The Imagined Story Behind Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’

The Imagined Story Behind Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’

She didn’t care, she didn’t care much, about his stubbled homeliness. And he was poet enough to know that everyone, every single person, was a mystery he could spend a lifetime trying to solve.

It was a misunderstanding. It shouldn’t have been difficult for me.

And really, I needed a big success. I needed to help create a couple who’d travel to islands and mountains, who’d inspire and inflame, who’d fight and screw and produce art together, greater than either could have made working solo; who’d have babies and throw famous parties and blaze away together right up to the horizon line.

It’s not that I’d been unsuccessful. But my successes had been running ever so slightly to the modest.

There was the bus driver who, with my help, fell into companionable but chaste love with the school crossing guard. There was the sturdy, hardworking young couple who bought themselves a trim little house outside of town, had a baby and devoted themselves to campaigning against abortion rights. To name two.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a bus driver and a crossing guard who never make love, or with taking your child to sit-ins at women’s health clinics, etc. Fairies don’t judge. But I confess that I was a bit intoxicated by the more lavish potentials of the poet and the dancer.

Fairies get assignments and file reports. We’re organized. We don’t just flit randomly around in gardens and fens. Our progress is monitored by the One Whose Visage Is Too Terrible to Behold. I know. But that’s the name. I think it’s ridiculous, too. If we fall behind, we risk being transferred to other locations, and Montreal is a good post, there’s a long line of applicants. I kept on top of things, there was always the threat of getting transferred to Newfoundland or Ontario.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Ontario or Newfoundland.

But Montreal. String of frozen lights shimmering at the very limit of what some people consider the far north. Montreal, with its own private atmosphere of celebration and voluptuous sorrow, standing as it does alongside the snowbound barnyards of Vermont, the silent forests of Maine.

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