Suzanne’s Mirror – Reflections on a Homeless Muse

 

As they say, there are things in life for which you have to “develop a taste”.  I never developed a taste for Argyle sweaters, good Scotch, foie gras or much post-modernist art, and I nearly missed out on Leonard Cohen.

When I first heard Cohen live at Rockefeller’s in Houston, I immediately thought of him as the Bob Dylan of the beret-and-brandy set.  His talents as a poet and lyricist are obvious.  His melodies are haunting and recognizable, and some of his work has enduring appeal (his Hallelujah is topping current British charts in two versions, one by Jeff Buckley and one by Alexandra Burke).  But that voice!  There are times when you have to take your Dylan straight (Subterranean Homesick Blues comes to mind) and the same is true for Cohen.  But I thank my lucky stars that Judy Collinswas the first to record Suzanne, and that Francoise Hardy followed suit.   Cohen’s performanceis worth hearing, but the exquisite renditions produced by both women brought me to the music and gave me a song for life.

Cohen was a poet first and a songwriter second.  Initially Suzanne was a poem, published in a 1966 collection called Parasites of Heaven.  After Collins recorded it in 1966, she was followed by Noel Harrison and then Cohen himself in 1967.  At that point, Cohen’s reputation was made and the rest  would be musical history. 

But before the fame and fortune, before the song and even before the poetry, there was a person: Suzanne Verdal.  Many think Cohen’s wife Suzanne Elrod was the inspiration for his song, but it was Verdal, the former wife of Montreal sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, who served as muse.  Though not lovers in any conventional sense, the relationship between Cohen and Verdal was extraordinarily intense and colored by the Montreal lifestyle of the time.  In an interview with Kate Saunders on BBC Radio in 1998, Suzanne herself described the mileau:

The Beat scene was beautiful.  It was live jazz and we were just dancing our hearts out for hours on end, happy on very little.  I mean we were living, most of us, on a shoestring.  Yet, there was always so much to go around, if you know what I mean.  You know, there was so much energy and sharing and inspiration and pure moments and quality times together on very little or no money.

Suzanne met Cohen while still married, but their relationship deepened after her separation from Vaillancourt:

With Leonard, it happened more in the beginning of the sixties.  When I was living then separated from Armand, 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 with our daughter, Julie.  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.

Reading her accounts of their time together, it’s amazing to discover how much of the song’s seemingly esoteric imagery is grounded in the mundane realities of their lives.  Not only the tea and oranges, but the river itself, Suzanne’s bohemian “rags and feathers”, the nearby church where she would light candles – all the details were caught up in Cohen’s poetic vision of their relationship.

But it wasn’t Cohen who came to her, breathless with excitement about his new creation.  According to Suzanne,

“One of our mutual friends mentioned to me, ‘Did you hear the wonderful poem that Leonard wrote for you or about you?’  And I said no, because I had been away traveling and I wasn’t aware of it.  But apparently it got into the attention of Judy Collins, who urged Leonard to write a song based on the poem.”

The song being written, Suzanne never heard from Cohen again, apart from a brief meeting or two.  After a show in Minneapolis in the 1970s, he kissed her cheek during a chance encounter and said, “You gave me a beautiful song, girl.”

Their last meeting was even more poignant.  Close to her old home near the river sits Montreal’s Place Jacques-Cartier.  In the 1980s, Suzanne used to dance there, and she remembered for an interviewer that,

“Leonard Cohen came up to me.  I saw him in the crowd and I went up to him and I curtsied to him, and after the dance was done, he walked away.  I didn’t understand.  There was no acknowledgement from Leonard, and I did think about that for quite a while, actually.  It was rather upsetting.”

In ways I’m sure Cohen never expected and Suzanne never intended, her life has become a mixture of garbage and flowers.  Since becoming homeless, she has drifted from Venice Beach, California back to Montreal, and back again to Santa Monica. Through the course of her struggles, she has become one of the children “leaning out for love” rather than the ethereal and poetic figure who holds the mirror.

If someone else were to hold the mirror before her eyes, what might Suzanne see?  Her own words give us some sense of her perspective on how a famous, yet nearly invisible, muse experiences homelessness:

Although I have had the front row view of the mighty Pacific and the solace of my feline family and sea-gull companions, it has been an arduous task of endurance keeping mind and body safe for now on five years.  Crippling pain from a serious accident in 1999, due to multiple fractures was enough.  Then to lose my career which took a lifetime to build.  My life as a choreographer, dance instructor and massage therapist was over; indefinitely. 
Enduring this, and the peripheral loss of dignity in having to face homelessness from the inabilty to earn my financial independence, I retreated to my tiny cabin on wheels.  I was down on my luck.  The telephone was strangely silent.  there must have been something to be said of many former friends and associates who were no longer calling.  It seemed, in some folks’ judgement, that I was choosing to remain in this homeless situation, adding shame to injury.”

Reading her words, I hear the words of Cohen’s poem in a new way:

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.

Life being what it is, things do change.  While I may ponder the responsibility of a poet to his muse, and wonder about who is and isn’t traveling with Suzanne these days, there is little more I can do.  And so, I hold the mirror of my own words to the realities of Suzanne’s life, hoping, somehow, to reflect her broken body with my mind.

LOOKING GLASS

Who feared, as hope’s flowers unfolded
that blossoms might fade
with unseasonal change
and petals blow free down the wind?
Who dreamed, when love’s singing first started,
that melodies drifting
through dissonant chords
could keen like a nightbird’s last cry?
Who dared with life’s dance just beginning
to partner with fates
unaccustomed to grasp
at the swift, sudden stumbles of time?
Who wept, at the journey’s frail ending
for the path never taken,
the compass unused,
the years still untrodden, untried?

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Published in: on July 17, 2008 at 11:03 am  Comments (49)  
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  1. Hi, there. I enjoyed reading your poem … as if I were looking through the glass of life journey I’ve been holding in hand. Thanks, for reminding me of how important it is to draw correct decisions among the false in this laconic lifespan.
    Thank you, Linda.

    Baba,

    The poem has been around for a bit, getting tweaked here and there – until I finally realized that it belonged with Suzanne and all fell together nicely. Sometimes, there can be homeless bits of poetry and prose, too – they just need someone to find them a place to snuggle down and be secure.

    A good evening (morning? day?) to you – I must go figure the time difference so I can greet you properly!

    Linda

  2. Thanks for writing about Suzanne … I’ve often wondered who she is and where she might be these days. With all the fame and inspiration which the poem and the song have generated over the years, I feel she really deserves much better. Your question of the responsibility of the poet to his muse, or friend, for that matter, may be beyond our judgment; nevertheless, a very valid question to ponder.

    Thanks for a wonderful post and sharing with us the moving poem. Just another reason for me to elevate my esteem and regards for those who are down and out, even homeless… as I’ve just finished reading The Glass Castle, telling the true story of yet another homeless artist.

    Hello, Arti,

    Since writing this, I’ve been thinking about the relationship of artist and muse. Beyond the details of the relationship between Leonard and Suzanne, I’m completely intrigued by the reversal of expectations here. Generally, the muse is understood to be the powerful one in the relationship, capable of granting or withholding favor as she pleases. Here, the muse has become powerless while her beneficiary prospers – it’s a strange image.

    Some of the most striking passages about the loss of a muse were written by May Sarton, and even Annie Dillard has an oblique thing or two to say. Leonard Cohen never had to experience the loss of Suzanne – she was so perfectly immortalized that the song functioned for him in her absence – dare I say, “muse-ically?”

    There’s more thinking to be done, for sure. Enjoy your evening, and your weekend!

    Linda

  3. How utterly bizarre! The other day I was moved – nay, propelled – to check around on YouTube for “Suzanne” and found several videos with Judy Collins and one with her and Leonard Cohen. I haven’t even thought about this song in years.

    I have been a subscriber to Wunderground since before there were subscribers, and, frankly, never read the blogs. Except today. (The muse at work.) And there was your entry about Leonard Cohen and Suzanne which was very much appreciated.

    Nice timing. Thanks.

    Alice,

    Well, there you have it. Yet another instance of the “serendipity” that some of my readers and I spent time exploring about two months ago.

    How these things happen is amazing. Some of my best blogs have come from “chance” encounters with tiny bits of apparently random information. But, as I mentioned to someone just the other day, the operative word in the phrase “no apparent reason” is “apparent”!

    Whatever the reason, I’m so glad that you found the blog, and enjoyed the entry. Thanks for your comments and your appreciation. Please do stop by from time to time. Who knows what else from your past I’ll write about!

    Linda

  4. Things move in mysterious ways.
    I saw Cohen in concert on Oslo recently. It was fantastic – it was incredible. I have been a fan for years, and that concert was simply gorgeous. Seemingly pottering along, but with razorsharp timing and elegance; Cohen himself one big smile throughout.

    At some point someone threw a bluebell up on the stage, and not missing a beat, Cohen recitated

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack, a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in

    ..and then obviously sang “anthem”.

    A handful of his songs have been translated to Norwegian, translated to the female view, and sung by women. Suzanne included. It is extremely well done, to translate his deep voice and male view to a female standpoint and still keep that mysterious, beautiful prose.
    Many thanks for this post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Hello, boblet,

    I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the post. I’ve always believed that enlarging the context for anything – events, artistic creation, a person -adds to understanding and the ability to appreciate what “is”. When it comes to someone as complex as Cohen, that’s especially true.

    When I was writing this, I spent a good bit of time listening to “Suzanne”, by as many artists as I could find who have recorded it. One of the intriguing characteristics of the song is its ability to evoke different images and emotions depending on the singer. Not many songs can do that, but it’s only another testament to Cohen’s genius.

    Many thanks for the visit, and the kind words~

    Linda

  5. Linda, you are a new writer?!?! Your voice is wonderful and evocative. Thank goodness you started writing!

    Good morning, Marie,

    How wonderful to have you stop by! I spent some time on your blog this morning, and sent it on to an acquaintance who has some on-going health issues. I hope it will be useful to her.

    I enjoyed this on your sidebar: “I am just like you – on the journey, putting one foot in front of the other and trying to find the best way possible to do so, with a little help from my friends.” Isn’t that just how it is? My little twist on that was the first epigram I used on my first blog. Woody Allen said, “The longest journeys begin with a single step. The best journeys begin with a moment of temporary insanity.” Now that the “beginning” of the journey is over, I’m feeling a little less insane, a little more able to relax and enjoy. I’m working on a reflection on journeying now that I’ll get posted as soon as I’m able – this week, I hope. You’ll see!

    Yes, I’m a new writer. I posted my first blog entry on another site around the end of October last year, and began at WordPress just three months ago. I’m learning lots, and one of the things I’ve learned is how wonderful readers can be!

    Thank YOU for reading, and for you very kind words. They mean a lot.

    Linda

  6. Suzanne takes you down
    to a place beside the river
    you can watch the boats that go by
    you can spend the time forever
    *
    I have good and bad memories for this song,happy and sad, how appropiate for Cohen whose every work is tinged, I have only ever heard he and Neil Diamond sing it.

    Good morning, gentledove,

    Isn’t that the way it is for so many of the truly great songs – both good memories and bad. Perhaps it’s due in part to the fact that they do endure, and remain part of our lives over time. You’re right, though – it’s especially appropriate for Cohen. He’s a master of allusion and metaphor, and so many of his songs are like pitchforks: touch them, and they resonate with memory and meaning.

    Linda

  7. Suzanne, the song hauntingly poignant. Thanks for a beautiful post. I was blog hopping and stumbled upon your blog. I’ll be back!

    teeveebee,

    Thanks so much for the read and the comment. Now that it appears Dolly is headed to south Texas and I can relax a bit, I’ll stop by and read a bit more of your own postings. So much of interest, so little time!

    Linda

  8. Hi Linda,

    Finally made it to your posting about Suzanne, and now I know the song exactly! My husband, who does know how to play the guitar, just doesn’t do it nearly often enough (another one of those ‘things’ he’ll get back to when he retires) used to play Suzanne for me. He really like the ‘folksy’ type artists when it come to guitar music. Dylan included.

    Anyway, once again, another lovely posting, and what a sad ending to a wonderful lady. I wonder what she is up to today?

    Hi, Karen,

    How nice to see you here! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. The most recent information I could find indicated that Suzanne is still in the Santa Monica area. I am going to contact the woman who was maintaining the blog site about her and about Suzanne’s Angels and see if I can find anything more.

    It’s amazing how many of us used to play guitar, and want to get back to it “sometime”. I have a friend who just picked hers up again after decades – she says making music again is suddenly more important to her than maintaining the fancy manicure!

    Give a wave whenever you stop by – always good to see you!

    Linda

  9. Hi Linda,

    I forgot I posted here and not at Wunderground. You know the first thing to go is the mind…and the second things is….well, I’ve forgotten!

    I play the piano and I need to sit down more often and practice. I have plenty of time and loads of excuses. If I scheduled it in my day, then I would just do it. Perhaps that’s what I need to do – schedule it like I was taking lessons and HAD to practice! I have an old upright in my living room that doesn’t sound half bad. Once I sit down I can stay down for a long time, but I promised myself I would get the yard cleaned up – so that is what I am off to do!

    Karen,

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did what we need to do to keep those skills honed? On the other hand, I’ve learned that as time goes on, what is important changes. Not only do I no longer practice my clarinet, I don’t even have it. For years and years – even into college, when I thought I wanted to be a music major – practicing that instrument was what I did. Now, I’m a music appreciator, and I write… just like you read and appreciate. It took me years to understand that it’s all right to move from one thing to another. As someone once said, “You can do it all – you just can’t do it all at once!”

    Linda

  10. Hi Linda,

    I absolutely loved your poem, as well as your bittersweet article about Suzanne. I was very moved by Suzanne’s story, and now I am haunted by thinking of her drifting alone, with only her felines to cushion the blows. She is a fascinating woman.

    Good morning, Michele,

    Thank you so much for your kind words about the poem, and the essay. Suzanne always has fascinated me, since I first heard Leonard Cohen’s version of the song decades ago. Discovering the reality of the woman and the historical context only makes the entire story more interesting, and, as you note – more poignant.

    There are books I read yearly, at least, and music I listen to over and again. Suzanne is one of those songs – I’m glad I helped you enjoy it a bit more. Thanks for dropping by and letting me know – please do come back!

    Linda

  11. I love all your comments. We are all artists inside our hearts that look for a golden muse…

    Loads of love to keep, share, multiply…

    Maria Lasanta,

    Thank you for your kind comments. And you are right. There is more than enough love to go around.

    Linda

  12. Dear shoreacres,

    First my excuses for this bad English message.

    My name is Ivo Winnubst from The Netherlands. A few months ago we met John (Samuelss) Cordell here in Holland. John (now 86 years old) was the man who introduced Susanne Verdal McAllistar (Vaillancourt) to Leonard Cohen in the late fifthies in Montréal Canada. Many times he asked me to look on the internet if we can find something about Suzanne and the address where he contact her. Maby you can help him? Please send a message to him ( john.cordell@kpnmail.nl) or to us. info@artivo.nl

    Hello, Ivo,

    Your English is fine. No excuses are necessary!

    Let me make some inquiries and see what I can discover. I will email you soon.

    best regards,

    Linda

  13. Because you liked the women’s renditions, Linda, have you heard Canadian K.D. Lang’s rendition of Hallelujah? It’s my favorite of them all:

    I did not know about Suzanne…the song or the person. I feel like I get my education every time I visit you. :)

    Ginnie,

    I didn’t know about KD’s version until last December. When I discovered it (actually searching for something about Leonard Cohen), it became a part of a post that I may use again next Christmas, simply because it’s one of my favorites – one of those I looked at when it all was over and thought, “Did I do THAT?”

    Here’s the link to Hidden Hallelujahs.

    Thanks so much!

    Linda

  14. Hi – I just stumbled on this post – I hope you haven’t forgotten about it?

    I remember reading the words to ‘Suzanne’ in a book, and getting positively LOST in those words…ephemeral, meaningless yet solid, hidden, real, out of reach, unbearably beautiful. It was years before I ever heard it sung.

    I’m sorry yet glad to know her story: thank you SO MUCH for writing about Suzanne!

    Aubrey,

    Oh, my no! I haven’t forgotten about it. It’s actually rather amazing to me – this post gets more readers than anything else I’ve written. There are many, many people who like Cohen and are entranced by this song. I listen to it regularly, and still remember where I was the first time I heard it. Like you, I got lost in it.

    It seems strange to me that Suzanne seems to have disappeared after being found in California. On the other hand, her life is so much like the song itself – ephemeral, yet solid and real.

    I’m so glad you found and enjoyed the post. And thanks, too, for your lovely comment.

    Linda

  15. I am a friend of Suzannes’from Montreal and I have been trying to find out more about her situation and can’t seem to find out anything. I knew her well and her son and daughter. If you have news of her please send it to me. I often worry about her.Thank you.

    • John,

      I wish I did have news for you. The last information I found had her in California.

      I will say that this post has a good bit of traffic. Perhaps it will be that someone else knows something and will either post here or send information to me.

      Thank you for stopping by, and good luck in your search.

      Linda

  16. I’ve known the song “Suzanne” for 45 years (someone first played it for me in snow-covered East Lansing, Michigan, in January of 1967), but you’re the first person who’s ever told me about its background. I’m grateful to learn all the things you’ve brought to light here and I’m with you when you say that “it’s amazing to discover how much of the song’s seemingly esoteric imagery is grounded in the mundane realities of their lives.” Yes, like the “oranges that come all the way from China” turning out to be mandarin oranges. And I didn’t know that “Suzanne” had a pre-song life as a poem, although I’d read other poetry of his, including the entire The Spice-Box of Earth.

    As an aside, I’ll add that my own associations with the Salvation Army have nothing to do with rags and feathers but with books. When I was a teenager on Long Island, two of my friends (including the one I later visited in East Lansing) and I often rode our bikes the three miles it took to get to the Salvation Army two towns to the east of us. Over the years we must have bought hundreds of books there at low prices, and the people who worked in the store used to give us good deals.

    One book that I still have from there after all these years is a large bound volume of all the issues of Harper’s Weekly from 1857, more than a century before my first acquaintance with the works of Leonard Cohen.

    • Steve,

      “Suzanne” was a definitive song for the time – there’s no question about that. At the time, many of us thought “MacArthur Park” might have been in the same league . Our own growth and the passage of time has shown how wrong we were about that.

      And, as someone who’s intrigued by the writing process, there’s quite a lesson to be learned from the transformations Cohen wrought with the concrete realities of life. It’s an affirmation of one of my firmest convictions: everything counts. It’s similar to what you do with your camera – focus on a tiny bit of life, change the focus, and enable us to see it in a totally new way. The bubbles are a wonderful example. Who looks at bubbles in a newly-flowing stream? Well, Steve, for one.

      Your trips to the Salvation Army remind me of the way I used to haunt farm sales. You could buy cardboard boxes filled with books for a dollar or two. Very often they were old books, leather-bound and exuding that particular scent that makes bibliophiles go wild.

      Speaking of “Harper’s Weekly”, I have a print from an 1884 issue framed and hanging on my bedroom wall. It’s called “The Floods in the Teche Country, Louisiana”. I picked it up after my first trip to Louisiana, when I stayed on the Bayou Teche, and fell in love with the place – its history as much as its current incarnation.

      That volume you have is a treasure in every sense of the word, but I’m sure you know that. ;)

      Linda

      • I’m curious about your disenchantment with “MacArthur Park,” which I used to listen to avidly on the radio in Honduras, far from New York and Chicago and the tumult going on there in 1968 and ’69. A few years ago we went to hear Jimmy Webb at the Cactus Cafe here in Austin and he sang a piano solo version of his own song that was quite different from the orchestrated Richard Harris one that had made it a hit. The song has evolved for him, and perhaps you’d like its recent incarnation.

        My only regret about the Harper’s Weekly is that I didn’t buy more: a bunch of other years had turned up in the same load. Maybe I thought I could manage to get home on my bike with only one book so heavy (although I could’ve had my mother or father take me back by car for more). In any case, I’m glad you had similar experiences buying boxes of books at low prices from farm sales and breathing in the occasional scent of leather.

        • Ah. Well, I suppose my view of “MacArthur Park” is just one of those things. It was so closely associated with certain events in my own life that when I moved on and left those behind, the song was left as well.

          When I think of the boxes of books I’ve acquired and gotten rid of, it amazes me. I’ve culled and culled over the years – professional libraries, those old books, even a good-sized pile of books I thought I “should” read but couldn’t get interested in. Multiple moves can do that. Every time I packed up again, another hundred books went away. ;)

          And to anyone who’s out there screaming, “Kindle! you fool!” – I still prefer the real thing. Especially if it’s bound in leather.

  17. Ahh.. Cohen. The other side of the beats I beat my head against. Some queer some just not straight enough. I have always been homeless if anyone would ask, I really think it is not in me. I own a couple houses and stuff but nothing has ever felt much like home. I have read too much for one lifetime perhaps it is time to write.

    That is an amazing river, with great history, great people – great minds have all spent time there. It needs its own book.

    Slowly I will get to the bottom of this blog and the general blog idea.

    Passing thru…

    • blu,

      You remind me of a song I heard now and then growing up – “Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger”. Just this year I was introduced to Neko Case. She does a fine job of singing it.

      Home’s a funny thing. When I left the States to go work in Liberia, I never was homesick. When I left Liberia to come back to the States, I was homesick for a year. Now, wherever I am seems to be home. Let me unpack my bag in a motel, and by the time I’ve had dinner I’ll be saying, “Well, gotta go home” – meaning the motel.

      Enjoy the song – it’s a nice one, and good listening any time of day.

      Linda

  18. Very interesting background to that famous song. I would never have guessed that it was based on reality, as you’ve explained here. The story of Suzanne’s life is a reminder that nothing is a given…

    • Andrew,

      I was surprised myself, at the very concrete, daily details that made up the song. And you’re exactly right – life is life, even for the famous, the beautiful and the talented, and none of us is guaranteed a thing.

      I only wish Suzanne hadn’t seemed to vanish so thoroughly. We spent a good bit of time trying to track her down, without success. Perhaps she didn’t want to be found.

      Linda

  19. Linda,

    Another of your stories which brings back memories. (I knew the story, back in the ’60s, behind ‘Suzanne’, but not with as much as detail as you have written.)

    There was a coffee house named Le Hibou on Sussex Drive in Ottawa (c 1965-1972) which featured artists reading poetry, performing drama or comedy, or performing music. An appealing feature to the establishment was the size; it was small enough to be intimate so no one was further than about 30 feet from the stage.

    It was there that I first encountered Leonard Cohen live. (I don’t recall the evenings repertoire.) I do remember other times with performances by Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell, Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and others. I may have also seen Sneezy Waters there, whom I remember better as a busker on Sparks Street in the summer of ’68 ( I’ve tossed coin into his guitar case.)

    Thanks for the nostalgia trip (no induced stimulus required).

    Rick

    • Rick,

      I’d never heard of Sneezy Waters – or of his fame in the Hank Williams production. Very interesting – and I did enjoy the title of one of his albums – “You’ve Got Sawdust on the Floor of Your Heart”. Now, that’s country!

      You’ve mentioned two of my all-time favorites – Ian and Sylvia, and Gordon Lightfoot. I still listen to their music, and have Ian tucked into my files for a future post. I never had the pleasure of hearing them in concert, but that hardly matters. The music is splendid.

      I do remember those coffee houses fondly. I have six Starbucks relatively close, but that doesn’t quite do it. Cookie-cutter corporate, and all that. Of course, we were a little too self-aware back in the day, a little pretentious in our “creativity”, but we were young, and having a fine time. And I still think our music was the best. ;)

      Linda

      ADD: I just read the Wiki on Le Hibou – my gracious! What a treasure!

      • Linda

        I’m sure every generation feels that their music is the best. Certainly the lyrics and tunes were relevant at the time and provoke strong memories to impressionable (and rebellious) minds.
        (Sneezy was more folk when he started; the country happened with the Hank Williams Show and got him commercial success.)
        My preferences from the period, which have proven my test of time, include Buddy Holly, the Ventures, the Shadows and later Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac.
        But looking back at it all, I think my parents generation had objectively better music with the Big Band sounds of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Many of their tunes are classics and still enjoyed; I certainly do.
        But then for really good listening it’s hard to improve on Beethoven, J S Bach, Mozart, and sometimes Orff’s Carmina Burana.

        Rick

        • I learned to dance to the Big Bands, but they hold little appeal now – I never choose them for casual listening. Fleetwood Mac has staying power – and one of the nicest collaborations of “old guys” has to be the Traveling Wilburys. So much music, so little time!

  20. A new Suzanne tangent:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/02/14/146811341/a-new-twist-on-a-leonard-cohen-classic-for-valentines-day

    Near the top of that page you can click to listen to the 12-minute session.

    • Steve,

      How in the world did I miss this? I just found it in comment spam. Well, the good news is that I found it.

      I’ve listened to the interview and music twice, and I nearly was overcome by the impulse to send my post to those folks. I don’t cope well with a certain kind of criticism in any of the arts. I tend to get impatient – my lack, no doubt.

      There was a wonderful meme going around certain meteorological circles a year or so ago that applied the “One from column A, one from column B, one from column C” approach to excusing blown forecasts. Each column had about a dozen words, and they could be combined in any way. On the surface, every statement seemed reasonable. In reality, they had nothing to do with reality.

      That’s how I felt, listening to the discussion. All the right words were there, but they were disconnected from the actual song and the way it came to be.

      True, the music was lovely. But for me, there was both too little and too much of Cohen. There was too little, in the sense that I wanted the words. And there was too much, in the sense that every recognizable phrase made me want to go find “the real thing”.

      There’s something here I can’t quite articulate because I’ve never thought about it before. So, I’ll leave it at this – to rend lyrics from music in a song feels like having someone read a poem I’ve written and then ask, “Ok – so what does it mean?” The poem is the meaning, I want to say. In the same way, I want to keep “Suzanne” as both words and music. But that’s just me.

      I’ll say this – it was a wonderful recording of Judy Collins’ performance! Thanks for the thought-stimulating link.

      Linda

      • I’m with you on this: because I learned “Suzanne” as words with music, the two are forever inseparable in my mind; because I first heard Judy Collins singing it, it’s usually her voice I hear, though I know and like Leonard Cohen’s version as well. (And to my taste, Judy Collins did the best take ever on the Beatles’ song “In My Life.”)

        • I agree, re: “In My Life”. There are several I’ve loved and not listened to in ages – until last night, at least. “Farewell to Tarwathie” is one, and the lovely Gaelic Lullaby. Well, and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”. What a voice.

  21. I was wondering if there is an update on Suzanne Verdal and her health? I was speaking of her with a friend today and we both wondered how she is doing?

    • Linda,

      I’m so sorry to say I can’t provide any current information. I keep thinking I should make a phone call or two, but I just haven’t done it. I’ve received several emails over the past year from others eager to know her situation, and I see occasional postings on forums from people looking for information. She seems to have just disappeared. Of course, it’s always possible she’s chosen to maintain a low profile.

      In any event, if I do ever find out something, I’ll add it here in the comments, so you’re welcome to just check back from time to time.
      And I thank you for stopping by today. I’m sorry I could be of more help.

      Linda

  22. Hi,

    I knew Suzanne in the early eighties in Houston.
    I always wondered what happened to her.
    I am heartbroken to hear of her current situation.
    If you can, please let me know if you have
    Any new information on her.
    I live in LA and would love to see her again
    ( And help her if I can).

    • Dave,

      I don’t have any current information, myself. On the other hand, I did a bit of snooping and discovered that the author of the new Cohen biography, Sylvie Simmons, found Suzanne in Santa Monica, where she was working on her autobiography.

      I found some evidence that Ms. Simmons still is hitting the book-signing circuit. You might be able to catch up with her and find a few answers.

      Good luck – and thanks for stopping by!

      Linda

  23. Thank you
    for leaving such an elegantly gentle perspective towards some of my grandmother’s life experiences. It is with a sort of saddened enlightenment that I continuously discover the deeply rooted quandaries and beauties of my family history.

    peace,

    Krystyna

    • Krystyna,

      I’ve learned not to be particularly surprised by the internet. Many people and events I’ve written about have later surfaced some interesting connections. But this does surprise me. I can’t think of anything pleasing me more than to have written something which pleases a member of Suzanne’s family.

      I’m full of questions, of course. Is she still living? In California? So many people have wondered, and I simply haven’t been able to find much information. If you’d prefer not to share, of course that’s fine. Privacy is a rare commodity in this world, and I can understand wanting to maintain it. My email address is on my “About” page.

      In any event, I’m so pleased you stopped by. Thank you for your gracious words, and my best to you.

      Linda

  24. This artist wrote about having a delightful meeting with her in October last year (2013). Googling led me to your blog mentioning her homelessness in 2011 and others inquiring about her situation.
    Here is his 10/2013 blog entry mentioning his visit with her:

    HTH, Susan

    • Susan,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and leave this information. There’s still tremendous interest in Suzanne, and Cohen, and all the complexities of their lives. It amazes me that this post is the most-visited of any I’ve written in the past six years.

      Now, those who stop by or email will have a little more information. I’m truly grateful to you, and glad to know that Suzanne is well.

      Linda

      • The link I originally posted led to a October listing of blog entries from the artist.
        Hopefully this is a more direct link to the actual post 10/21/2013 with Suzanne’s mention and photo in it.

        http://theaimlesslywanderingartist.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-day-in-venice.html

        • Thanks so much, Susan. When I went over to the blog and found the specific entry, I took the liberty of changing the link in your comment to point to the actual post – but that’s fine. It gives people twice as many chances to find it!

          Linda

  25. Hi , I was talking to someone and told her I painted Suzanne in the summer of 1991 just before she and and her son left Montreal in her gypsy Caravan. Suzanne told me they were going to go to Sedona.I wanted to find out her full name and found this blog .

    I also was wondering how she was doing. We were both sitting for Daniel Greene and would chat. I only sat in the afternoon so I got to paint her in the morning. She was very warm and friendly and we found out that we both loved Hunchback of Notre Dam and wanted to grow up to be Esmeralda!! She did that. I became an artist and worked behind the scenes. I have the painting hanging in the living room. It is about 90% finished but the week was over so that was that. I was sorry to hear of her problems but glad to know she is still out there in the world!
    Valerie

    • What wonderful memories, Valerie. And I’m so glad that, bit by bit, some information has been collected here for people who are interested in Suzanne. Her story – and of course the song – have touched so many people.

      It’s really quite amazing that you have that painting. Some mementos are special beyond words, and I suspect that one is, for you.

      And it tickles me that you both wanted to be Esmeralda. She certainly did live out that fantasy while in Montreal. She still may be living it – but at least we know she’s had some good years.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

      Linda

      • thanks for having the blog so I could post my memories!! Glad she is doing better!

  26. Suzanne was a friend I lost touch with when I moved from Montreal. We were introduced in the 1960s by a mutual friend from the NFB just around the time she split with Vaillancourt, she was beautiful, full of vitality with an imagination which had no boundaries. Once, as a choreographer for a TV show she had us dancing on top of the Air Canada pavilion at Expo. I first heard the song when she invited me to her “place by the river” and we listened to the Joan Collins record. I miss her and Julie and Karima and Khalil, hope to see them again one of these years.
    Leila

    • Leila, thank you so much for adding your memories here. It’s been easy for so many of us to imagine Suzanne as a nearly mythical creature — imaginary, if you will. But she surely was real, with real friends and a real life, and it’s a delight to add some of that here.

      I hope you do have the chance to be with Suzanne and the others again. The good news is that, sometimes, our wishes are granted.

      Linda

  27. Today on L.Cohen 80th birthday my thoughts go out to Suzanne, following the thread of your stories have brought me to her and I wish that Suzanne would take me down to her place near the…sea…in Venice…thank you Linda I’m so glad Suzanne is fine, what a strong woman she must be!!!

    • Many thanks for adding to the discussion about such a fine woman, Paola. Of course we all wish her the best: health, and friendship, and a creative and fruitful life.

      Perhaps some day you’ll have the chance to see her new sea. In the meantime, we have the poetry and the music.

      Linda


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