Leonard Cohen “Couldn’t Care Less” That Joan Baez “Brutally Violated” His Song Suzanne

len-joanAnd you want to travel with Him,
And you want to travel blind.
And you think you’ll maybe trust Him
‘Cause He’s touched you
And He’s moved you,
And He’s kind.

Joan Baez version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne (1983)

Cohen Confident His Songs “Can Take Care Of Themselves”

In a 1992 video interview Leonard Cohen declares

I don’t give my songs any instructions when they are presented to the public. They are completely on their own. I really feel they can take care of themselves – even when they are brutally violated as Joan Baez did to the song “Suzanne.”1 [emphasis mine]

Cohen explains that, for ideological reasons, Joan Baez rejected the line, “For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind,” as mystical and drug-induced. His recall of her replacement lyrics is faulty (his best guess is that she sang  “I touched your perfect body with my thumb”). There are a few other changes in her version of the song as well (see comparison of lyrics below).

Cohen’s point, however, is that, even with the radical change in the words he wrote for his song,

I still loved the song. … I couldn’t care less that she couldn’t accept that line.

One notes, however, that Cohen goes on to report that when he met her backstage during the Rolling Thunder Revue,2  she sang it with his original lyrics and told him, “I finally got it right, Leonard.” “She had, Cohen summarizes, “come around.”
Not that Leonard Cohen cares.

Mary Martin, Cohen’s manager at the time was certainly less sanguine, as noted in this excerpt from Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum: Mary Martin by Michael McCall (Country Music Hall of Fame: November 17, 2009):

As an example of how fiercely protective Martin could be of Cohen’s songs, she recalled a story about hearing that Joan Baez had been performing “Suzanne,” a song first recorded by Collins. Only Baez changed some of the lyrics when she performed the song. Martin sent her a terse letter demanding she stop changing the song, explaining, “I don’t think you would take another brush to Andrew Wyeth and his paintings. Therefore, do not alter Leonard Cohen’s poetry.”

Suzanne – The Leonard Cohen And Joan Baez Lyrics

Click on image below to enlarge lyrics.

Videos – Joan Baez Sings Two Versions Of “Suzanne” By Leonard Cohen

Joan Baez – Suzanne: Joan Baez Rewrite Of Lyrics
Paris: 1983


Joan Baez – Suzanne: Original Leonard Cohen Lyrics
France: 2010


Credit Due Department: A reasonable facsimile of Leonard Cohen’s fedora is herewith symbolically doffed in thanks to Maarten Massa, who found and shared this tasty tidbit. Photo of Joan Baez by Heinrich Klaffs [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Leonard Cohen by Roland Godefroy (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Note: Originally posted March 8, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

  1. Yes, that’s what Leonard Cohen said; no, this is not another DrHGuy joke. Check the video []
  2. See Leonard Cohen Declines Bob Dylan’s Invitation To Play In Rolling Thunder Revue and Leonard Cohen Hosts Joni Mitchell & Ratso At Home For Barbequed Ribs []

6 Replies to “Leonard Cohen “Couldn’t Care Less” That Joan Baez “Brutally Violated” His Song Suzanne”

  1. Susan Evans

    The difference is quite remarkable for any Leonard fan of his words and work . The effort that we all know he takes to putting a song together is nothing short of wondrous makes one feel that Joan Baez was wasting everybody’s time including her own !!!

  2. Christine Roberts

    She doesn’t even spell the name right in her lyrics and I don’t like anybody else’s version-big fan of Joan Baez but not on this occasion.

  3. mrsportpsych

    Leonard Cohen, Happy Birthday Poem

    Happy eightieth Birthday, Leonard Cohen,
    Or 41 anniversary of your 39 – wherever you roam,
    A Montrealer you are , poetic and lithe,
    World Class artist – you surely thrive,

    In the spotlight of Art, a towering Voice,
    Perhaps a bit raspy, your unique choice
    Of Poetic illusions –of the human Spirit,
    Uplifting – transcendent – depth and wit,

    Unique is the word to capture your Song,
    “Halleluiah” – rejoice – you make us belong
    To our humanity, as we wander the World,
    Our roots, grounded in your song. Never old.

    We rejoice in the wonder you help us discover
    Accept our thanks, spiritual big brother.

    Copyright Lawrence Klein 2014