The Band, “Lonesome Suzie” from Music from Big Pink (1968): Across the Great Divide

A searcher’s tale about trying to find love, and then finally settling with what you’ve got, “Lonesome Suzie” is Richard Manuel’s fourth and final author credit on the Band’s Music from Big Pink.

Knowing what we now know about the doomed singer, it’s difficult not to imagine Manuel talking about himself as he outlines Suzie’s detachment, her emotional imprisonment. She seems to be forever so alone, so helpless — and the image of Manuel hanging himself just 18 years later floats above the song like a ghostly specter.

After all, despite working as such an integral part of the construction of this debut album, Manuel would eventually come to embody the sad and lost figures that peopled his songs — becoming more and more inward, more and more dependent on drink, more and more tragic.

“Lonesome Suzie,” somehow, would become the last song Manuel was ever credited with writing all by himself for the Band. He’d have a hand in composing three tracks on the group’s 1969 follow up, two on 1970’s Stage Fright, and then go silent for the remainder of the Band’s discography before his untimely death in 1986.

“I did everything to get him to write,” Robbie Robertson once said. “I wrote with him, I begged him, I offered to become his partner in songwriting. I’d pull him into a song I was working on, just to get him in the mood or give him a taste of it, thinking he would go on to follow it up. But he didn’t. There was no answer. My theory is that some people have one song in them, some have five, some have a hundred.”

Whatever the origins of “Lonesome Suzie,” it works as a grounding point after so many epochal dramas and strangely transfixing character sketches on Music from Big Pink. Manuel, as he did in his best moments, sings with startling, unguarded directness.

A 2000 reissue of this project included an alternate take on “Suzie,” with a slightly more upbeat tempo (in particular on the Rick Danko-assisted bridge), but the song’s emotional center remained unchanged: Stripped of artifice, utterly devoid of word play or studio theatrics, Suzie’s pain — Manuel’s pain — becomes our own.

As he sings, with an exquisitely drawn heartbreak, “I guess just watching you has made me lonesome, too.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso