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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
Jonathan Edwards - "Sunshine"
"How much does it cost? I'll buy it?" Another songwriter told Jonathan to change these lyrics. Good thing he ignored this advice.
John Doe of X
With his X-wife Exene, John fronts the band X and writes their songs.