New York friendships have unusual rhythms. You meet someone, maybe you never see them again, maybe you run into them three times in a week and realize that here in a city of 8 million, you were meant to connect. Susannah McCorkle first came into my life on the radio in the mid-eighties, when my husband and I heard her singing a luminous version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Her voice was so warm and lyrical that we immediately bought her records and went to see her perform all over town. When we were introduced last spring at a party given by her best friend, Thea Lurie, we felt shy, in awe of her talent. Somewhat shy herself, Susannah mentioned that she was working on a memoir. We discovered that we lived just two blocks apart on West 86th Street. Three days later, we saw each other at a book party, also on West 86th Street. “We are fated to be friends,” Susannah announced.
A year is a short time to make memories – brutally short in the wake of her suicide on May 19. Yet Susannah – charming, quirky, breathtakingly talented, and enormously vulnerable – had a gift for friendship. She dashed off frequent exuberant e-mails under her torch-song handle “Skylark,” called with spur-of-the-moment invitations, came to dinner bringing her new CD, Hearts and Minds, but wouldn’t let us listen until she left, sang when leaving a message on our answering machine.
Early on, she confided that stage-door Johnny’s and nightclub fans like us tended to romanticize her, seeing her as the sultry, glamorous jazz singer in clinging gown and high heels. Her real life wasn’t always fabulous. She had a family history of depression and had long struggled with her own demons while eking out a living in a most rarefied world. She’d told me over dinner ten days before she died that she’d become blocked writing the memoir. She was upset that the Algonquin wasn’t planning to ask her back in the fall, and that her record company planned to issue a compilation album instead of a new release.
Still, it is impossible to make sense of her horrific death, a leap off a building in the middle of the night. She had insisted that she’d been through worse, not to worry. “Everyone goes through incredibly hard stuff in NYC, survives and feels better again,” she wrote in one e-mail that now haunts me. “We are a hardy bunch.”