Famous Blue Raincoat

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
aku
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Jan 14, 2003 4:31 pm
Contact:

Famous Blue Raincoat

Postby aku » Tue Jan 14, 2003 4:36 pm

Hey, I`m a fresh Leonard Cohen listener....
My fav. is Famous Blue raincoat
Please help me, and tell me everything about that song....
Where`s his brother..
Why was he mad of him...
Who`s Jane and Lili Marlene.....etc ??????? :?:
Please.......
:roll:
Thanx
zsolt
jurica
Posts: 626
Joined: Wed Oct 02, 2002 2:31 pm
Location: Croatia

Postby jurica » Tue Jan 14, 2003 4:48 pm

if i remember well, leonard said in an interview that he don't remember who he wrote this song about.

the brother is not really a brother, i think. it's a good friend.
lili marlene is a character from german song of the same name.

the rest should be obvious if you listen to the lyrics. it's all there.
User avatar
linmag
Posts: 891
Joined: Fri Jun 28, 2002 10:10 pm
Location: Gloucester, UK
Contact:

Postby linmag » Tue Jan 14, 2003 9:39 pm

Aku, you might find it helpful to visit Diamonds in the Lines at http://www.http//perso.wanadoo.fr/pilgraeme/ This site collects all that Leonard himself has said or written about each of his songs, and can be very interesting.
Linda

1972: Leeds, 2008: Manchester, Lyon, London O2, 2009: Wet Weybridge, 2012: Hop Farm/Wembley Arena
User avatar
tomsakic
Posts: 5244
Joined: Wed Jul 03, 2002 2:12 pm
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Contact:

Postby tomsakic » Wed Jan 15, 2003 1:22 pm

I am more with analysis which said that brother/friend is actually past/former Leonard... There's confusion who actually wear blue raincoat, and there are few voices in that song.
And there are also some interpretations in Devlin's book and also in "Prophet Of Heart", I will look for time to write them down for you...
I like when we are talking about songs and such kind of things...:-)
glyn
Posts: 177
Joined: Thu Jul 04, 2002 3:25 pm
Location: UK

Postby glyn » Wed Jan 15, 2003 3:36 pm

I've said this before but I think it relates to Beautiful Losers.
glyn
User avatar
tomsakic
Posts: 5244
Joined: Wed Jul 03, 2002 2:12 pm
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Contact:

Postby tomsakic » Wed Jan 15, 2003 9:50 pm

Jim Devlin, In Every Style Of Passion, 1997, p. 51-52
"Leonard sings a letter from his hotel room in New York to a friend deep in the desert [...] Leonard appears to have forgotten the exact scenario in which he found himself when he wrote this song. I would say it goes something like this: Leonard's friend is a man with whom he has 'shared' Jane, now sleeping in Leonard's place which is either on or near Clinton Street, New York. Jane has recently left this man who's busy with his new life in the desert where Leonard hopes he's keeping a diary of events. The man was set 'to go clear' - a multiplicity of innuendo here: perhaps it's drug-slang for quitting; or maybe it's just simple-speak for going away. 'Clear' is also a term used by scientologists, so Leonard may be referring to some state of consciousness here. Whichever, the singer cares enough to enquire as to what happened. 'Lili Marlene' is perhaps a coded nickname for another woman in whom the man was interested and when she fails to arrive at the station, he looks after Jane (who was 'with' Leonard at the time, but had gone away for some reason - was she his 'Winter Lady'?), so eloquently succinct in the marvellous 'flake of your life' line. When Jane returns to Leonard (where had she been?) she had become 'nobody's wife' - Leonard belittles himself in ackowledging Jane's newfound status... at which point in the story he realises that Jane has actually left his apartment... and Leonard nonchalantly passes on to his correspondent her best wishes. The singer advises his friend that he holds no grudge against him for the time he spent with Jane, though should he ever come to visit them in New York, Jane may not be there since she is now free. He concludes the letter by thanking his friend for helping Jane with a problem that he himself didn't even try to solve.
The complexities and nuances of the relationships between the singer, Jane and the Other Man, past and present, invite many interpretations." [After this JD analises the musical structure]
User avatar
tomsakic
Posts: 5244
Joined: Wed Jul 03, 2002 2:12 pm
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Contact:

Postby tomsakic » Wed Jan 15, 2003 9:55 pm

More interesting is text in Maurice Ratcliff's "The Complete Guide to the Music of Leonard Cohen", 1999, p. 37-38:
"[...]one of his most technically accomplished [songs]... Cast as a letter to a amle friend who is clearly the third point of a romantic triangle involving 'my woman' Jane and Cohen himslef, the form is expertly conveyed in a few epistolary phrases [...]"
And then is the point: Leonard was wearing "Burberry I got in London in 1959"
Ratcliff: "Yet in the song it is the letter's addressee whose 'famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder.' Another clue can be found in the song's question 'Did you ever go clear?' 'Going clear' is a term of Scientology, and we know Cohen was briefly involved in the Scientology movement in New York in 1968. Furthermore, having identified himself as the 'I' character more clearly than in other any song, Cohen's an only son and obviously alive - calls the other man 'my brother, my killer'. It is not a better reading of the song to suggest that Cohen is writing to himself or, more precisely, to a apast self? If so, the the accusation [...] is directed to himslef. The song can now be seen as Cohen's shouldering of his own responsibility for the failure of his relationship(s). The 'thin gypsy thief' is a self-portrait and the hope that 'you're keeping some kind of record' is realised in the very song that expressed it."
User avatar
tomsakic
Posts: 5244
Joined: Wed Jul 03, 2002 2:12 pm
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Contact:

Postby tomsakic » Wed Jan 15, 2003 10:09 pm

Glyn: you're right, JD says after this excerpt that this song deals also with one important Cohen's theme: loser. Beautiful losers, of course:-)
I don't like interpretations which read poem (or song) from author's life. Of course we can find hints in reality, and it can be helpful, but I like think in cathegories of "lyrical subject", "adressee" (as Ratcliff said, or "I" of the song), "object", etc. I don't like this kind of writing when they say "This song is about Nico" (not this one, Take This Longing and Joan Of Arc). But I think Ratcliff has point here: LC had blue raincoat, he was famous by it, and he was the man who wanted to go clear... So it seems like he is The Other Man, not the teller/narrator of the song (to take this cathegory from prose). We must think methaphorically, not only literally. I don't agree with this JD's note: "He concludes the letter by thanking his friend for helping Jane with a problem that he himself didn't even try to solve." I think this is not so simple, Jane had a problem... rather something like 'she had sadnes in herself but I was thinking it is the way she must be and I even did not try to make her hapy or make her deep sadness or whatever dissapeaa, but you simply did that, you made her happy...' I mean, tghis is Leonard Cohen!
And for 'Lili Marlene', also, I don't think it's some code name, just some kind of a metaphor - he did not find his Lili Marlene at the train station (which I think don't need to be real train station), I mean, you are my Lili Marlene, Greta Garbo, Mata Hari, or whatever you (men) like, my Joan Of Arc even... I got that 'Lili Marlene' like that.
tom
jurica
Posts: 626
Joined: Wed Oct 02, 2002 2:31 pm
Location: Croatia

Postby jurica » Thu Jan 16, 2003 5:22 pm

i've always figured Jane was the girlfriend of the I-character, who engaged in secret relationship with his best friend.
his friend was madly in love with her, and she planned to leave the I-character for him. i think that's what to go clear means here - to tell her boyfriend that he has someone else. it didn't workout that way for some reason, and this guy, hurt, left the city to start a new life.

...that's the simple story i think is behind the song, and i presume it never actually happend. othervise, leonard would surely remember. i think it was simply an imagined story in which he used his own name to tell how real he felt towards this story he created.

the other interpretations remain valid, even if you look at it this way. the story behind a poem is often influenced by strange emotions which build a way to express themselves in different ways. leonard certanly gave a piece of his own character to both of the male characters. perhaps artists actualy only give separate life to their own divided personalities as they create new characters. (what am i talking about? what has it got to do with famous blue raincoat? somebody please stop me!)

...i'm outta here,
JURICA
User avatar
Partisan
Posts: 535
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2002 1:32 pm

Postby Partisan » Thu Jan 16, 2003 5:48 pm

Tom, it is good to see you enjoying this thread. However I think many of you miss the most important thing when it comes to analysing the songs. What gives great art it's edge is it's depth. There can always be another meaning, a different point of view. What matters is what it means to you. Many people on various boards seem so concerned with THE meaning in a song. It really doesn't matter. For example take "That don't make it junk" from Ten New Songs. To me that is Leonard trying to convince himself that the cheap Casio keyboard he is playing the Album on has not ruined his music. Deep down he knows the awful truth that he can't conceal from the ears of his youth. Of course i don't expect anyone to agree with that point of view. It matters not. I envy you your enjoyment of it.

To summarise, if Leonard came here and explained exactly what each song was about in depth, what each reference really was, then the magic will have gone. I am sure he knows that, as does every great artist. Don't let me stop you in your analysis though, some of it is interesting.

p.
User avatar
lizzytysh
Posts: 25313
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2002 8:57 pm
Location: Florida, U.S.A.

Postby lizzytysh » Thu Jan 16, 2003 9:47 pm

I agree with you, Partisan, regarding the depth of a piece lending itself to widely-varied interpretations....and that being a huge component of its greatness. I agree that Leonard is extremely aware of this dynamic and its necessity, and that he intentionally sculpts his pieces accordingly. I feel it is essential for people to take unto themselves an artist's work for the work itself to have longevity. I'm certain Leonard would get an enjoyable laugh [with perhaps its having even an element of truth] from your interp of That Don't Make It Junk.

Jurica ~ I think your final paragraph has plenty to do with Famous Blue Raincoat, as well as perhaps other songs that Leonard has created.

~Lizzytysh

P.S. Hold onto your copy and Ten New Songs and keep it in good condition. One day you may very well find yourself loving it, as many of us do ~ life will surprize you.
User avatar
lightning
Posts: 1343
Joined: Fri Jul 19, 2002 4:54 am
Location: New York City
Contact:

Postby lightning » Fri Jan 17, 2003 12:58 am

As someone who once dabbled in Scientology I can explain the meaning of "Go clear." It means to be free of "engrams," what psychology or psychiatry call subconscious trauma which distort thought, perception and behaviour. Scientology as well as psychiatry have the goal of freeing the mind, allowing one to be clear, as for example, after a good cry how sharp everything becomes and how peaceful you feel. After taking certain chemical substances of transcendance, how impermanently high you become. When Cohen or the letter writer of FBR keeps asking "Did you ever go clear?" he is reminding his "friend" who destroyed his relationship with Jane that he is still in a state of imperfection. While trying to maintain a spiritual facade ("I guess I forgive you," ) ( I hear: he doesn't) he subtly displays his anger at "his brother/his killer". I don't think there are hotels on Clinton Street and I'd be surprised to find Cohen there. In 1969 it was a funky Lower East Side poverty street with hispanic people and the music in the evening would most likely be boom boxes blaring Spanish popular songs. Maybe Jane had a cheap apartment there.
"You're living for nothing now" has a double meaning. About that time many people of the free agent nation (read: bohemian fringe) were moving to New Mexico and living in abandoned adobes for free or next to nothing. Here it also has the meaning--your life is futile, it has no point, better write about it try to squeeze some meaning out the emptiness.
Next we are told that the friend was stood up by Lili Marlene (metaphor for some other much desired woman besides Jane). The torn raincoat and aged appearance becomes symbolic of the loss of self-respect this rejection cost him. Lili Marlene was a soldiers dreamgirl in a popular World War 2 song Marlene Dietrich sang. The song takes place just before the soldier is about to go off to war. Soldier to Lili Marlene: "Give me a rose to show how much you care. Tie to the stem a lock of golden hair. This could be the source of "Jane came by with a lock of your hair," and "I see you there with a rose in your teeth. One more thin gypsy thief.". This is also another swipe at the former friend. The word "thief" mislead me to thinking he "stole" Jane away but on closer listening I see he only set her free. She became "nobody's wife." It was an era of women's liberation.
When he says "I'm glad that you stood in my way," we sense that he's being ironic. He's deeply hurt but he's not supposed to feel that way or want to take revenge. Likewise "thank you for the trouble you took from her eyes" (he may have sensed it was caused by him, a further humiliation, but it's easier to blame someone else for a failure than oneself). He tells his friend he will be sleeping if he ever comes by his place (doesn't want to talk to him) Then, a final irony, the sign-off, "Sincerely, ..."

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.
Last edited by lightning on Fri Jan 17, 2003 9:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
Kush
Posts: 2781
Joined: Tue Jul 09, 2002 1:21 am
Location: USA

Postby Kush » Fri Jan 17, 2003 1:36 am

>>>>>"You're living for nothing now" has a double meaning. About that time many people of the free agent nation (read: bohemian fringe) were moving to New Mexico and living in abandoned adobes for free or next to nothing.
I didnt realise the NM reference.....the prevoius line 'I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert' makes sense now.
Tom Russell's song "When Sinatra Played Juarez" talks about the effect of this 'you are living for nothing now' by outsiders on the local culture and society of NM. Apparently it wasnt just the Bohemians but hollywood celebrity's also landed up there for - amongst other things - easy divorces at the time.

New Mexico is also a great drive.
User avatar
tomsakic
Posts: 5244
Joined: Wed Jul 03, 2002 2:12 pm
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Contact:

Postby tomsakic » Fri Jan 17, 2003 4:08 pm

Partisan, I agree with your words, I must say... I didn't say that I don't want depth, anyway, I think that all last messages showed how deep we can go. As I said, I don't like interpretations which read poem (or song) from author's life, and after reading of Lightning meassages and the others here, Cohen's writers must be ashamed. We can all agree, I think, that there were any actual story behind that.
So, I really enjoyed this thread:-) In any case, we helped Aku at least...
ps. excellent explanation of Lili Marlene!
User avatar
Paula
Posts: 3147
Joined: Fri Aug 09, 2002 1:20 am
Location: London

Postby Paula » Sat Jan 03, 2004 9:44 pm

This is the thread about going clear it might be useful to Yoav (I might have spelt your name wrong - sorry)

Return to “Leonard Cohen's music”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest