I never had a Leonard Cohen album and though I could probably recognize his voice easily enough the only song I knew by him for the longest time was Suzanne, and only because it was on a Joan Baez album that got a lot of airplay back in the day. I always liked the song, and seem to recall using it in a piece I wrote in a writing class with Barry Farrell at UCSB. That must have been 1978. I was assigned to interview this luscious raven haired beauty, we sat on her bed in her dorm and she talked and talked and then I went home and wrote a piece and think I quoted Suzanne a couple times, probably because she did. I remember the piece was called Laura, her name, and it was later one of the first things I ever transcribed on computer, tossing the typed and white-outed original, and then the computer ate the essay and it sank back into electrons like a stone.
Decades later I heard a raven haired friend sing Hallelujah and it blew my mind. I thought she had written it. She corrected me. No bed was sat on.
I remember seeing the Isle of Wight flick in a hippie movie theater as a kid but I have no memory of him in it then. Family I remember. Much later–decades, actually–I bought a copy of the flick and watched it and only liked a couple things–Family, Ten Years After, Kris Kristofferson and Leonard Cohen, who did a rather extraordinary take of Suzanne. Even the loutish yippies were hushed. Everything is hushed, the hippies hang on every word, and Leonard’s hippie chick back up singers look disturbingly like Manson girls but you don’t even notice. It’s as perfect a performance as you’ll ever see.
I suppose if they hadn’t called him a poet I might have picked up a record or two back then. I mean they called him that because he was a poet, a real poet. That word always gave me the willies, though. Not sure why. Maybe because I played drums.
Listening to Suzanne again here, the verses driving the chords on to unrealized endings, stumbling over the bridge as if stoned, music following words instead of words trapped by music, I deja vu back to that dorm room, that bed, and see now how I used the song to structure that piece, I can almost read it, almost remember it, but I can feel it. Maybe a roommate had the LP, I must have listened to this song over and over and over and wrote the first good thing I ever wrote in my life.
Funny, though, how I spent an evening alone on a bed with a dark haired beauty and all I could think about was words. That never occurred to me till now. Oh, Brick….