Leonard Cohen “Couldn’t Care Less” That Joan Baez “Brutally Violated” His Song Suzanne

And you want to travel with Him,
And you want to travel blind.
And you think you’ll maybe trust Him
‘Cause He’s touched you
And He’s moved you,
And He’s kind.

From Joan Baez’s 1983 version of
Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne

Cohen Confident His Songs “Can Take Care Of Themselves”

In a 1992 video interview with Serge Simonart, Leonard Cohen declares,

I don’t give my songs any instructions when they are presented to the public. They are completely on their own. I really feel they can take care of themselves – even when they are brutally violated as Joan Baez did to the song “Suzanne.”1 [emphasis mine]

Leonard explains that, for ideological reasons, Joan Baez rejected the line, “For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind,” as mystical and drug-induced. His recall of her replacement lyrics is faulty (his best guess is that she sang “I touched your perfect body with my thumb”). There are a few other changes in her version of the song as well (see comparison of lyrics below).

Leonard’s point, however, is that, even with the radical change in the words he wrote for his song,

I still loved the song… I couldn’t care less that she couldn’t accept that line.

One notes, however, that Leonard goes on to report that when he met her backstage during the Rolling Thunder Revue, she sang it with his original lyrics and told him, “I finally got it right, Leonard.” “She had,” he summarizes, “come around.”

Not that Leonard Cohen cares.

Mary Martin, Cohen’s manager at the time was certainly less sanguine, as noted in this excerpt from Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum: Mary Martin by Michael McCall (Country Music Hall of Fame: November 17, 2009):

As an example of how fiercely protective Martin could be of Cohen’s songs, she recalled a story about hearing that Joan Baez had been performing “Suzanne,” a song first recorded by Collins. Only Baez changed some of the lyrics when she performed the song. Martin sent her a terse letter demanding she stop changing the song, explaining, “I don’t think you would take another brush to Andrew Wyeth and his paintings. Therefore, do not alter Leonard Cohen’s poetry.”

Suzanne – The Leonard Cohen And Joan Baez Lyrics

Videos – Joan Baez Sings Two Versions Of “Suzanne” By Leonard Cohen

Joan Baez – Suzanne: Joan Baez Rewrite Of Lyrics
Paris: 1983


Joan Baez – Suzanne: Original Leonard Cohen Lyrics
France: 2010


Credit Due Department: A metaphorical fedora is herewith doffed in thanks to Maarten Massa, who found and shared this tasty tidbit. Photo of Joan Baez by Heinrich Klaffs [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Leonard Cohen by Roland Godefroy (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted March 8, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.

  1. Yes, that’s what Leonard Cohen said; no, this is not another DrHGuy joke. Check the video []

2 thoughts on “Leonard Cohen “Couldn’t Care Less” That Joan Baez “Brutally Violated” His Song Suzanne

  1. If Joan can’t get into mysticism she will never understand Cohen. It was presumptuous of her to alter the lyric. She also altered There But for Fortune and Phil Ochs was angry at her for it.

  2. She did a fabulous job on “ SUzanne”. The words are mystical and perfect. It’s my favorite song.

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