I’ve twice used this feature when I’m struggling for something meaningful to say or don’t have much spare time on my hands, but the last occasion was twelve months ago. I’m clearly a total windbag with far too much to say for myself.
“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 performed it as his debut single, from his 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen.
It was inspired by Cohen’s platonic relationship with dancer Suzanne Verdal. 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.
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, contrary to what some interpretations of the song suggest. Cohen 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. 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).
mp3: Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Ian McCulloch is one of many who have covered this song over the years. In 2002, he offered this up in a feature in a UK newspaper:-
For me, the perfect song is ‘Suzanne’, by Leonard Cohen. The perfect lyric with the perfect melody. I can’t see a fault in it. The first time I heard it, I thought, ‘Whoaa.’ I was about 14 or 15 and I’d seen the Bird on a Wire documentary about him at the pictures. He was so cool and it was my kind of music and I went straight out to get his albums. Then I went back to my mum’s house and waited for it to get dark before I played them. That song is just so instant. It goes through my soul; it’s like that bit in Poltergeist when the mother’s coming down the stairs and she feels this rush of this kid’s spirit going through her. It’s great when a song just comes at you like that.
mp3: Ian McCulloch – Suzanne
This was recorded for a CD given away with the November 2008 edition of Mojo, a monthly music magazine. I think it’s quite sublime and, thanks to Mac being a superior singer, it gets my vote as being the better of the two.
This verdict can, should you choose, be overturned on appeal via the comments section……
9 thoughts on “ORIGINAL v COVER : SUZANNE”
Certain songs just sound right with Cohen talk-singing. Others come to life with more interesting vocal interpretations. In general I’d go with others – as I do here.
Goodbye Cathal Coughlan. I read of his death yesterday and was moved to tears. I’ve spent a number of nights in Cathal’s company – him on a stage – and me as part of a writhing mass, our collective feet squelching on a beer-soaked floor – my quiff flattened within an inch of its life. What nights. What gig defining nights. How he remained on the sidelines of success is a mystery.
I may have been sad at the news but I was soon recollecting gigs and songs – what a canon of songs. Tears paved way to smiles.
Keep Music Evil. Indeed.
Mac’s version is fine but the song probably needs Cohen’s authentic, sleazy Quebecois lyricism, Gainsbourg on the St Lawrence.
Very sad news about Cathal C. I met him briefly during the Microdisney days and he was angry, impassioned, very funny and pretty unPC in a satirical way, which was unusual in the 80s indie scene. Loved Microdisney and Fatima Mansions.
Mac does a nice interpretation but there are better. Geoffrey Oryema’s version on I’m Your Fan comes to mind. But the best (in my VERY humble opinion) is Roberta Flack’s on her 1973 album, Killing Me Softly. THAT version is sublime: takes the original elements and turns them into a near 10 minute orgy of soul and blues.
+1 for the Mac version.
1. I agree, McCullouch is the winner.
2. Cathal Coughlan’s dead? That’s a real shock, I didn’t even know he was ill. Such a fantastic catalogue and he was doing great work right up to the end.
I’d count myself as a firm Cohen fan, but I’d probably take Mac’s version of this particular song from the two choices offered, although both Nina Simone and the aforementioned Roberta Flack interpretations knock all others into a cocked hat to be honest.
My vote goes to Mr. Cohen with this one. However, Lover, Lover Lover cover award goes to Mac.
A great newish artist, Hamish Hawk, released an EP of covers this week, including a not-bad version of Suzanne.
I would also go for Mac’s version. Not only for his very own interpretation of the song but he makes it different and unique to the original. And for me Mr. Cohen made much better songs that fit more to him, his poetry and his voice.
Mac’s version wins hands down. Mac’s version of “Lover, Lover, Lover” also wins hands down over The Big L’s original as well.