Famous Blue Raincoat

Leonard Cohen’s song, Famous Blue Raincoat, is one of my favorite pieces of writing.

I first heard it sung by Jennifer Warne and so spent a huge amount of time trying to wrap my head around the lyrics, finally coming up with a convoluted lesbian triangle. Actually I thought Jane was her daughter and she was writing to her ex-husband. It reminded me of an old boyfriend who was mad about the desert. We used to camp in Joshua tree and walk along the moonlit landscape which looked to me like Mars.

Now I’m fairly certain it’s about a man whose best friend had an affair with his wife, Jane.

Of course I could be mistaken.

But what’s important for me is that it’s richer and more complex than most novels I’ve read.

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came home she was nobody’s wife.

Most people (including me) would write several hundred pages just to say the same thing.

Essentially it’s a whole novel wrapped up in a song. I love the beginning. You can almost hear the rain slicked streets of New York where he’s writing the letter.

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…

You can feel the desert wind where his friend now lives.

I hear you’re building your little house deep in the desert.

You can see Jane in bed, having come back to him.

Well, I see Jane’s awake,
She sends her regards.

You can feel his anger and his pain, trying to forgive this friend who so betrayed him. You can recognize their personalities, their relationship, their dreams.

All in just 31 lines.

Anyway. I found this version of Leonard Cohen singing it on Youtube with lyrics. And I have to ask:

Tell me, did you ever go clear…?

photo by robotography (flickr)


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