Sunday, November 2, 2008

Suzanne

Celebrities I have known, or almost


She was one of the legendary women of the Sixties, and still is, Suzanne Verdal McCallister, who was also at some point Suzanne Vaillancourt. Leonard Cohen wrote a song about her. First recorded by Judy Collins in 1966, it's since been covered by more musicians than any of his others, and remains one of the emblematic love songs of a generation.

In this 1998 interview, Suzanne said she and Leonard never actually were lovers, though there was an opportunity, years after the song was written, and she was the one who said no. As of 2006, Suzanne was living in her car in Venice, California, according to this article, which also says, "Verdal claims that she and Cohen never had sexual relations, contrary to what some interpretations of the song suggest." Leonard Cohen corraborated this in an interview with the BBC in 1994, and probably in many others besides. It's amazing that there's so much interest in whether or not these two particular people got naked together, back in nineteen-sixty-whatever.

Suzanne isn't exactly a celebrity I knew, but some people I knew did. It's one of those "degrees of separation" things. Many years ago in California, my friends Maria and Luke lived in an outlying community attached to Los Angeles. About five years before I met them, Suzanne had stayed with them for a while, and was the only person their cat ever attacked without provocation. She was originally from Paris, and had once driven over a cliff and landed, still in the car, upside down in a tree. She was still driving the same car when Maria and Luke knew her. She's said to have turned her room into a sort of Turkish harem/circus funhouse - velvet fabric, beautiful art objects that had been given her by lovers, and many ornate antique mirrors, all cracked and shattered into facets.


At that time Suzanne was around 42, but Maria swears she could look 12 years old at will. She had milk in her breasts, and was wet-nurse for Allen Ginsberg's boyfriend, who was involved in a therapeutic mode that must have included rebirthing and then some. They say she liked to shock people by peeling her clothing up or down, and squirting milk at them. She would also show anybody the tattoo located just above her pubic hair, which originally represented the name CARL, and later on was changed to CARE.


Suzanne told her hosts that she'd known Jim Morrison (presumably when he and the other Doors lived all together in Venice house). They say she picked up Charles Manson hitchhiking in Topanga or thereabouts, and later met him at a party at Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's, and took him home and balled him. When she told Manson she couldn't have any more children, he asked her "Do you want me to give you a baby?" To humor him, she said yes. The next day Leslie Van Houten showed up at her place, with some of Charlie's other girls. They gave her a baby boy and said she could keep him, on one condition: that she give him a blow job every morning. To which she said, "No thanks."


Suzanne told Luke and Maria about her friendship with actor Bobby Driscoll,
who was in Song of the South, Treasure Island, and a lot of other Disney movies. As a grown-up, he became a junkie, and corresponded with Suzanne from prison. She made a collage of his letters, and her other collages hung all over the house. She taught her collage technique to Maria, who was pregnant at the time, and the two women spent some quality time doing this art form. She moved on before Maria's child was born, but came back the day he was brought home from the hospital, just to see him. And that was their last meeting.


I'm not sure which of the collages shown here were the work of Suzanne, and which were done by Maria. You can see them much bigger by clicking on them. I did used to own an object made by Suzanne, a piece of 4x4 wood, standing on end, about a foot high, that had been stained, then collaged and varnished. When a used bookstore owner in Madison, Wisconsin bought my painting of Leonard Cohen, I knew he was the right person to pass the Suzanne artifact on to, because he would cherish it. I thought there was a photo of the object, somewhere in my stuff, but apparently not.




Picture of Suzanne on TV, courtesy of Sheila Steele
via this Creative Commons license

Related: Leonard Cohen at Red Rocks 2009

5 comments:

Deirdra Doan said...

Wow what a story. Thanks for sharing it.
Deirdra

Mitch Laplante said...

I love u auntie xxxxx

Judy said...

I met Suzanne in Montreal in 1969 when I knocked on a friend's door and a child answered. She was subletting his apartment while he was in BC. We became fast friends, but we lost touch when I moved a commune. I always think of her fondly and wonder if she is still alive and where she is.

Ewa Samples said...

I actually met Suzanne yesterday. She just moved to CA from Canada and she lives in her mobile home.

Sudeshna Sengupta said...

Fascinating! Would love to hear where she is now and what she is doing...