Suzanne Verdal was the inspiration for “Suzanne” the song. At the time, the real Suzanne was sculptor’s Armand Vaillancourt’s girlfriend. The song’s lyrics describe the rituals that Cohen and Suzanne enjoyed when they would meet. Suzanne would invite Cohen to visit her apartment by the Montreal harbor, where she would serve him Constant Comment, a type of tea. Afterwards, they would walk around Old Montreal and pass the church of Notre Dae de Bon Secours, where sailors were blessed before heading out to sea.
Verdal, the real Suzanne, was interviewed in 2006 by CBS News’ The National, about the song. She confirmed that there was never a sexual relationship with Cohen, contrary to what some interpretations of the song suggest. Cohen stated in 1994, in a BBC interview, that he only imagined having sex with Suzanne, as there was neither the opportunity nor inclination to actually go through with it.
They are said to have met-up only twice after the song’s initial popularity; once after a 1970’s concert, Cohen performed in, and once in passing, in the 1990’s, when Verdal danced for him. During that latter encounter, Cohen didn’t speak to her or possibly didn’t recognize her. The real Suzanne never benefited financially from the song’s enormous commercial success.
According to his on-stage comments, Cohen benefited only from his own performances, having signed away his rights to the song itself in a legal document deceptively presented to him which he did not read.
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.
Cohen said this about the song on the back cover of his Greatest Hits album:
“I wrote this in 1966. Suzanne had a room on a waterfront street in the port of Montreal. Everything happened just as it was put down. She was the wife of a man I knew. Her hospitality was immaculate. Some months later I sang it to Judy Collins over the telephone. The publishing rights were pilfered in New York City but it is probably appropriate that I don’t own this song. Just the other day I heard some people singing it on a ship in the Caspian Sea.”