- 07 Nov 17
One year on from his death, we look back on Leonard Cohen's life and the Hot Press interviews with those who knew him best.
Judy recorded 'Suzanne', and turned it into a massive '60s hit when Leonard was still an unknown writer.
“I had a very close pal who was friends with one of Leonard’s pals from Montreal. So when we’d go out to dinner in New York, she’d talk to me about this very gifted guy. One day she called and said, ‘Leonard has started writing some songs, and wants to come to New York and sing them to you’.
“Leonard came to see me around April of 1966. The first thing he said was, ‘I can’t play the guitar or sing, and I don’t know if this is a song!’ Then he sang me three songs – ‘The Stranger Song’, ‘Dress Rehearsal Rag’ and ‘Suzanne’. I was stunned.
“It was a very opportune time for Leonard to come to me – I was about to do my sixth album and my career had really taken off. To be honest, I think Leonard had really thought about this. He knew I would listen to his songs and consider them, because at this point I had built a reputation as someone who covered other people’s material. There were other artists who were recording, but they weren’t doing other people’s songs, and certainly not material by unknown writers. The Village was rampant with singer-songwriters, but they all wanted to do their own stuff.
“I included ‘Suzanne’ on my next album, In My Life, which came out at the end of ‘66 and did very well. ‘Suzanne’ got a lot of attention – a lot of people played it. That turned Leonard into a known quantity; people knew that he wrote the song.
“In 1967, when the album had gone gold, I was invited to play this anti-nuke fundraiser in New York. There was a lot of interest in Leonard by then, but he still hadn’t performed in public, so I asked him to come and sing ‘Suzanne’. He was very reluctant but eventually I persuaded him, and people were excited. So he went out and did ‘Suzanne’. About halfway through he was struck with stage-fright and walked off. I convinced him to go back: we went out and finished the song together.
“People went crazy, they loved it. After that, he understood that he had something people wanted. Soon after, John Hammond signed him to Columbia. There was another very important element of the Leonard Cohen story for me. He called me up one day, and during the conversation, he asked, ‘Judy, why don’t you write your own songs?’ That really got me thinking and soon after I wrote ‘Since You Asked’, which was the start of me writing my own material.
“As he became more famous over the years, we would stay in touch, and we’d meet up whenever he was in New York. Leonard was very deep and very committed to his friends. He was also very grateful, and I say that with a particular intention. In my work, Leonard supported me emotionally, artistically and financially. That’s extremely rare – people don’t do that. They don’t really help you when you do them a favour. For the most part, they don’t even say ‘thank you’. And I won’t get specific, but let me tell you that it’s the truth.
“Leonard, on the other hand, has shared both his artistry and his abundance with me in the moments that it counted. His sisters and his brother always used to come to see me and they’d say, ‘We know what you did for Leonard. People don’t get it - but we know’.”