I first heard “Suzanne” on Judy Collins’ 1972 compilation album, Colors of the Day. In my youth, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was especially captured by the beauty of the voices of some songstresses. I remember getting to Judy Collins’ Fifth Album by way of Bob Dylan, whose songs and, shall we say vocal stylings, I appreciated.
[Fair warning, we have a few great recordings to work through here, any one of which may lead you down a rabbit hole. No, hopefully not that one! So, if you are too busy midweek, bookmark this post for your end-of-week wind-down.]
It was in the later 1980s that I got to Leonard Cohen, by way of another songstress, Jennifer Warnes. She had a hit in 1977 with “The Right Time of the Night.” Then she did an album project that stepped completely away from pop, around the same time Linda Ronstadt, in What’s New, started exploring the Great American Songbook.
Famous Blue Raincoat was a tribute to Leonard Cohen, for whom Warnes had sung back up years before. Warnes was probably helping Cohen in 1986, given the ebbs and flows of the music business. I was into great guitar work, and Stevie Ray Vaughan helped propel the first cut, “First We Take Manhattan,” up the charts. “Ain’t No Cure for Love” also got good airplay.
So, I bought the CD and finally found that Leonard Cohen was a singer in his own right, as well as a brilliant songwriter. Listen to Cohen join Warnes on “Joan of Arc,” as the fire singing to Joan. Exploring his catalog led to his recording of “Suzanne,” as part of his 1967 debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen.
Since I grew up in a home without television, it took the Internet for me to discover the old television recordings of the two friends singing together. Here are Judy Collins and Leonard Cohen in 1976:
Judy Collins, at age 77, tells the story of how they met, then sings while accompanying herself on piano:
How does she do that? In a 9 April 2019 interview with Mark Davis, Judy Collins explained how she is still recording and performing:
I have to live like an athlete. I have to eat right, sleep right, practice, and, um you know, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t scream, and try to take care of yourself.
Good words to live long and prosper by. Oh, here is another good piece of advice: don’t put blind financial trust in one person. It is an old, familiar tale in the entertainment, but here is Leonard Cohen, singing to rebuild his finances at age 73, after Cohen had been swindled out of any retirement.
Well, everybody knows the deal is rotten …
Which, finally, brings us back around to Judy Collins and … Stephen Stills. They were an item until about the time he joined Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Even though he wrote “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for the CSN first album, she wasn’t having him back. But, they have been friends and artists together over the decades, leading to their 2017 reunion on … Everybody Knows.