In May I started writing a newsletter about my creative life at substack.com. It contains essays, creative nonfiction pieces, short stories, poems, songs, reviews of books and music, podcast announcements, and talk about the craft of writing and creativity in general. I’ll use this blog to announce new issues, which come out every 7 to 10 days.
Freezing daffodils nod against
April snow. Long queue at the
food store. Brilliant deaths cut
the day. Hal was only 64. He
had sung kaddish for someone
else not long ago and no one
expected – even the lark does
not see the Open, someone
said in another time.
During the quarantine, I have been practicing more guitar, specifically aiming to improve my woeful finger picking skills. One of the songs I practice regularly is the gem from Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne.” Below is a printable 1-page lyric and chord sheet for anyone who wants to play along.
My first exposure to this classic came from a very obscure source. When I was a teenager, my family would sometimes sojourn over to Lancaster county, Pennsylvania and shop at the Park City Mall, a massive shopping mecca, rivaled in size only by King of Prussia mall in our region. Anyway, there was a record shop there–I think it was called Record Bar or Record Town. I have a vivid memory of finding in the bargain bins some albums for something like a buck, each. In that small batch was a CCR budget compilation, two Guess Who albums, and an album by a band called The California Earthquake called Resurrection. I knew nothing about that band; I merely thought the cover art looked cool, so I took a chance.
It turns out that The California Earthquake was like Christian rock with a Blood, Sweat, & Tears vibe. Check out the discogs entry for more details on this truly obscure LP. The album itself was mostly forgettable, but there was this one track on side 2 that caught my ear:
It was an oblique way to encounter a classic song for the first time. I never forgot the song, though, and it led me inexorably to seek out who this songwriter Leonard Cohen might be. Later, I would discover more famous and worthier versions by Leonard himself, Judy Collins, and others.
It has been covered by countless artists. Here’s a recent take by Peter Gabriel:
I think what struck me upon my first listen was the poetry of the lyrics, the kind of hypnotic, lingering way that the melody lines weave through the chord progression. It was like the music was bowing down in reverence to the words. The song billows with atmosphere and tangible imagery and wisdom:
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
from “Suzanne”, last verse
How could a pensive suburban teen NOT be impressed at that? I felt like I was discovering a new bohemian world distinct and apart from my own, where truths could be told by following an artistic vision.
I think I’ll try to arrange a cover of this one soon. If something decent comes out, I’ll post it.
The impressive idiot’s leg sleeps —
a bleached newspaper in his beefsteak hands,
its black iron stories like stripes, bars,
stone slab sad, death by thousand needles.
Enlarged shadows of jet planes cross him.
His dawdling boots float over the bench edge
like rusty buoys above a submerged city.