This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #459: Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen.
Not too long ago in our civilized world, writing a personal letter to a friend or family member was one of our main forms of conversation. Letter writing allowed the writer to paint a picture of their world, their thoughts and feelings, in a leisurely and elegant manner. A proper pen was important, as was formal stationary. Finally, the setting mattered. “Famous Blue Raincoat” may be a song but, what it actually is, are the words of a letter being written by Leonard Cohen to a man about a woman he has loved and lost to that same man.
Cohen sings as he writes. He describes his apartment on Clinton Avenue in New York. He talks about a lock of hair being sent as message. As he sings, you can almost sense the cigarette smoke slowly pirouetting toward the ceiling, the red wine sitting just off to the side. As a poet and wordsmith, Leonard Cohen is beyond compare. This letter he is writing lays his soul bare. His sense of loss is palpable. But, one of the things that I like about this song/letter is that, despite the loss of this important woman and all of the drama that such a loss implies, he actually sings his signature, too. Listen for it at the very end of the song as he signs off “Sincerely, L. Cohen”. For me, a bit of whimsy amid the seriousness of the topic adds to the pleasure of listening to such a song.
Cohen has never come completely clean about whether this song is based upon a real event from his life but, there are enough accurate details to suggest that it is. He did own a blue raincoat. He did know people who dabbled in Scientology. *(The phrase, “Did you ever go clear?” refers to the Scientology practice of having new recruits “clear” their minds of negative thoughts and memories before adopting the teachings of Dianetics). He did have many relationships with women. And, of course, he did like to write.
“Famous Blue Raincoat” is a beautiful, slow-moving song that allows you to bask in every turn of phrase, every perfectly descriptive or cutting word and every emotion that one can feel when you eavesdrop on a private conversation between two men on opposite ends of woman’s love and attention. Lines like, “Thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes. I thought it was there for good so I never tried.”…. an entire world, in all of its nuance, captured in a three-four minute song, written and performed by, arguably, the best writer of words Canada has ever produced. Enjoy.
The link to the music video for Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen can be found here.
A lovely cover version by Cohen-devotee, Tori Amos, can be found here.
There is a website dedicated to Leonard Cohen. The link can be found here.
Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their great website can be found here.