Saturday, May 08, 2010

Leonard Cohen: Suzanne

I took my mom grocery shopping this past Tuesday, as is our custom on Tuesdays that I am not working. Tuesday is Senior Citizen Day at the local grocery store, so she is able to get a 5% discount on all her purchases. (Well, my purchases, since I'm the one who foots the bill at the checkout.)

Tuesdays are busy days at the grocery store. Nanticoke has lots of senior citizens, and everybody wants their 5% discount. Shopping can be quite a prolonged event as my mom stops to talk to friends and neighbors and people she hasn't seen in years. It was while she was having a conversation with someone from the neighborhood that I heard a song come over the sound system in the store, a song with a hauntingly soft guitar and a hauntingly soft male voice singing words that hovered just on the edge of hearability.

Try as I might, I couldn't pluck out any single lyric that I could wrap my ears around. But I did hear one phrase repeated over and over: "And you want to..." Was this some odd, slow, acoustic version of "Tales of Brave Ulysses"?

I forgot about the song for a while after we got back. But eventually I remembered it, and decided to try my luck with Google. I typed "and you want to" into my search box and was immediately given a list of options for completing the phase - including "and you want to travel with her and you want to travel blind". Yes! That sounded right! I clicked through to see that these were words to the song "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen.

After posting this on Facebook, I learned many fascinating things about the song from my friends there. The song was first recorded and made famous by Judy Collins in 1966 - Leonard Cohen's version of his own song didn't come out until a year later. It broke the top 40 (or 50, according to the singer) in a version by Noel Harrison, son of Rex Harrison of My Fair Lady and Doctor Dolittle fame. To date, there have been thirty-five versions of this song recorded.

I seem to recall hearing someone once say that Leonard Cohen is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.* Well, maybe not happy, as such. Maybe spiritually enlightened. Maybe...well, whatever you feel after hearing Leonard Cohen is what you feel after hearing Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen was interviewed on Fresh Air a few years ago. If you haven't heard that interview yet, or even if you have, it's definitely worth a listen.

Leonard Cohen's 'Book of Longing' : NPR

More of Leonard Cohen on NPR can be found here.

And, of course, there's this.

*You may think that this is a paraphrase of something Ben Franklin said about beer, but in fact he said no such thing. His actual quote was more complicated and expressed wonderment that rain falls from the sky and causes grapes to grow and their juice, in turn, becomes wine.


DrHGuy said...

I think there are more than 35 recorded versions of "Suzanne." If I count correctly, A THOUSAND COVERS DEEP at LeonardCohenFiles lists 208 covers. Only within the past few months, in fact, has "Hallelujah" surpassed "Suzanne" as the most covered of Cohen's songs.

SeattleDan said...

I always liked the way Altman worked in Cohen's songs in McCabe and Mrs.Miller. Good movie and the songs enhance the story.