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« Other ‘Others’ on Otherness - Andre Yang [Asian Pacific American Heritage Month] | Main | Julie Sheehan, Constituent Bartender: You Get What You Order »

May 24, 2012


What interesting and valuable comments! Thanks.

Interesting article and comments but as for the cover versions, there are no better versions of Cohan songs. I've listened to so many and the only really good versions are those by Leonard himself, like most great artists his voice, delivery and persona are all a vital part of his music. Thankfully he still continues to inspire younger songwriters to strive to reach his level of craft.

Yes you're right Sam. He inspired so many people including me.

....i think it's the best song ever written, & most of the comments above have only diven the point home, like a nail nto the lid of a coffin.......

Dr. Epstein's analysis was delightful and well considered and brought out many salient points of the song. My own thoughts on the song are close to this but with a few subtle differences. LC spoke of the song once saying he couldn't remember who was really involved or the actual situation, but that he had been on both sides at different times. He had been the other man and the man whose woman cheated. So it wasn't necessarily to himself all the time, but he spoke to the other person from both perspectives of being left and stealing. It was still a different person though. Having gone through the bad side of this myself, it is gut wrenching to hear. The triangular meter is an excellent analysis, I took that meter, being a musician myself, and heard the slow plodding depressed one-foot-in-front-of-the-other dragging feeling. The darkness at the beginning, the wee hours of the morning is all true, I also get that he can't sleep. He is clearly troubled. Also, he changes from minor to major in the song which I think represents differing moods and a two sided equation; it is a relative minor though and doesn't make the change too compartmentalized or jarring. If I need to cry, I can just listen to anyone sing this. To me it is the best sad song ever written. As LC once said about the path he was on as a young man: "It is infinitely wide and without direction." So is the sadness contained in the heartbreak of this song.

Thanks for your thoughtful message.

Larry Epstein

Thank you Larry Epstein for your work in dissecting this amazing song, probably my favorite of Leonard's. And thank you for encouraging this dialogue.

While the idea of the letter song is one addressed to himself, I still hold to the idea that there really is actually a real "other man." I think the case is stronger that he is writing to his (fictional) brother, as he calls this other man, or an incredibly close friend. I find the triangle to be much more interesting if it actually involves three people instead of two. The best writers can often write from several characters and points of view, as they see parts of themselves in many different characters, so I think Leonard used himself in all the three characters. Actually, when listening to this song, I have always thought about Cain and Abel. Leonard loved his biblical references, and while I know there is not a Cain and Abel reference here, it feels reflective of that story. He always writes about loving deeply but not possessively, so the L. Cohen feels like Leonard. Which makes the lines "”And you treated my woman to a flake of your life / And when she came back she was nobody's wife” even more devastating.

Lovely to see all these fine and heart-deep comments and thoughts on Leonard's famous Famous Blue Raincoat. Larry Epstein's penetrating analysis presents
a compelling but bleak inner landscape; there needn't have been another man. Leonard Cohen was indeed sufficient to have spanned and encompassed both personae. Both Cain and Abel. But Leonard, living in the dessert, is not merely thin gypsy thief. L. Cohen credits him for doing what he himself never thought to attempt. He also thanks him for standing in his way. It seems then that Larry Epstein's steadfast and honorable L. Cohen had something to learn from his brother, his killer. Seen in this light, neither one is a complete being, and again, that goes to Larry's explanation, but it also goes to real life events: the friend I love for all the things he has that I do not, is an apt lover for the woman I love, for he brings to her heart not only all the things I am not, but all the things I love and for which she loves me.

Similar themes come up elsewhere in Leonard's work. One that stands out very clearly to me are these closing lines to the Master Song: " I loved your master perfectly / I taught him all that he knew. / He was starving in some deep mystery / Like a man who is sure what is true. / And I sent you to him with my guarantee / I could teach him something new, / And I taught him how you would long for me / No matter what he said no matter what you'd do. " Here again is a triangle where love, knowledge, power and pain travel three ways between two men and a woman.

Finally, no one here has mentioned Leonard's novel, Beautiful Losers. Though it's been half a century since I read it, as I recall the same two-men-one-woman motif runs through the book. I am not, therefore, convinced that Blue Raincoat is merely a story of romantic love, or of Leonard Cohen's wishing for greater constancy in his loving and lamenting his inability to be the steadfast little lover his society bred him to believe he should be or his heart wished he could be.

Fascinating interpretation...thank you Lawrence (seven years ago)!

My first reaction was: nonsense...stick with the simplest explanation, a lovers' triangle. But also, wow, what a close relationship to the gypsy thief..."my brother, my killer." And Jane must've been a very close live-in partner of L. Cohen's...but who was she in real-life Manhattan? The famous blue raincoat was clearly known to be Cohen's Burberry. Why would he "give away" the central reference to such an iconic article to an unnamed subject? And so on.

Now I see that the simplest explanation is yours. L. Cohen was a brilliant poet. This is how he thinks and how he brilliantly expresses himself. It's a letter between two conflicting personalities, one trying to go "clear," and any of perhaps several generic women who were confused by them both. They send their regards.

The central iconic article is torn, like its owner.

A wonderful posty indeed! The famous umbrella manufacturing company has also come up with their latest collection of blue umbrellas to entice you!

In one of the recordings of Leonard Cohen singing Famous Blue Raincoat, he substitutes "a friend" for the last two words "L.Cohen" You can hear this version on Youtube.

Doesn’t he speak to everyone past and present. “What can I tell you my brother, my killer. What can I possibly say. He doesn’t know what happened, he never will

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I left it
on when I
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"After You've Gone"
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