Famous Blue Raincoat

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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Postby lizzytysh » Sat Jan 03, 2004 10:07 pm

There she IS ~ the good person! You are the BEST bringer-upper, Paula! It's great because when I wrote that "some good person....," you and Tom were the two who flashed through my mind :D .
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Postby Rhodes » Mon Jan 05, 2004 6:26 pm

lightning wrote:I think he is telling us a shaggy dog story about the Burberry raincoat. I have never seen a blue one, only tan with its signature plaid lining. He is not mad enough to write to himself. He may be too ashamed to want to talk about the reality behind the song but we can infer it.
You can - or certainly could - get blue Burberry raincoats. I remember smmiling to myself as I walked past their shop in London once.

An amazing insight very nearly a year after the original post!
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Postby lightning » Tue Jan 06, 2004 12:05 am

I'm glad to hear that Burberry makes raincoats in different colors as the standard khaki is such a fashion cliché. "Blue Raincoat" is so much sadder than "tan raincoat." I take that back about his not being mad enough to to talk to himself, as I have seen him divide into two personae in other songs, such as the Future, (the sinner who doesn't understand repentence and the prophet of doom). It is not unreasonable that one aspect of his being addresses or comments on an other. A dialog of self and soul? "The last time we saw you looked so much older" could mean all the other selves commenting on his worn appearance and torn raincoat. Multiple personality , I wouldn't call it disorder, but aptitude or genius.
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Postby cicatriz » Thu Mar 11, 2004 7:50 pm

yes, I feel he's 'writing the letter'/singing to himself (former self). (biographical) evidence >>
* the '59 raincoat
* waiting on a train station (which is a recurring theme in his work btw)
* 'building a house deep in the desert' = the cabin in Nashville
* 'a thin gypsy thief' LC has often called himself...

All in all it's an unbelievable song.
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Postby Anton dW » Tue Apr 06, 2004 12:45 pm

Hi, I'm new here, but that doen't make me junk ;-)

Anyway... Interesting topic, and I've got something to add on 'Famous Blue Raincoat'... Has anybody noticed the link between that song and 'Dress Rehearsal Rag', on the same album?

First of all, it might be meaningful that 'Famous..' starts at 4 in the morning, and 'Dress...' at 4 in the afternoon.

Second, in 'Dress..', L.C. is speaking to himself more obviously... It starts out with: "I said to myself, where are you golden boy..". And it is "a bitter voice in the mirror" that is preaching to him in an angry manner. In 'Famous..', his tone is more moderate, less judgemental (he chooses to write a letter, instead of yelling to himself in the mirror), but as others pointed out, he's propably talking to himself as well.

Furthermore, there is a striking similarity in the state the person who's spoken to (Leonard himself) is in. "The last time we saw you, you looked so much older, your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder..." Same thing in 'Dress...' the person spoken to is in a terrible condition, his cups are cracked, the electric light is failing, as is his vision, his fingers are trembling, he needs a shave, et cetera.

Both songs contain references to a love affair in the past, so the "girl with chestnut hair" might as well be Jane. Both songs contain a reference to a religious sect that the addressed person derives some false hope from (Scientology in one song, the Rosicrucians in the other). So why wouldn't the 'rag' in the first title be the torn 'blue raincoat' of the other? I don't know much about L.C.'s life, so from a biographical point of view it might not make sense at all. And I agree that it isn't really important what the lyrics mean literally. But nonetheless I think it's an interesting connection.
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Postby lizzytysh » Tue Apr 06, 2004 3:40 pm

Welcome to both of you, Cicatriz :D [whom I hope is still here reading!] and Anton :D ! I remember reading your posting, Cicatriz, and thinking that someone else would respond to it. Now realize that it just didn't work out that way :shock: :( ! Please don't be discouraged into non-participation. I tend to leave responses to interpretive postings to others because we have plenty of afficionados/scholars here to do that.

Both of you have made valid points with these songs. The cabin in the Nashville area is so far from a literal desert, yet it is in the 'country,' which could be considered 'desert'-like to some, only filled with trees and other green and living things. I love the 4 AM/4 PM and other similarities you've noted Anton! I'll let someone else pursue them all further.

I feel compelled to paraphrase a common comment [not constant comment :wink: ], "He may be a gypsy thief ~ but he's my gypsy thief!"

Just welcome 8) ! "Hi, I'm new here, but that doen't make me junk :wink: " ~ my sentiments, exactly, Anton....on all newcomers 8) !

~ Lizzytysh
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Postby Rob » Thu Mar 16, 2006 5:24 pm

And here is another thread on the eternal question.
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat

Postby chillymidnight » Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:32 pm

Hi everyone

Just to say I can't get the first line of this song out of my mind - it's four in the morning the end of december - especially the more recent concert versions with Leonard's deeper voice .. just wanted to share this with someone!! I've just finished a year of addiction to LC's concerts but this one's crept up on me via the live concert recordings.
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening.
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat

Postby maggiej » Tue Nov 22, 2016 4:38 pm

I feel so blessed to have been at LC’s final amazing live performance in Auckland, N.Z. I’ve always felt a deep 'knowing sort of connection' to FBR (BOAW & ANCFL) in particular, and tho' I loved it, could never work out what it was really about. With the sad news two weeks ago of Leonard’s death (or passage to the next stage), I have spent several days reading up about him beyond my former just-loving/listening-to-his-lyrics & songs.

On Prof. Epstein’s site, I read the theory that ‘Jane’ was ‘any woman in Cohen’s life’ but following my intuition that it is Marianne (L’s first important & deepest love) that he is referring to, (the perceived ‘failure’ of that love, perhaps establishing a pattern with the other women in his life), I was eventually led to the Kari Hesthamar interview with Marianne (2005) which has somehow confirmed this hunch for me.

Part of the then (or still?) unpublished LC poem “Days of Kindness” that is read in the interview, reveals SO much (and reiterates the lyrics of 'Ain't No Cure For Love':
What I loved in my old life
I haven’t forgotten
It lives in my spine
Marianne and the child
The days of kindness
It rises in my spine
And it manifests as tears
I pray that a loving memory
Exists for them too
The precious ones I overthrew
For an education in the world

Marianne’s heartfelt interview too echoes this refrain and also ties up many of the loose ends for me.
She describes how the relationship was a gift to both of them ,“an opener” for the rest of their lives, “for better or worse”.. and that it is “through the hardest blows” that one gets “the chance to move on”. … She recounts how after Leonard’s many trips away, with she and her son left alone on Hydra, she finally asked to join him again and how the period after their return to Montreal as a family “was dramatic on very many levels”. With L’s continued travel, and communication between them faltering, she realised “something was about to happen” in their ‘love story’ and that she needed to seek her own ‘renewal’.

She describes “her sojourn away from Montreal” thus: “to try to alleviate everything, I left for Mexico to visit my old friend. I took little Axel with me. And it was a very strong experience. Among the Indians. In those mountains. .. At that point I had a feeling that I in a sense was very close to God. I was almost convinced that I would never come down off that mountain.” and then, this:

We had had so many retreats, and we tried and we tried. Neither of us really felt like giving up completely.”

An old ‘friend’ is referred to several times by both parties, although that man has not been named. I haven’t time to research this more fully, but if I were writing a screenplay for this "sweet story" (to quote LC from the New Yorker article (Oct 17), I’d be curious to ask Jan Christian Mollestad, the “close friend of Marianne’s” that emailed Cohen from Marianne’s deathbed, whether he ever lived among the Indians of the Mexican mountains? (Note also the Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen’s Obituaries, online).

Songs don’t have to be ‘literally true’. A songwriter/storyteller has the poetic licence to alter the ‘facts’; to speak in different voices; to swap the characters’ lines or personae; (or as Shmoop suggest “to sing the letter” they have “written” OR perhaps “received”; to be both ‘the betrayer’ and ‘the betrayed’). And yes, Leonard IS both - in his heart at the deepest level, he was at the centre of these ‘contradictory experiences’ - both the ’traitor’ (who turned his lover away with his womanising and pursuit of a career) and the ‘victim’ (who lost her - maybe - to another man, but really to “God” and her mountain-top experience where she discovered her higher self, free of the old ‘dependence’ & jealousies, and moved on - as he did too - each on their own respective spiritual and creative journeys. And wonderfully, in the end, a “reconciliation” is reached, of mutual forgiveness and understanding.

With the public release of his ‘farewell letter’ to Marianne, in July, (at the behest of ‘one of her closest friends’) Cohen, for me at least, has finally ’gone clear’ (acknowledging what he had never fully expressed) and “nailng” the mystery of these wonderful lyrics that is a universal poem about the magic, power and unfailing endurance of Love, and in particular, I believe, of Marianne - his ‘first love’. Thank you, Leonard, for your ultimate honesty - and for EVERYTHING! You are still - always - with us, in LOVE.
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Re: Famous Blue Raincoat

Postby jspreen » Mon Jul 09, 2018 9:28 pm

Famous Blue Raincoat is a masterpiece I've carried wirh me since I heard it for the first time in 1972 I guess.
Thanks to all for the insights this thread has given me!

I'me so happy to be able to play and sing this song again after having abandoned my guitar for over 30 years.


Warm greetings from France to all Cohen lovers!

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