Suzanne Verdal – Leonard Cohen’s Inspiration For “Suzanne” – In Story Behind Reese Witherspoon’s “Wild”

Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild” Starring Reese Witherspoon

The following excepts provide the basic lines of the plot and role of the soundtrack:

In the summer of 1995, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed decided to walk the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself without having ever having attempted a serious hike in her life. Following the death of her mother and after years of dissolute self-destructive behavior, Strayed found herself divorced, alone, lost and on a frayed edge of personal despair. Desperately trying to find her humanity and reclaim an her ideal self, she impulsively set out, ill-equipped and inexperienced, to find herself on an unpredictable and grueling odyssey from the Mojave desert through California to Oregon over the course of over 150 days. (Excerpted from Telluride Review: Jean-Marc Vallée’s ‘Wild’ Starring Reese Witherspoon By Rodrigo Perez. The Playlist August 30, 2014)

Most of the music is only used in the film’s various flashbacks. “I didn’t want to give the audience this impression of ‘film watching,'” Vallee said in a statement. “That’s often how I feel with score music. I become aware of it, aware that I’m watching a film, that someone is playing music that the characters don’t hear. When there is music, it’s because it’s playing in the scene from a sound device, a car radio for instance, or a CD player. What [Reese’s character Cheryl] is listening to in her life is the music that we hear during the film.” (Excerpted from ‘Wild’ Soundtrack Feature Bruce Springsteen, Portishead, Leonard Cohen, Lucinda Williams & More By Edward Davis. The Playlist: October 23, 2014)

This excerpt from Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne has deep connection to Reese Witherspoon drama Wild by Linda Barnard (The Star: Dec 5, 2014) offers the story about Suzanne Verdal’s link to the movie as well as a photo of Suzanne Verdal taken circa 1977:1

Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée is scrolling through photos on his phone, stopping at an image of a young girl and a pretty, dark-haired woman, smiling for the camera.

“You’re the first one that I’m showing that to,” said the Montreal-born director of Dallas Buyers Club and Café de Flore.

We’d been talking on an early September afternoon about why he wanted to include Leonard Cohen’s melancholy and romantic song “Suzanne” in the drama Wild, which had screened the day before at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens in theatres Dec. 5.

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Wild is based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir about her relationship with her late mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern) and her decision to repair her broken life by hiking more than 1,700 km on the punishing Pacific Crest Trail.

“There’s a personal thing about this song,” Vallée explains of the haunting “Suzanne.” He wanted the Wild soundtrack to include music Bobbi would have played in the ’70s when her kids were young, letting the songs weave through Cheryl’s mind, often becoming a memory of her mother as she made her trek.

“I have a thing for history, I love this song so much, I’m from Montreal; Leonard Cohen is from Montreal,” said the soft-spoken Vallée.

The young blond girl in the image is Strayed, then known as Cheryl Nyland, at about age 10. And the beautiful brunette woman is Suzanne Verdal, the Suzanne who inspired Cohen’s song.

Vallée [Director of “Wild”] was flabbergasted to learn Verdal and Bobbi were friends when he approached Strayed to talk about Wild’s soundtrack, wanting to include “Suzanne” along with songs by Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel and Lucinda Williams among others.

“She goes, ‘Oh I knew Suzanne! I met Suzanne! She was friends with my mom!’ ” said Vallée.

Note: Originally posted Dec 23, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. Thanks to Jane Cartmill, who sent me a link to this article []

“It is doubtful that I’ll get back to Montreal … I miss my friends, my house and my city more acutely than I can describe.” Leonard Cohen – Oct 16, 2016

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quoteup2
Unless I get a second wind, it is doubtful that I’ll get back to Montreal, where I was living before a financial crisis compelled me to deal with matters in Los Angeles. I miss my friends, my house and my city more acutely than I can describe. quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Le Dernier Empereur by J.D. Beauvallet and Pierre Siankowski (Les Inrocks: Oct 19, 2016) [from the original English questionnaire forwarded to me on Oct 16, 2016 by Leonard Cohen]

Resources: Leonard Cohen’s Montreal: The best articles about Leonard Cohen’s Montreal homes and haunts as well as videos and a list of pertinent landmarks

Credit Due Department: Photo of Leonard Cohen’s Montreal hometaken by and posted with the permission of Lilian Graziani.

“Mr. Leonard Cohen, you gave me a song forever” From Here It Is – Letters To Leonard Cohen: You Know Who I Am


Introduction:

“Here It Is – Letters To Leonard Cohen,” a book presented to the Canadian singer-songwriter in celebration of his 80th birthday, comprises stories and essays by fans that put their experience of Cohen’s music into words. Kim Gorsuch, who has long admired Cohen, came up with the idea and organized the project, gathering the pieces and photos online for printing into a hardbound volume.* Because the stories are too significant and too moving not to be shared, Cohencentric.com is posting a number of Kim’s selections. Today’s offering is You Know Who I Am … by Paloma Diaz:

You Know Who I Am …

Some 45 years ago, in a small, dank room in Mexico City, three kids sat warily at the feet of their guitar teacher, Cornelio. Our first lesson… we sat with battered guitars on our knees, plucking gingerly at the strings and twisting our fingers into the convoluted chords. Cornelio had us strum once and again until, probably thoroughly fed up with us, he taught us your song.

I am 56 years old now, and it has always been my song. For me. No one else’s. We would sing it on the stoops into the night, everyone knowing that it was their song, no one else’s. Singing in English even when we knew it was deliciously incorrect and rebellious to use the language of the enemy. We had grown up playing Gringos and Guerrilleros, and never saying Coke but rather the black-waters-of-yanqui-imperialism. I never owned up that I was, in fact, American, having been born in the US.

It was an odd time warp; we all wanted to sing and play guitars and join the guerrilla fighters and live forever. So we stared at the sun, and we killed a child and went on to be bureaucrats and painters and druggie wipeouts and all the other stories that still roam like ghosts throughout the streets where our children grow.

Mr. Leonard Cohen, you gave me a song forever, and my daughter now sings along with me to “Take This Waltz” while a hyacinth weaves through her name – Xacinta- and we can talk about Lorca and the Spanish Civil War and poetry and all that is good, and my son hums partisan songs, and the stranger dances around us all.

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“These men are lying. This is not a leaderless group at all.” Leonard Cohen On Peter Coyote & The Diggers

The Provenance Of The Peter Coyote – Leonard Cohen Story

While researching Leonard Cohen’s relationships  with Andy Warhol and his associates,1 I happened onto the description of a brief encounter between Peter Coyote2 and Cohen, which is linked to Warhol only by the coincidental  presence of Ultraviolet, one of Warhol’s designated superstars.

While the anecdote is noted at a handful of sites, the source for each is a two paragraph section of Coyote’s memoir, Sleeping Where I Fall (Washington, DC: Counterpoint Press, 1998). Consequently, I cannot offer Cohen’s perspective or confirmation from anyone else that the incident played out as described in Coyote’s book.

And, even if I could verify or refute the account, its significance, if any, is nebulous.

Of course, lack of significance has never been deterred me from publishing an interesting story.3

And, not only is the story engaging enough to post but, as a bonus, doing so also adds another Leonard Cohen lookalike to our growing list.  At least one web site4 and one critic have determined that Peter Coyote and Leonard Cohen resemble one another. Lawrence Russell of Film Court wrote about Coyote’s work in “Bitter Moon” in this excerpt from the Peter Coyote web site:

But the film’s power comes from its narrator. Peter Coyote moves through his role as if he is no mere fiction but rather an eloquent subject of cinema verite. His resemblance to that well-known poetic undertaker Leonard Cohen (or even Pascal Bruckner, author of the novel) perhaps helps some of us suspend our disbelief… yet the fact remains that Coyote is utterly convincing as Oscar, an American writer as horny as Henry Miller but without the humanism of his famous precursor. [emphasis mine]

The Story Of Peter Coyote, Leonard Cohen, 10,000 Nonexistent Dollars, And The Leadership Issue

It was the summer of 1968 – a sociopolitical era keenly relevant to the ensuing event.

At the New York apartment of singer Paul Simon, Peter Coyote was to make a pitch to David Padwa, a well-to-do stockbroker Coyote (mistakenly, as it turned out) thought was considering a $10,000 donation to the Diggers, the Haight-Ashbury community-action group with which Coyote was involved.

Padwa arrived accompanied by Andy Warhol superstar, Ultraviolet, and Leonard Cohen, described by Coyote as “a poet and songwriter whose work I admire.”

Coyote and Danny Rifkin, manager of the Grateful Dead, were describing the mission and operations of the Diggers when, according to Coyote,

Suddenly, Leonard Cohen leaped to his feet and announced dramatically,`David, these men are lying. This is not a leaderless group at all. I am a novelist and reader of men. These men are leaders,’ stressing this last word as if it were a communicable disease.5

Coyote’s conclusion was that

Cohen … was probably hustling Padwa for something himself and feared competition.6

With respect to the potential donation to the Diggers, whatever Cohen did was moot. Coyote goes on to report that Padwa apparently had never committed to or even discussed making a donation.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Vaclav Dejcmar – author, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia Commons

Note: Originally posted Oct 20, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
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  1. See Leonard Cohen, Gerard Malanga’s Poem, And The Andy Warhol Scene and Leonard Cohen, Brigid Berlin’s Cock Book, & The Andy Warhol Scene []
  2. For the youngsters who don’t recognize Coyote’s name, he is an author, director, and screenwriter but is best known as an actor in TV and films such as Bitter Moon, Heart of Midnight, Outrageous Fortune, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. []
  3. Who else is going to tell you this stuff? []
  4. Anecdotario Del Rock– Update: site no longer online []
  5. Sleeping Where I Fall by Peter Coyote (Washington, DC: Counterpoint Press, 1998) []
  6. Sleeping Where I Fall by Peter Coyote (Washington, DC: Counterpoint Press, 1998) []

“I hope that the final effect is one of invigoration rather than suffocation” Leonard Cohen on You Want It Darker – Released One Year Ago: Oct 21, 2016

From Adam Cohen à la rescousse by Alain de Repentigny [From original English questionnaire forwarded to me by Leonard Cohen] (La Presse: Oct 19, 2016).

More Information About You Want It Darker

Information about You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen, including reviews like this, is collected and updated at Info & Updates: Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker