“Suzanne” – Nina Simone

CCTip by Elena Mazzoni Wagner


 “Suzanne” by Nina Simone (3 November 1969 @ Teatro Sistina, Roma)

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Lyrics:

Suzanne takes you down to her place by the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half crazy
And that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
She gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you’ve always been her lover

You know you want to travel with her
And you know you want to travel blind
You think maybe you can trust her
She’ve touched your perfect body with her mind.

Now Jesus was a sailor
When he walked across the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

You know you want to travel with him
You know you want to travel blind
You think maybe you can trust him
He’s touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Between the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror

NinaSimone


“Suzanne” was written by Leonard Cohen and it’s perhaps the most memorable song from the Canadian poet/songwriter & performer. Cohen specified, notably in a BBC interview, that the song was about encountering Suzanne Verdal, the then wife of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, in a Montreal setting. Indeed, many lines describe different elements of the city, including its river (the Saint Lawrence) and a little chapel near the harbour, called Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (literally Our Lady of Good Help), which sits on the side of the harbour that faces the rising sun in the morning, as it is described in the song.

Suzanne Verdal was interviewed by CBC News’s The National in 2006 about the song. Verdal claims that she and Cohen never had sexual relations, contrary to what some interpretations of the song suggest. Cohen himself stated in a 1994 BBC interview that he only imagined having sex with her, as there was neither the opportunity nor inclination to actually go through with it. She says she has met Cohen twice since the song’s initial popularity; once after a concert Cohen performed in the 1970s and once in passing in the 1990s when she danced for him, but Cohen did not speak to her (and possibly did not recognise her).

In any case, its lyrics first appeared as the poem “Suzanne Takes You Down” in Cohen’s 1966 book of poetry Parasites of Heaven, admittedly because of lack of new material (lyrics to a few other songs from his subsequent 1967 debut album were also printed in the book).

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