Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Ask and answer questions about Leonard Cohen, his work, this forum and the websites!
User avatar
Abter1
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Dec 22, 2014 8:41 pm

Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by Abter1 » Fri Apr 10, 2015 10:12 pm

A young man I knew died of an opiate overdose this week; an all too common occurrence reaching epidemic proportions in my part of America. Today I was looking for some quotes or music about ODing for a memorial service to be held this weekend. I found a website with a list of " best 100 songs about drug ODing".

The list wasn't too organized: readers contributed the list. Many of the songs ended up being about drug use more than OD (fatal or not). Some of the suggested songs were just plain bizarre, some sinking to the level of "Puff the Magic Dragon is about drug use" :shock:

I was surprised to see LC's Famous Blue Raincoat ended up with enough support to make the final list of best 100.

Now I have been an LC fan for several decades already, and keep gaining new and different insights into, and from, his music. But I find the subject of drugs in general, and ODing in particular, in Blue Raincoat pretty tangential at best. I reread the lyrics several times, and even better re-listened to several of Leonard's versions as well as covers, and I just don't see ODing or drug use as a central theme of the song. Love, faithfulness, betrayal, forgiveness, and relationships lost and found...absolutely. To me these are the surface, mid-level and deeper issues Leonard explores in a very personal way. But addiction and/or ODing? Even among Leonards catalog I don't see Raincoat as on any list his work with a drug related theme.

What do you think?
User avatar
peter danielsen
Posts: 919
Joined: Thu Jul 11, 2002 3:45 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by peter danielsen » Sat Apr 11, 2015 12:00 am

"go clear" in this song could also be about Scientology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clear_%28Scientology%29

Peter
...I ..... .... ....... made . ..... ...... by ....... music .. ..... .. ......
User avatar
peter danielsen
Posts: 919
Joined: Thu Jul 11, 2002 3:45 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by peter danielsen » Sat Apr 11, 2015 12:03 am

on the other hand drug addiction also occour in songs like Boogie Street "Im turning tricks, Im getting fixed" and chelsea hotel " And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind, we are ugly but we have the music"
Peter
...I ..... .... ....... made . ..... ...... by ....... music .. ..... .. ......
IMM
Posts: 277
Joined: Thu Jan 07, 2010 10:03 am
Location: Canada

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by IMM » Sat Apr 11, 2015 3:57 am

Abter1 wrote:Today I was looking for some quotes or music about ODing for a memorial service to be held this weekend.
There's always this (middle verse) out of Who By Fire,

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
and who by avalanche, who by powder,
who for his greed, who for his hunger,
and who shall I say is calling?


based on the prayer.
User avatar
Abter1
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Dec 22, 2014 8:41 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by Abter1 » Sat Apr 11, 2015 4:09 am

Rejoining a conversation I started (i.e., answering my own question? :lol: )
One other LC song I found with a rather unambiguous drug reference including a death allusion, is The Butcher

"Well, I found a silver needle, I put it into my arm.
It did some good, did some harm.
But the nights were cold and it almost kept me warm,
how come the night is long? "

and later, a lyric with a more ambigious link between drugs and death
"Do not leave me now, do not leave me now,
I'm broken down from a recent fall.
Blood upon my body and ice upon my soul
User avatar
Abter1
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Dec 22, 2014 8:41 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by Abter1 » Sat Apr 11, 2015 4:28 am

Still noodling around on the topic of Blue Raincoat and drug addiction (with or without ODing):

I found there is a Wiki talk page on this very issue. The web page is the talk page associated with the regular Wiki page on "Famous Blue Raincoat". Much of case for drug use is made by various writers here. The direct link to the talk page is
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AFam ... e_Raincoat

Much of the discussion of drug use as a central theme of Blue Raincoat isabout the phrase "did you ever go clear", with a context of "you promised her to stop using "(i.e. get clean. That same phrase is also the basis of the Scientology reference (a somewhat different take on the word clear, although arguably getting to the same core topic through the route of Scientology).

The only other argument I found not on the wiki talk page that a theme in Blue Raincoat is drug use is the phrase
"Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried."
One common interpretation of the trouble the singer saw in her eyes was the singer himself. But the alternative thought put forward is addiction or drugs was the trouble the singer saw in her, and the singer didn't try to intervene. By leaving the singer (for a while at least) for his friend she somehow settled her own issues with drugs (because of the friend's struggles??), and came back at peace with her issues.

This is all, of course, a great example of the joys of LC's music and poetry. There is no end to the themes you can find in every line.
User avatar
lizzytysh
Posts: 25464
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2002 8:57 pm
Location: Florida, U.S.A.

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by lizzytysh » Sat Apr 11, 2015 4:52 am

For me, IMM has provided the best answer to your original question, Abter1.
I don't see OD'ing, at all, in Famous Blue Raincoat. Big difference between drug use and OD'ing, though the line between them can be very thin.
I'm very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. If only we could make THE difference in their lives that would keep them here.
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
Tchocolatl
Posts: 3805
Joined: Wed Apr 02, 2003 10:07 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by Tchocolatl » Sat Apr 11, 2015 7:00 pm

Please accept my condolences for the loss of this young man in your community.

For a LC song about drugs I would have reached for the Butcher either.

Interesting, this "trouble in the eyes" image as being a drug addiction. I never thought about it like this before.



Liz wrote :
Big difference between drug use and OD'ing, though the line between them can be very thin.
Indeed. It seems that different substances were used since the nights of Time by human beings to explore their reality. I guess that there is a big difference between a skillful shaman and an inexperienced teen.
If only we could make THE difference in their lives that would keep them here.
The brain of the teenagers gives a specific challenge. Pick a favourite link below, at the end of the post.

We all know that children (and people in general) do what the figure of authority does, and not what it is saying. This is why the teaching of a guru requires such a close presence.

Since knowledge was considered only from the intellectual and rational point of view in Europe, and later in their colonies in North America, just to comply to what is been told is suppposed to be a good way to raise children and teenagers (reality has a tiny power against beliefs, if not friendly confronted with rational side of the brain - when it works) . I know that Churchill won the war drunk to the bottom of the bottle every day, but I consider him a skillful shaman and not an example for children. They will decide for themselves when they are adults.

conter-examples are often the shortest way to a conclusion.


Pick a favourite link :

Oh! I will ease the process, pick this one and google if you want others. :D


http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/i ... brain1.htm
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
AlexandraLaughing
Posts: 104
Joined: Fri Dec 05, 2014 8:45 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by AlexandraLaughing » Sat Apr 11, 2015 10:50 pm

I'm sorry about your friend.

LC is a surprising example of someone who apparently took vast quantities of drugs, but somehow remained ultimately untouched by them.

LC's best song in tribute to someone who died of an OD, and hence in my view his best song on the topic, is Chelsea Hotel #1 (see Allan Showalter's beautiful video arrangement to a recording of LC singing it in 1972 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3ut6S7Hf68). Totally different from the nasty and cynical #2 version (I know I'm the only person in the world who doesn't like that version, but there you are).

But for a brilliant song about the temptations of oblivion, I would pick The Night Comes On- and Lady Midnight is another one. And for the best rescuing hand from the other side of oblivion, Heart with No Companion.
User avatar
mutti
Posts: 2025
Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2009 3:25 am
Location: somewhere in the Pacific Northwest

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by mutti » Sun Apr 12, 2015 2:26 am

I too am sorry about your friend.
I used to think 'go clear' in Famous Blue Raincoat meant get sober or clean off drugs but the last few years I think it may be a reference to Scientology. Just not sure.
Leslie
Last edited by mutti on Sun Apr 12, 2015 7:38 am, edited 3 times in total.
1988 Vancouver
2009 Victoria/Seattle/Almost Red Rocks/Las Vegas/San Jose.
2010 Sligo x 2/Victoria/Vancouver/Portland/Las Vegas x 2.
2012 Austin x 2/Seattle/Vancouver/Montreal x 2.
2013 Oakland x 2/New York City x 2/Winnipeg...
Tchocolatl
Posts: 3805
Joined: Wed Apr 02, 2003 10:07 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by Tchocolatl » Sun Apr 12, 2015 6:25 am

Great video Alexandralaughing.

Number 1 of the video is indeed something else. It is a real train song in the very original Leonard Cohen manner.

Listening to the lyrics of 1 and 2 it feels like he wrote and re-wrote the song with always a fresh point of view of the day about this event, and at the end, the feeling of the event changed completely from the initial one. It seems like he re-wrote the song until he reached the last station before the desert. "I can't keep track of each fallen robin."

Maybe the star of Janis Joplin faded in the sky of Leonard Cohen, from the comet she was at the time he met with her - to the point of being another fallen robin in his personal history.

Number 2 looks round. A polished version. A hard song that can endure time. While number one has an incomparable etheral beauty if you travel time, set your mind on the era when Janis Joplin lived and died from an overdose, this is not accessible to anybody. But number 2 gives an access to everyone. Both number one and two are the same song and a completely different one.

This being said, Janis was a huge artist, a talented and intelligent woman. I just heard a cover of "Piece of my Heart" by two young singers and they were good, but she copied her in every way like if there is no other way. While this song is not original to Janis. She has such a stature.

Nasty and cynical Chelsea Hotel number 2 ?

"Take another piece of my heart now, baby".
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
AlexandraLaughing
Posts: 104
Joined: Fri Dec 05, 2014 8:45 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by AlexandraLaughing » Sun Apr 12, 2015 8:02 pm

Thanks, Tchocolatl.

I guess Chelsea Hotel #2 comes from a period in which I often have trouble making sense of LC's writing. The level of anger, hatred and contempt towards women he expresses in some of the songs from New Skin for the Old Ceremony and poems from around the same period frightens and unnerves me, among other reasons because he seems to be making women scapegoats for his anger at the demands of the music industry, his claustrophobia and his fear of professional failure. (On the other hand, I am always impressed that he got his answer to that reaction in on the same album, with A Singer Must Die.)
Tchocolatl
Posts: 3805
Joined: Wed Apr 02, 2003 10:07 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by Tchocolatl » Sun Apr 12, 2015 10:13 pm

That brings a lot of answers to my mind, Alexandra. I'll try to avoid the overdose in my answering.

First, Leonard Cohen never tried to be cute, to avoid the unpleasant. In this, there is no lie in his voice singing love and hate.

Second, even though the family was considered the cell of the society, not every man is cut to live a family life. Not every woman to. Better mate with an appropriate companion to avoid a disaster within this institution that is marriage. Love an sexual attraction are not enough. Will never be.

Third. The average people are the most happy in life. Poor Leonard Cohen is a genius.

Fourth. I am a feminist, so I do believe that a grown-up woman should live in a society fits for women as well as fits for men. A woman should not depend on a man to obtain a decent social recognition, to raise children in a good economical and social environment, and generally to have access to anything provided by society. I wish that women would be free, as well as men.
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
User avatar
Abter1
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Dec 22, 2014 8:41 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by Abter1 » Sun Apr 12, 2015 10:42 pm

great thread...appreciate the input and insights.
The comments of support about the young man I knew are wonderful. I do not understand why so many "normal" young people are now using heroin and other opiates, with the all too familiar death toll that is taking. The usage is soaring in the US. The CDC reports that between 2010 and 2012 the # of deaths/year from heroin doubled in the 28 states which collect good data. The story for prescription opioids (oxycontin, vicodin, percocet, etc.)is even worse; nationwide the # of deaths quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. The increase in deaths is in a different demographic than what was traditionally associated with heroin use (low income, unemployed, musicians and other artists, etc.). The death rate in the middle class (teenagers, adults and seniors) is where the increase is happening. Fewer and fewer people don't know anyone that have not been touched opioid addiction. My wife lost a cousin in his 50s, and our own son is struggling with his addiction now. Calling this an epidemic is almost an understatement.

Back on topic: I can't remember ever listening to Chelsea Hotel #1; always assumed it was an early draft version of #2. I'm not a big fan of listening to musicians rough drafts, even though they are sold more and more often, or available online. I always suspect someone is just trying to milk a few more $$ out of the old tracks.

I really liked #1 though. I found a concert video of LC singing it in the early 80s. Very different feel and thoughts than #2. I like 'em both, but they sure are different.

One question: Tchocolatl referred to #1 as a "real train song in the original LC manner". I ran across the "train song" phrase a few weeks ago. What does it mean? I have long heard people using "train song" as a very literal term...a song about a train, such as "City of New Orleans" or "Casey Jones". But the phrase "train wreck" certainly doesn't mean only a train accident any more, and I suspect "train song" isn't only songs about trains either. What is does "train song" mean in the context that Tchocolatl used it?
AlexandraLaughing
Posts: 104
Joined: Fri Dec 05, 2014 8:45 pm

Re: Blue Raincoat and drug addiction ???

Post by AlexandraLaughing » Sun Apr 12, 2015 11:53 pm

Really sorry to hear about the situation your son is in. I hope someone is giving your family help and support with this.

Don't know what Tchocolatl means by a 'train song' beyond a song that uses trains as a metaphor for longing, going places, the transitory nature of life and relationships, and so on, imitating a train whistle along the way- like the 'Midnight Special'. I love that line 'racing the midnight train'.
Post Reply

Return to “Comments & Questions”