The song could’ve been called by any name because I had the guitar pattern, before I had the name of the woman. But, the wife of a friend of mine is named Suzanne, and she did invite me down to her place near the river, the St. Lawrence. And she served me ~ I believe it was Constant Comment ~ tea, which is composed of tea and oranges.1 And I did enjoy her hospitality. More or less, the song is reportage in the first verse. Then, because Montreal is a religious city, and there are symbols of all the great faiths around…that verse about Jesus; and we were emerged, and we were by the river. And then, the last verse tried to sum up, somehow, the kind of compassion and attention that a man looks to receive from a woman.
The writing of ‘Suzanne,’ like all my songs, took a long time. I wrote most of it in Montreal ~ all of it in Montreal ~ over the space of, perhaps, four or five months. I had many, many verses to it. Sometimes the song would go off on a tangent, and you’ll have perfectly respectable verses, but that have led you away from the original feel of the song. So, it’s a matter of coming back. It’s a very painful process because you have to throw away a lot of good stuff. To come back, and to get those three verses of ‘Suzanne,’ that took me quite a long time.
The John Hammond Years: Interview with John Hammond & Leonard Cohen broadcast on BBC, Sept 20, 1986. Accessed at LeonardCohenFiles.
Credit Due Department: Photo by Sally Hunter