Tuesday, March 25, 2008

O'Keeffe Tree Trunks

This O'Keeffe painting sets an artsy mood for today's post about Leonard Cohen's song: "Suzanne" (lyrics). "Suzanne" was, for decades, Cohen's most popular song. It may still be - if it hasn't been eclipsed by "Hallelujah". Bro64:
I still don't know what "Hallelujah" is about, but I enjoy hearing it. I have a better job understanding the song "Suzanne". I was home sick a few months back and caught a Leonard Cohen tribute show on one of the premium channels, like HBO or Starz. It was performed at the Sydney Opera House. I'd never heard the song "Suzanne" before, but this version also captivated me. I especially love the first verse, when the descriptions of the protagonist with Suzanne on the river bank are so vivid.

The lead performer in the song is an Australian rock musician named Nick Cave; apparently an icon in his home country according to the Internet, but I'm not familiar. The two women backup singers were the longtime backup singers of Cohen himself. The song has a fascinating quality. The women's melody (and harmony?) is so beautiful and haunting, vaguely reminiscent of a religious chant. That is starkly contrasted with Cave's singing/near reading of the song, as if he's performing a poetry reading to the rhythm of the downbeat.
Here is Nick Cave's version from the Sydney Opera House:

It just shows how everyone is different. I understand "Hallelujah", but not "Suzanne". I understand the Armageddon ref and the Jesus' crucifixion part: when the sky rends open. Beyond that: is Cohen saying Suzanne is filled with God's love, and helps him be filled with God's love also? Is Suzanne an angel? And I completely lose the thread when there are heroes in the seaweed, and children reaching out for love they will never get, and Suzanne holds a mirror. Got no clue. Maybe it's nothing deeper than some random event which happened when Cohen and Suzanne got high one sunny afternoon.

I think the song has to be understood inside the time it was written: mid to late 1960's, and inside of who wrote it: poet/vocalist Leonard Cohen. The poem has that 1960s/we-are-expanding-our-consciousness vibe. It's maybe an opportunity to "let art flow over you" without too much analysis.

I do appreciate the poem as a hip period piece. CBC article about the real Suzanne.

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