In my flawed memory, the first time I ever heard of Leonard Cohen was at Camp Henry S. Jacobs in Utica, Mississippi. It was 1977, I was 12, and the camp had a songbook filled with Israeli folk songs, some religious tunes and a smattering of late-’60s hippie stuff, such as Donovan’s “I Love My Shirt” and Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game.”
Among the songs, I seem to recall, was Cohen’s “Suzanne.”
I didn’t know what to make of it. “And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China”? “There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning”? “For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind”? Why did almost nothing rhyme?
Wasn’t my kind of thing, I decided, and forgot about him for a decade.
It wasn’t until years later, when I heard “First We Take Manhattan,” that I started thinking there was more to this gravelly-voiced guy than I imagined. And then there was “Everybody Knows.”
Wow. That was cold. It made a nice companion with Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken.”
For me, there were many times that Cohen’s surgical precision made him hard to warm up to. At the same time, there’s no disputing the power of his imagery, perhaps second to none in pop music history — ironic, since Cohen was never really a pop musician.