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Famous Blue Raincoat

by

Leonard Cohen



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

In a 1994 BBC Radio Interview Cohen remarked: "The problem with that song is that I've forgotten the actual triangle. Whether it was my own - of course, I always felt that there was an invisible male seducing the woman I was with, now whether this one was incarnate or merely imaginary I don't remember, I've always had the sense that either I've been that figure in relation to another couple or there'd been a figure like that in relation to my marriage. I don't quite remember but I did have this feeling that there was always a third party, sometimes me, sometimes another man, sometimes another woman. It was a song I've never been satisfied with. It's not that I've resisted an impressionistic approach to songwriting, but I've never felt that this one, that I really nailed the lyric. I'm ready to concede something to the mystery, but secretly I've always felt that there was something about the song that was unclear. So I've been very happy with some of the imagery, but a lot of the imagery."
Cohen's songs inspired Canadian artist Elizabeth Laishley to create pieces called "Famous Blue Raincoat" and "Homage to Leonard Cohen." In 1999 Laishley held an exhibit of her Cohen inspired art in Calgary, Canada, entitled "Poetry and Songs of Leonard Cohen." (thanks, Shannon - Kathleen, GA, for all above)
Ron Cornelius played guitar on this album and was Cohen's band leader for several years. Here's what he told us about this:
"We performed that song a lot of places. Typically gardens in Copenhagen, the Olympia Theater in Paris, the Vienna Opera House. We played that song a lot before it ever went to tape. We knew it was going to be big. We could see what the crowd did - you play the Royal Albert Hall, the crowd goes crazy, and you're really saying something there. If I had to pick a favorite from the album, it would probably be 'Famous Blue Raincoat.' I ran his band for 4 years all over the world and played on 4 of his albums, and hands down the best one was Songs Of Love And Hate. We worked 18 months on that album, Paul Buckmaster did the strings in London, and I went to London 9 times recording that album."
Ron tells us about Paul Buckmaster:
"Buckmaster is a wonderful string arranger, he did Elton John's records, he's just one of these guys who can make an orchestra talk. In other words, if the strings aren't saying something, it ain't on the record. On that album we cut basic tracks, and then let him live with them for a couple of months while he was writing the orchestrations. Then we went back in there, put the strings on and worked for a couple of weeks. Paul Buckmaster is a genius, no doubt in my mind. To be able to do the songs on Love And Hate, he had to take those songs and let them get into him and be creative enough to come in with those killer arrangements."
Regarding the orchestra, Ron said:
"In London these guys are all 50, 60, 70 years old, and they're all dressed nicely in a string section with cellos and oboes and stuff, and they've got their little lunch pails by them. When it comes time for lunch, I don't care what you're doing, you have to stop and they all take their little lunch pails, take their lunch, then fire back up again."
Cohen's version is sung from the perspective of a man discussing with another man a woman they both had a relationship with. Many female artists have managed to flip the gender and make the song even more ambiguous. Joan Baez, Tori Amos, Laurie MacAllister and Jennifer Warnes are some of the artists who have covered this song. In 1987, Warnes released an entire album of Cohen's songs called Famous Blue Raincoat before contributing to the hit "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" later that year. Cohen said in a 1993 issue of Song Talk: "I thought that Jennifer Warnes' version in a sense was better because I worked on a different version for her, and I thought it was somewhat more coherent. But I always thought that that was a song you could see the carpentry in a bit. Although there are some images in it that I am very pleased with. And the tune is real good. But I'm willing to defend it, saying it was impressionistic. It's stylistically coherent. And I can defend it if I have to. But secretly I always felt that there was a certain incoherence that prevented it from being a great song."

Jennifer Warnes was a back-up singer for Cohen in the early '70s and is partially credited for bringing Cohen back into popularity in the '80s before the release of his comeback album I'm Your Man.
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Comments (11):

Lloyd Cole does a remarkable cover of this remarkable song.
- P, Chicago, IL
Actually had this happen to me with my first wife. Except that she didn't stay with me. So this song, if you'll pardon the pun, stikes a real chord with me. Cohen is incredible. He's not a singer, he's a poet who sings.
- Dale, Augusta, GA
Such a great, sad song. Even though his best friend took his woman away, he recognizes that she wasn't happy with him to begin with. "Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes. I thought it was there for good so I never tried." Love it.
- Ben, St. Louis, MO
Is "Ron Cornelius" contributing to this thread personally, otherwise I can't imagaine why we are hearing so much about him ??
- Robert Campion, Galway, Ireland
Tori Amos does a version of this song as a b-side at least one of her singles, and she performs it in concert regularly.
Scott
Los Angeles
- scott, los angeles, CA
I agree with Joanie about the "flake of your life" line. Absolutely brilliant and the devastation of it is literally soul crushing. The fact that a mere "flake" of the other man was enough to make Cohen's woman happier than he could ever hope to make her himself. Just put yourself in those shoes with a relationship you may be in and consider how it would feel...
- Dan, Sydney, Australia
"Famous Blue Raincoat" is from the point of view of a man whose marriage has been broken by his wife's infidelity with his close friend, and is written in the form of a letter from "L. Cohen" to a mysterious unidentified "you," who seems to have been involved in a love triangle with Cohen's woman.
- senorita, canada, Canada
What a line: "You treated my woman to a flake of your life, and when she came home, she was nobody's wife". A great writer who wears it well.
- Joanie, Bowling Green, KY
I wonder if the letter is symbolic of a relationship between two persona, maybe the older and the younger or the artist and the conformist, both fighting to exist within one man. Two people rather than three complete the triangle. If I Listen to the lyric with the notion that Cohen is writing to himself the song seems to fit quite nicely. I believe Mr. Cohen is genius unrivaled among his contemporaries.
- Gilbert, Madison, WI
It's been now nearly 12 months since you´ve left me and I think this song is more than I could say about how I feel about this fact. Though you will never read this words, I´m glad to had you in my life. I´m sure that you will never cross this song - how sad! Keep your "famous blue raincoat" and grow old! Bye baby!
- Frank Nico, Kassel, Germany
Really, when you listen to the lyrics (or rather poems)of his songs, there is the obvious sexual tension to the words but more so than that his intelligence and philosophy touches you on a much deeper level than the fact that his appeal to women is incredibly irresistible. A firend of mine remembers him from his early days in Montreal and recalls his almost hypnotic charm on the female of the species, he had woman following him everywhere.
- Geri, Nova Scotia, Canada
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