Monday, January 15, 2018

Famous Blue Raincoat

Here's where I ruin that song by Leonard Cohen everyone likes.

When I was a teenager, a girl said her favorite poet was Leonard Cohen. I was really into the Beat poets back then. But I knew Leonard Cohen because of Concrete Blonde's cover of Everybody Knows, and I'd heard a few of his other songs via Jeff Buckley. Back at her place she showed me a book called Stanger Music. I was instantly in love with both her and him.

Fast forward a few years, and I'd met a Finnish woman in Germany, but she moved back to Finland. We were using phone cards and payphones to keep in contact because texting was expensive and there was no such thing as social media. We decided to meet in Warsaw: September streets and coffee shops and the Fotoplastikon and the Jazz Jamboree atop the Palace of Culture and Science.

When she got back home to Vaasa she sent me a book and a mix-tape. The first song on the mix-tape was her favorite: Famous Blue Raincoat. It was the first time I'd heard the song. It was the last mix-tape I ever received. I never saw the girl again. I listened to the song over and over again to try and figure out what was so painful about it.

  • "My brother, my killer" to be cuckolded might feel like being killed, and a friend might seem like a brother, but there's also an implicit forbidden vaginal theme here. Brothers, after all come from the same woman. These two have also shared a woman.
  • "You treated my woman to a flake of your life" something as insignificant as a flake from one perspective is monumental to another. What is a flake of life? Rhyming thematically with the "lock of your hair," the shadow man literally gave to her, it's a nice figurative echo.
  • "Four in the morning the end of December" seems like just a throw away until you think about it. "I see you there with a rose in your teeth" is great since roses are a winter-blooming/December flower. And in the end when it's revealed the song is an epistolary you realize how much time has passed since she's been writing the thing. His woman Jane has awoken to blithely send her regards to the letter's recipient. The day has begun. He's been writing this thing for hours.
  • "Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes; I thought it was there for good, so I never tried" has to be one of the saddest lines of any song ever written.

Leonard Cohen played the Palace of Culture and Industry in 1985. It was hugely controversial at the time because everyone thought he would be too political on the wrong side of the iron curtain.

Leonard Cohen wrote all the songs for one of my all-time favorite movies McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Leonard Cohen performed a song with Manu Chao calle Partisan, which is maybe my favorite song by him. Plus, Manu Chao is cool.

Leonard Cohen is considered by most to be some kind of renaissance man. I think of him as a poet and novelist who made some very good songs.

He died in November of 2016, and the world is better off having known his presence and much worse for the loss of it.

I actually used an earlier edition of this book for my trip to poland »

No comments: