Leonard Cohen 101: Suzanne Identification Guide – Suzanne Elrod, Suzanne Verdal, & Suzanne Vega

 

Suzanne Elrod

Atop this post is a photo of Suzanne Elrod, the companion of Leonard Cohen in the 1970s and the mother of his children, Lorca and Adam Cohen. (She and Leonard were never married although he did occasionally refer to her as his wife.) Elrod shot the cover photograph of Cohen’s Live Songs album (under the name “Valentina) and is pictured on the cover of the Death of a Ladies’ Man album. More information about the relationship between Leonard Cohen and Suzanne Elrod, including her role in “My Gypsy Wife,” can be found at Cohencentric: Suzanne Elrod.

Suzanne Elrod is not the subject of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Suzanne.” That erroneous presumption, however, is so common enough that Leonard developed an explanation, which Adam has co-opted in this instance:

Q: Is your mom Suzanne, the same Suzanne from the song?

Adam Cohen: My father actually wrote the song before meeting my mother, but says he wrote it to summon her.1

Suzanne Verdal

Leonard Cohen wrote “Suzanne” about Suzanne Verdal, who was then the wife of Cohen’s friend, sculptor Armand Vaillancourt and who actually took Leonard “down to her place near the river” where she fed him tea and oranges. Leonard’s reflections writing the song and on Suzanne Verdal herself and Suzanne Verdal’s own account of the events can be found at Cohencentric: Suzanne Verdal.

Suzanne Vega

707px-Suzanne_Vega_mit_GitarreSuzanne Vega is a singer-songwriter who has long admired Leonard Cohen and has worked with and opened shows for him. More about her connection with Leonard can be found at Cohencentric: Suzanne Vega.

Suzanne Vega photo by Richard Huber – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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  1. Adam Cohen charts his own path with homage to dad Leonard by Mike Benhaim. Toronto Metro: Oct 11 2012 []

Origin Of Suzanne – The CBC Video Vs Leonard Cohen’s Account

This CBC video about Leonard Cohen, Suzanne Verdal, and the song “Suzanne” does offer photos of Suzanne from the 1960s that are otherwise unavailable online and would alone justify a viewing.  The video’s focus, however, certainly varies with Leonard’s own account, and its information is, at best incomplete.

There is also a potentially (and unintentionally) misleading section. The sequence beginning with the frame below carries the legend “early ’60s” but the video clip appears to be an excerpt from the ARTE documentary “Girls in Pop Songs” shot in 2011 (see Video: Suzanne Verdal Talks About Leonard Cohen & The Song He Wrote About Her).

The screen capture below is from the same video clip and shows Suzanne Verdal in 2011 rather than in a time contemporaneous with the writing of “Suzanne.”

Made In Canada: Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne’

Note: Some browsers will not display embedded video players that are “unsecured.” If the player cannot be seen,below, view the video on the CBC site.

“I touched her [Suzanne’s] perfect body with my mind, because … there was no other way that you could touch her perfect body” Leonard Cohen on Suzanne


quoteup2
The song was begun, and the chord pattern was developed, before a woman’s name entered the song. And I knew it was a song about Montreal, it seemed to come out of that landscape that I loved very much in Montreal, which was the harbour, and the waterfront, and the sailors’ church there, called Notre Dame de Bon Secour, which stood out over the river, and I knew that there’re ships going by, I knew that there was a harbour, I knew that there was Our Lady of the Harbour, which was the virgin on the church which stretched out her arms towards the seamen, and you can climb up to the tower and look out over the river, so the song came from that vision, from that view of the river. At a certain point, I bumped into Suzanne [Verdal] Vaillancourt, who was the wife of a friend of mine, they were a stunning couple around Montreal at the time, physically stunning, both of them, a handsome man and woman, everyone was in love with Suzanne Vaillancourt, and every woman was in love with Armand Vaillancourt. But there was no… well, there was thought, but there was no possibility, one would not allow oneself to think of toiling at the seduction of Armand Vaillancourt’s wife. First of all he was a friend, and second of all as a couple they were inviolate, you just didn’t intrude into that kind of shared glory that they manifested. I bumped into her one evening, and she invited me down to her place near the river. She had a loft, at a time when lofts were… the word wasn’t used. She had a space in a warehouse down there, and she invited me down, and I went with her, and she served me Constant Comment tea, which has little bits of oranges in it. And the boats were going by, and I touched her perfect body with my mind, because there was no other opportunity. There was no other way that you could touch her perfect body under those circumstances. So she provided the name in the song.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

For Suzanne Verdal’s point of view about the song, see Video: Suzanne Verdal Talks About Leonard Cohen & The Song He Wrote About Her

From 1993 Interview On BBC Radio 1FM. Found in Whispering Pines: The Northern Roots of American Music… from Hank Snow to the Band by Jason Schneider ECW Press, Dec 15, 2010) Originally posted February 19, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Video: Suzanne Verdal Talks About Leonard Cohen & The Song He Wrote About Her + 1960s Photo Of Suzanne

The video is an excerpt from the ARTE documentary “Girls in Pop Songs” shot in 2011.

Also see “I touched her [Suzanne’s] perfect body with my mind, because … there was no other way that you could touch her perfect body” Leonard Cohen on Suzanne

Suzanne Verdal in the time of Suzanne

While one can find several photos of Suzanne taken since 2000 (see three at Spoonfilm), shots of her in the 1960s are rare. And, of the half-dozen or so that I’ve come across, most of been removed from online viewing. The only exception I’ve discovered is a solitary dramatically posed photo from Suzanne: The Original Portfolio by Jeremy Taylor.