Leonard Cohen on Suzanne: “She’s great but she’s half crazy …”


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[The song] Suzanne is about a girl I know. She’s great but she’s half crazy. And the other week I was in New York or Los Angeles or somewhere and a guy came up to me and said he liked my song and that he’d lived with Suzanne for a while. And I asked him if he was still with her. And he said no he couldn’t stand it any more. The girl was half crazy.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Leonard Cohen by Ray Connolly. Evening Standard, July 1968

So Long, R.E.M. – Leonard Cohen & R.E.M.

It’s The End Of R.E.M.

Last week [at time of original posting: Sept 28, 2011], the members of R.E.M. posted this notice on their official site,

To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.

R.E.M.

R.E.M. has long admired and sometimes emulated Leonard Cohen. On the occasion of  the band’s breakup, a retrospective look at the Leonard Cohen-R.E.M. connection seems an appropriate tribute to this groundbreaking group credited by many as the inventors of alternative rock.

R.E.M.’s Hope = Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne

The link between “Hope” by R.E.M. and “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen is intriguing because the melody of both songs is nearly identical and the lyrics, while dealing with dissimilar topics, are largely parallel.  In addition, the lyrics of “Hope” have also been lauded  by fans and reviewers as some of Michael Stipe’s strongest work.

According to Wikipedia,

The band R.E.M. gave Cohen a joint songwriting credit for their song “Hope” (on their 1998 album Up), in light of the similarity between the two songs. R.E.M. describe themselves as realising that similarity only after completing the song.

From Ask Michael Stipe: Finale!, posted September 28, 2008:

[Fan:] One of my favorite REM-songs is HOPE, because I really love the background sound, as well as the energy it transports and the rate. The lyrics are great, I especially love the line ” and you want to cross your DNA with something reptile”, so what is the song about and what was the idea about this special line? …

[Michael Stipe:] felt very futuristic/21st c. to me that someday we will use prehistoric ‘living fossil’ animal dna to bolster our own immunity; the guy in the song is facing some very difficult questions about longevity and survival, and basically grabbing at any possibility to stay alive. I obviously lifted most of the song from Leonard Cohen, along with the imagery ideas from World Leader Pretend

For a convenient comparison of the two songs, a video of R.E.M. performing “Hope” and Albert Noonan’s video of Cohen singing “Suzanne” at the November 12, 2009 Las Vegas concert are provided below.

R.E.M. – Hope: Video

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Videos: All Six Songs From 1988 Leonard Cohen Live At Roskilde TV Broadcast

Dance Me To The End Of Love, Everybody Knows, First We Take Manhattan, Take This Waltz, Hallelujah,  Suzanne

On July 2, 1988, Leonard Cohen appeared  at the 1988 Roskilde Festival, held south of Roskilde, Denmark. Six of those songs were broadcast on TV2 Denmark. a1000kissesdeep (aka Tom Sakic to ongoing readers) has uploaded these to YouTube. Although all six suffer from color distortion, these videos are fascinating, not only because of the impressive performances by Leonard Cohen and his musicians but also due to the exuberant, banner-waving audience. Worthy of special note is Everybody Knows, which offers a precursor to one of Leonard Cohen’s signature moves during the 2008-2013 tours – kneeling beside John Bilezikjian on the oud  as he would later kneel beside Javier Mas to establish face to face contact as he sings and Mas plays.

1. Dance Me To The End Of Love
2. Everybody Knows
3. First We Take Manhattan
4. Take This Waltz
5. Hallelujah
6. Suzanne

Embedded below is  a representative performance, Take This Waltz.

Leonard Cohen – Take This Waltz
Roskilde: July 2, 1988

Note: Originally posted Aug 6, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Revisiting Billboard’s 1998 Tribute To Leonard Cohen

Billboard’s 30th Anniversary Tribute To Leonard Cohen – November 28, 1998

The November 28, 1998 issue of Billboard contains a 14 page celebration of Leonard Cohen:

The tribute is a 14 page appendix in the middle of the magazine. A recent interview with Leonard written by with Susan Nunziata was also posted on Billboard’s own website, but there is more in the magazine – we can read comments from his co-workers and friends, like Phil Spector, Jennifer Warnes, and Steve Lindsey. Dylan Siegler writes about Leonard’s career. There are numerous stylish advertisements showing great photos of Leonard and his family. For instance the staff at Stranger Management, his promoters, record companies, financial advisors, music publisher, and TV/radio channels greet him. A touching ad is on page LC-12: photos from Leonard’s family album are presented with the text “With love from your family; Suzanne, Lorca, Adam and Esther”.1

The Nunziata interview is studded with gems, including  Cohen’s acknowledgment of  his debt to Jennifer Warnes:

Jennifer Warnes practically revived me from the dead in America by putting out Famous Blue Raincoat.… She’s been an invaluable help in my life.

And there is also a discussion of Cohen’s project with Phil Spector:

Of note was Cohen’s collaboration with Phil Spector on the album “Death of a Ladies’ Man”. The almost unimaginable combination of Spector and Cohen has been well documented. Spector’s obsession with guns, his heavy drinking, his tendency to surround himself with menacing henchmen, and his penchant to threaten musicians. The now infamous stories of Spector holding a gun to Cohen’s neck as a sign of his unswerving affection and his obsessive possessiveness of the master tapes, to the extent that Cohen was prevented from hearing the mixes before the album was released, are now legendary. The sound and style of Ladies’ Man were in such contrast to Cohen’s previous work that it came as a great disappointment to him.

However, with the intervention of time, Cohen has mellowed and warmed toward the album and has now developed a great affection for it, even to the extent that he has entertained the possibility of working with Spector again. Spector, for his part, expressed great admiration for Cohen, and warmly cherished the honor of working with Cohen and of sharing in the writing and production of “Death of a Ladies’ Man”. [emphasis mine]

The Cohen Cover Photo

The intriguing qualities of the interview notwithstanding, I am more taken with the ads placed in the Cohen tribute section by his business associates and family (seen in the following sections) and the spectacularly cluttered cover (seen atop this post).

While I understand the significance of the Cohen-authored books and albums comprising the border of the cover and the fact that no periodical is likely to sacrifice its own logo to highlight a cover photo, I am convinced the simple image of Leonard Cohen, freed of the clunky icons surrounding the image’s perimeter, is far more striking.

The Leonard Cohen Family Ad

Clearly the highlight of the ads is the touching collection of family photos with the inscription

With love from your family;
Suzanne, Lorca, Adam and Esther

Ad From Moses Znaimer

Moses Znaimer was the head of several Canadian specialty channels, including  Much Music, MusiquePlus, MusiMAX, and MuchmoreMusic. His ad places Cohen on a background filled with images of music, Hebrew script, a rose, a statue emblematic of Eastern thought, and a list of Cohen’s roles: Poet, Singer, Songwriter, Rabbinical Student, Buddhist Adept, and Lover Of Women.

Ad From European Promoters

I first award this ad the prize for Funniest Tribute Ad because of its legend,

First we take Manhattan
Then we take a break

… and the accompanying pseudo-Polaroid of Cohen collapsed on the floor.

It also wins the award for Most Sincere Tribute Ad because of the openly self-serving signature lines:

Dear Leonard,
We can’t wait to see you back on the road.
Love, Fleming, Steen, & your European promoters.

Ad From Greenberg & Associates Financial Advisors

Things change. In 2005, Cohen and his legal team would accuse Greenberg of failing to warn Cohen about his dangerous financial situation. 2

Ad From Stranger Music

Some things really change. The text reads,

“Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free”

Dearest Leonard,
With great love and affection,
from Kelley [Lynch], Joan [Lynch], Jack [Lynch], and all your friends at Stranger Management, and from Steve Lindsey [arranger & producer]

The ad shows Leonard Cohen playing  at University Of Rome in 1974  (see Rare Photos: Leonard Cohen’s 1974 Appearance At The University Of Rome – Performance & Book Promo).

View The Original Tribute

The entire Tribute section can be found at Google Books
Note: Originally posted Mar 24, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

  1. Source: LeonardCohenFiles []
  2. Leonard Cohen’s Troubles May Be a Theme Come True By Marc Weingarten.  New York Times October 6, 2005. []

Leonard Cohen on Suzanne “It was never about a particular woman…it was more about the beginning of a different life for me. My life in Montreal”

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It was never about a particular woman. For me it was more about the beginning of a different life for me. My life in Montreal, and my life wandering alone in those parts of Montreal that are now very beautifully done up and in those days, it was the waterfront. I used to wander around down there and I used to go to that church a lot.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Cohen Wore Earplugs to a Dylan Show? by Brian D. Johnson, Maclean’s: June 12, 2008. Photo of Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours, better known as the Church where “the sun pours down like honey, On our lady of the harbour.”  See Our Lady Of The Harbour – The Montreal Church Embedded In Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne

Videos: Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins On His Singing Debut & Suzanne

judylenHow Judy Collins Helped Leonard Cohen Start His Singer-Songwriter Career

Judy Collins – Interviewed By Bill Moyers About Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne”

Judy Collins praises Cohen’s lyricism and outlines the religious inflections of his work.  She also sings “Suzanne.”

Leonard Cohen Interviewed About Judy Collins and “Suzanne”

In this video Cohen reports on the reason for his “mad decision” to “rectify [his] economic situation” by  shifting from writing poems and novels to writing and singing songs, his first meeting with Judy Collins, and his anxiety about being a singer rather than focusing exclusively on songwriting:

I remember saying to my lawyer who was accompanying me there [NYC]. In a state of panic, I said ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here; I can’t sing,’ and he said, ‘None of you guys can sing. When I want to hear singers, I go the Metropolitan Opera.’

And I think that’s more or less the position I had anyway. I never thought we were singers. I certainly never had any musical standards to tyrannize me. I thought it was something to do with the truth, that if you told your story, that’s what the song was about.

The video also includes the account by Judy Collins on Cohen’s near-catastrophic public singing debut at New York’s Town Hall and Cohen singing “Suzanne.”

Leonard Cohen photo from York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, F0433, Photographer: John Sharp, Identifiers: ASC01707. Judy Collins photo by ABC Television – eBayfrontback, Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons

Note: Originally posted July 10, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric