Leonard Cohen- Famous Blue Raincoat by Tomer Tzur - Ourboox.com
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Leonard Cohen- Famous Blue Raincoat

  • Joined Dec 2021
  • Published Books 1

Introduction

 

In this short book I will present the song Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen, and will try to breakdown this song to it’s core elements. I hope that by the end of the book the reader will have a greater understanding and appreciating of this beautiful song, and will the reason I claim it to be one of the greatest songs of the 20th century.

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Some Numbers and Facts

 

“Famous Blue Raincoat” is the sixth track on Leonard Cohen third album Songs of Love and Hate, released in 1971. The lyrics and the composition of the song were written by Cohen, and the song was produced by Bob Johnson.

By the 70’s, Leonard Cohen was already a well known figure in the music world, and has gained the reputation of the mysterious and melancholic troubadour.

It is perhaps important to mention that before taking on a career in music at the age of 30, Cohen was a well established Canadian author of both poetry and prose.

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Famous Blue Raincoat

 

It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening.
I hear that you’re building your little house deep in the desert
You’re living for nothing now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record.
Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?
Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You’d been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene.
And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody’s wife.
Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well I see Jane’s awake –
She sends her regards.
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I’m glad you stood in my way.
If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.
Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried.
And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
-Sincerely, L. Cohen
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The Real Blue Raincoat

 

In 1959 Cohen moved from Montreal to London, where he settled to write his novel “The Favourite Game”, in which he actually reference his time there through the novel main protagonist. Cohen stated that in his time in London he bought a Blueberry raincoat, which he wear frequently. Cohen said about this coat- “Things were clear. I knew how to dress in those days. It was stolen from Marianne’s loft in New-York sometime during the early seventies. I wasn’t wearing it very much toward the end.” This quote will be helpful in my analytic of the deep theme of the song.

The autobiographical attachment of the song to Cohen own personal is clear through the song- it is written in first person narration as a letter, it mention a time and place and its actually ends with Cohen mentioning his own name. Cohen putting himself and his real life experiences in the song is a part of what makes this song so touching; this how he create empathy in the song, nakedness and sense of a real person talking to the listener.

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Leonard Cohen- Famous Blue Raincoat by Tomer Tzur - Ourboox.com

The Story

 

One of the strongest elements of the song Famous Blue Raincoat is his strong narrative line. The story is intriguing, dramatic and creates a strong sense of anticipation in the listener to know what will be unfold.

The song tells the story of a love triangle between the addresser of the letter, L. Cohen, a woman name Jane and the nameless addressee of the letter. Although the events that lead to the current states of affairs are vague, the listener does get a strong sense of the drama.

From the first verse of the song we get a clear setting, stating the time and place of the addresser- Four in the morning, end of December, New-York, Clinton Street. It can be assumed it is Christmas by the fact there is music in the street all through the night. This setting creates a visual image in the mind of the reader, and also a sense of realistic tone to the song.

The rest of the song does not follow a linear line, yet we can classify the second verse as about the last know-about of the addressee on the addresser, and the last verse being about the message of forgiveness. The listener is provided with information about the relations of the addresser of the letter and the addressee, and from them can complete the story in his head: First of all, the addressee has now been absence from Jane and the Addresser life for quite a time.

Secondly, there was a sort of love relations between Jane and the addressee, and that is the reason for the addresser to forgive the addressee at the end of the song.

At the end of the letter the addresser offers the addressee a place in his life, saying “your enemy is gone now” and even thanks the addressee for “the pain he took from her eyes”, admitting he did good to Jane, perhaps better than himself.

 

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The Poetry

 

Leonard Cohen songs are all crafted with the pen of a true poet, understand the rules and stractures that lead to a good poem, or for this instance, song.

The first thing that is noticeable in the song is the hypnotic and enchanting rhythm the words themselves have, and this is created by the rhythm of the pentameter of the song. The verses are all written in the Amphibrach pentameter, which is a metrical foot consisting of a long syllable surrounded by two short syllables. Here’s an example:

 

It’s four in / the morning/ the end of / December

 

The Amphibrach pentameter can also be seen as connected to the love triangle that is presented in the song, which unfolds in three verses.

The chorus uses a more free rhythm and breaks the stiffness of the Amphibrach pentameter, giving a sense of freedom from the tension and shift of emotions when mentioning Jane.

 

The song also keeps a rhymes pattern of the two nearest lines:

 

It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening.

 

This Rhymes pattern is broken only at the end of the chorus, which create a sense of dissonance in the listener, and forces him to give special attention to the line.

 

Another poetic element the song consist is it’s use of metaphors and references, for example:

 

You’d been through the stations to meet every train,

And you came home without your Lili Marleen”- The train stations represent the search of someone to something, and a constant unsettling. Lili Marleen is a German song popular among soldiers at World War II, and talks about the yearning of a woman.

 

Another interesting reference in the song is that to Cain and Abel- And what can I tell you my brother, my killer?

the reference gives greater meaning to the relations of the addresser and the addressee, and the sense the betrayal of a brother.

 

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The Music

 

The musical composition of the song is very simple and straightforward, and each element of it is crucial and connected to the meaning of the song.

At first, let’s look at the instruments that appears in the song- it opens with a classical guitar and the quiet hum of bells. the classical guitar strumming is very simple and delicate. The bells set the mode of the windy cold night, and perhaps of christmas music in the streets. Throughout the song there is a woman voice fading in and out, representing that of Jane, which floats in the background of this letter all the time. There is also violins playing in a few sections of the song, that add to the dramatic tension of the song.

 

The key of the song is set to A minor from the beginning of the song, and only five chords play through the verse and bridge. There is a a sudden shift to a C major during the chorus, which connect to the more free meter the lyrics have. The shift gives a feeling of euphoria when set next to the very minor rest of the song. Cohen said this about the shift from minor to major- “That’s nice. I guess I got that from Spanish music, which has that.” Cohen was very influenced by Spanish music and culture, and he let the influence be shown in his work.

 

The tempo of the song is very slow and dark, and only set the main attention to the words. Throughout the verse Cohen barley sings, he speak in a low tone, and only in the choruses he actually sings the melody, which is also very catchy and creates a hook everyone can hum while walking in the street. The mix of the song is very rough and dirty, giving the song a realistic tone, that of a person telling simply a story. This song wears no make-up.

 

 

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The Meaning

 

The song can be read simply as it is; a love triangle consisting of two friends and woman. This straight forward reading of the song still deals with many subjects: The struggle to forgive, the hardships that love brings, jealousy and war between your closest people. This reading is very rich in itself, but I still feel like there is another level to read this song.

 

We know that Cohen actually owned a blue raincoat, which he frequently wear and this is why it is “famous”. When Cohen bought the coat he lived in London, but when wrote the song in the early 70’s he was established in New-York, as is said in the song itself. In my reading of the song it is Cohen addressing to an old self, or an old side in his personality that has been disappeared for a while.

Upon coming to a successful career in music, Cohen gained much more popularity than his days as a poet in Canada. In these ten years between the 60’s and 70’s Cohen used to travel a lot, searching for spiritually enlightenment and sense of meaning. It is possible that dealing with fame and such success all of a sudden, and shift in the career, he felt as if he lost a bit of the flaming desire for searching he had at the start

When the addresser of the song mentions the addressee wanting to go clear, he reference his old self getting more grown and ditching the confusion. This is why addresser feelings towards the addressee are confused- He miss his young romanticism and hope for meaning, yet he is the one who chose to disconnect to this part by “going clear”. Yet, in the end of the song he calls this part of himself back, saying he misses him, and that his “enemy is sleeping now.”

Jane also misses the old self of the addresser of the letter, and by that we can understand that the addresser, if reading by my interpretation, changed. His old self was more romantic and made his woman feel more special, and she misses that.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why The Song Works?

 

In “The Stranger Song”, as song from Cohen first album, Cohen sings:

“Please understand, I never had a secret chart
To get me to the heart of this
Or any other matter.”

There is no formula to guarantee a good song. Yet, like always said, the secret ingredient to any good recipe is a touch of your heart. We can feel the honesty in this song, and this is what touches us.

With that being said, the song also uses ages old techniques of good poetry and storytelling. Cohen practiced the craft of poetics for years, and he’s putting his knowledge to practice in this song. This can also be said about the music itself- it comes out of tradition, that of Spanish music, Folk music and the hundreds of years old tradition of the troubadour. It is a person telling a story, a thing that is timeless and will always be relevant.

The subject manner that the song deals with are connected to the core of the human spirit- friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, pride, and most importantly- love. There isn’t one person in the whole world that won’t relate to these subjects, and this also contributes to the song popularity and succsess.

Here’s Leonard Cohen proving this song being timeless, singing it more then 40 years after the song was originally released, with the same passion-

 

 

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