Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
Lilifyre
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Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby Lilifyre » Fri Jun 04, 2010 11:15 am

The other day I happened to be perusing YouTube looking for a version of one of Leonard's songs to post to another forum. I came across Famous Blue Raincoat and decided to listen to several different versions of it, some by Leonard at different times in his career and others by various women....Jennifer Warnes and Joan Baez, among others. I got to thinking about the song and the different voices performing it. For me, once Leonard began ending it with the line: "Sincerely L. Cohen" instead of "Sincerely a friend", it became Leonard's song and no one else's.

As for the versions by Jennifer Warnes and Joan Baez, in my opinion it becomes a 3rd person song...sung "about" someone as opposed to being sung "by" someone. I love Jennifer Warnes' voice and I know she did much to promote many of Leonard's songs and even took time away from promoting her own career to tour with Leonard. Joan Baez has always been a favorite of mine and there are very few songs performed by her that I could find fault with. So my question is not one of voice quality. Comparing the 3 is rather like comparing Van Gogh, and Monet. It's a question of "ownership" for want of a better work. If I'm just listening for something pleasant to listen to, any one of these versions...Warnes, Baez, or Leonard (at any time in his career)....are equally well done and pleasant. However, if I'm listening for the many layers of meaning in the song....Leonard's intent and his "heart"...then only his performance of this song satisfies.

Comments welcome.

Lili
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby John Etherington » Fri Jun 04, 2010 11:27 am

Hi Lili,

I totally agree, here. The fact that Leonard's work is so personal and derived from his own experience make virtually all cover versions invalid, in my opinion (male or female). The only three female versions of Leonard's songs that I would say are truly great are Judy Collins "Priests", Jennifer Warnes "Song of Bernadette" and the Webb Sisters "If it Be Your Will".

All good things, John E
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby Lilifyre » Fri Jun 04, 2010 1:10 pm

Thanks for your input, John. I'm not familiar with "Priests" or "Song of Bernadette". I'll have to look them up on YouTube. As for the Webb Sisters version of "If It Be Your Will", I definitely agree. I still prefer Leonard's version of that song, but having heard the Webb Sisters in concert last fall, I have to say they really do that song justice. So far, theirs is the only version of that song other than Leonard's that I like. I know many people have praised various other covers of it, but I find those merely "pretty" at best and dreadful at worst.

I find I love the song "Nightingale" done by Anjani, but then it is my understanding that it was written for her. She gives it a sweetness that has yet to be duplicated.

Lili
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby brightnow » Fri Jun 04, 2010 4:30 pm

Lilifyre wrote:... For me, once Leonard began ending it with the line: "Sincerely L. Cohen" instead of "Sincerely a friend", it became Leonard's song and no one else's.
A little anecdote here: It seems that this song does not have one last line, in the tour of 2009 we heard Leonard singing "Sincerely L. Cohen" as well as "Sincerely, a friend", it varies.
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby John Etherington » Sat Jun 05, 2010 12:34 am

Lili,

Oops! How could I miss Anjani's "Blue Alert" - the whole of which is superb. Probably because it's so good that I think of it as a Leonard album (and much prefer it to "Dear Heather"). I regard Anjani's version of "Nightingale" as the definitive one.

I also love a live version of "Anthem" by Julie Christensen and Perla Battalla, that they performed as a tribute in the Nineties.

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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby TineDoes » Sat Jun 05, 2010 1:47 am

Here's a live version of Tori Amos singing Famous Blue Raincoat. Maybe not to everybodies taste, but I love it. I love it because it is just her voice and her beautiful piano accompaniment. She also signs off Sincerely L. Cohen, so 3rd person, but it sounds very personal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKIX7xyA ... re=related

I also think Julie's and Perla's version of Anthem is beautiful. They know that song so well having sung that as backing singers touring with Leonard in the late 80's. Their chemistry is great.
Did you ever hear Julie's very probing version of 'A Singer must Die'? If you haven't here, is the link.
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby John Etherington » Sat Jun 05, 2010 2:04 am

Agree...she does that well, even though it's one of Leonard's most personal songs. In fact it's the best track on the largely ghastly "Tower of Song" compilation.
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Lilifyre
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby Lilifyre » Sat Jun 05, 2010 5:53 am

TineDoes, thank you for the links. Tori Amos does an acceptable job on FBR, and it is one of the better covers, but in my opinion, still a cover. Any cover of that song seems more like someone reading someone else's diary or old love letters than "owning" the song. Just my way of relating to the song. It's such a personal song, especially using "L.Cohen" at the end. Tori Amos does seem to get the feel of the writer being male and speaking of HIS wife. Other versions by females seem to lack that personalization.

As for Julie Christensen's cover of "A Singer Must Die".....I like that live performance you linked to. It gave me the feeling of a WWII era Cabaret. It carried the dark, pessimistic mood of the time along with the "eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die" attitude that was so prevalent then. There was a feeling of that era in history (early WWII Germany) more than a personalization of the song with any particular person. It transferred nicely from a male singer to a female one. I doubt that just any woman could have given it that feel. I certainly wouldn't expect it from someone like Baez, Judy Collins, or even Jennifer Warnes. The song has a dark, gritty quality to it that just doesn't fit a 60s/70s folk singer.

Interesting how a different voice and style is able to do justice to one type of song over another. Of course, Leonard seems to be the exception that proves the rule. He is able to do all these different types/styles of music equally well....dark and gritty on one song and silly and wild on the next.

Lili
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I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby Lilifyre » Sun Jun 06, 2010 7:21 am

John Etherington wrote:Hi Lili,
the Webb Sisters "If it Be Your Will".
All good things, John E
John, you mentioned the Webb Sisters version of "If it be Your Will". I was just listening to that version from the concert tour last year. I knew I liked that version but it is only now that I can identify what it is that makes that one so very "right". I still really love and appreciate Leonard singing that song, but just now listening to Hattie and Charley sing it I found myself reacting from my heart/gut in a way that few covers of Leonard songs cause me to. As Leonard has said, it's as much (or more) a prayer as a song. As a Jewish woman, I wrestle with the belief by many Orthodox of the concept of "Kol Isha" the "voice of the woman". I strongly disagree with the belief that "men are distracted to carnal desires" by the sound of a woman's voice, therefore women should be silent during prayers in the synagogue. I find that concept insulting to both men and women. However, it is still a belief held by many strict traditionalists within Judaism.

Now we have Hattie and Charley accompanied by their delicate harp, declaring in their angelic voices, "If it be your will". How perfect for these words to be declared by women. It isn't the decision of men....and the Rabbis of old and those today holding to the concept of Kol Isha, are simply that, MEN. They don't speak with divine authority any more than any one else. They only speak for themselves and from their own weaknesses. The song/prayer gives the authority to decide who has the right/ability to raise a voice to G_d. Only G_d has the authority to decide whose voice is worthy to speak or not speak, to sing or not to sing.

The prayer is offered in true humility, asking for Mercy upon all mankind.

Lili
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I admit it's broken and it's bleak
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby regueradela » Wed Jul 07, 2010 7:24 am

Leonard Cohen is the greatest songwriter to ever come out of Canada. This song is a mystical, personal song, but I know that the words "go clear" is Scientology, and Lillie Marlene refers MarleneaDietrich. Thus, the song is personal to him and wonderful for the rest of us to reflect on its meaning. Is not this the melody almost like a mantra?
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby TipperaryAnn » Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:43 am

John Etherington wrote: The fact that Leonard's work is so personal and derived from his own experience make virtually all cover versions invalid, in my opinion (male or female).
I agree, John. Your "virtually" is important, though - I've recently got quite fond of "the Song of Bernadette", and I enjoy both Anjani 's "Nightingale" and Leonard singing it with her on "Dear Heather".
Lili, I find your praise of the Webb sisters' version of "If it be your will" very interesting, but lovely as theirs is I would still prefer to hear Leonard sing it. Somehow it suits his stage in life more than theirs; they are too young to convey all the sadness and inevitability of mortality in phrases like "this broken hill", "I speak no more", "and my voice be still" ...
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby Lilifyre » Sun Jul 11, 2010 7:34 am

TipperaryAnn Thanks for your comments. I agree that I prefer Leonard's version of "If it be your will" to any of the covers, including the one by the Webb Sisters. In fact, I was just listening to it a few minutes ago in my car as I ran an errand. That song in particular, brings forth an image of the Jewish High Holy Days services. I personally do not see those services as sad or mournful, but definitely as serious. The words:
And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will
invoke a vision of the congregation gathered on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in their finest clothing, men (and in some congregations women also) wrapped in gleaming white Tallitot (prayer shawls).
Certainly, this is not the image that comes forth when the same song is sung by the Webb Sisters. Theirs is more a 3rd party narration of sorts, by a duet of angelic beings. Of course, I still appreciate the matter of the "Voice of the Woman" aspect that I mentioned previously where the Webb Sisters version is concerned.

I suppose what I am saying is that each of those 2 versions touch me in a slightly different way. Each is perfectly valid and each fits its own unique experience. The same song/same words, in 2 totally different voices brings forth different feelings, but all from the heart.

Lili
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby TipperaryAnn » Sun Jul 11, 2010 10:51 pm

Lovely description of Jewish ceremonies, Lili, very atmospheric. I am not familiar with them, but I heard leonard talking about Yom Kippur and the Book of life, which records those who will die in the course of the year, in connection with "Who by fire". Do you see "And end this night" as a reference to death? For me there is always a sadness about aging and death; less so I suppose for those with a strong faith in a better life after this one.
What always fascinates me about "Famous Blue Raincoat", which I love, is that leonard seems to cast himself in BOTH roles,the betrayed and the betrayer. "Thin gypsy thief" and seeking Lili Marlene surely refer to himself, as does the famous blue raincoat, of course, yet he signs off the deceived one's letter (though not in all versions of the song) as L.Cohen. Strange - maybe he did play both roles at different stages of his life. I can't imagine anyone else singing this unique song as well as he does, but it is surely a man's song rather than a woman's.
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby Lilifyre » Mon Jul 12, 2010 2:30 am

Do you see "And end this night" as a reference to death?
In answer to the above question, Ann, I would say, not necessarily. "And end this night" could be a reference to death, or it could simply be any of an infinite number of transitions, death being only one form of transition. To me, the verse I quoted explains a submission to a higher power. How you define that higher power is up to you. "This night" is a state of being. To me it refers to ones present circumstances, or a state of powerlessness. Only by releasing any illusion of power and turning over ones being to a power outside the self can this state of hopelessness be ended. Christians would probably define that moment as "giving your life to Christ", Buddhists might say it is a letting go of the self....Holy Dove, if you are reading this I'm sure you can explain what I'm getting at better than I can..., other religions I'm sure have different ways of explaining the same concept. For Jews, it's not so much moving into a "better world" or "Heaven", but simply acknowledging that "this too shall pass". I see it as a moment of hope in the midst of hopelessness and a feeling that one is not alone. Please note that while I speak from a Jewish perspective, I make no claim of speaking for all Jews. There is a very true statement that says, "For every 2 Jews you get at least 3 different opinions." These are MY interpretations only.

I imagine, however, that this fact of Jewish "reasoning" probably is at least in part responsible for the multiple layers of meaning to any of Leonard's songs. We can only speak of the meaning of them as they relate to our own circumstances. That's probably why so many of them, such as "Famous Blue Raincoat", speak from so many perspectives in one voice. That explains why Leonard could be both the "betrayed and the betrayer". That is why he can speak as father, child, and deity in "Lover, lover, lover". That is why Leonard would never tell his listeners that a given song means "X,Y,Z" and nothing more. His songs/poems mean what they mean. It is up to the listener to decide what that is.

Finally, I have to agree that "Famous Blue Raincoat" seems to me to be a man's song.....or is it a lesbian's?????? ;-) :?

Lili
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I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat....sung by LC or a woman??

Postby TipperaryAnn » Wed Jul 14, 2010 10:08 pm

Lili,
I think it is fascinating that leonard appeals to so many different types of people; just looking at the responses on the Forum, there are fans of many religions and of none. No doubt the gender balance is equally varied, although Leonard himself seems pretty aggressively heterosexual , especialy in his poetry, eg "Death of a Lady's Man". But the great thing about poetry, as you suggest, is that it means what it means to each of us.
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