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

I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train, and
You came home without Lili Marlene

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife

Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well, I see Jane's awake
She sends her regards

And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Well, your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear

Sincerely, L Cohen

Lyrics submitted by phaethon, edited by Shutyourmouth2, 2014, mdarabpour

Famous Blue Raincoat Lyrics as written by Leonard Cohen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Famous Blue Raincoat song meanings
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  • +6
    General Comment
    I see this song through a different lens, perhaps colored or clouded, as much as informed, by personal experience... I believe the singer is "writing" to someone (his “brother”, for lack of more insight) suffering from manic-depression (clinically, bipolar disorder). For sufferers. the inevitable bouts of depression combined with reckless manic episodes and periods of relative calm, make personal lives extremely complex and trying. The imagery created in many lines ("just to see if you're better", "You're living for nothing now", "Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder", "Did you ever go clear") paint a picture of a very troubled soul for which the singer feels concern and compassion, tinged with admiration. But manic-depressives are also often unusually gifted, compelling, and charismatic individuals (particularly while manic - "I see you there with the rose in your teeth/One more thin gypsy thief") whose occasional more serious depressive dispositions can lend air of drama and complexity of character. With this backdrop, I imagine the brother, perhaps insulated by mania or wrapped in the depths of his own illness, and despondent about losing "Lili Marlene,” having a brief, careless affair with Jane ("treated my woman/to a flake of your life”) , his personality (complex and compelling in part due to his illness) awakening a passion she never experienced before with the singer, and making her realize that she must therefore leave her husband, even though the brother had no plans to stay with her. Which yields the tragic sense infusing the song - the singer is made aware of his own inadequacy, shallowness, or humanity, by the way just a "flake" of his brother's life transformed Jane. "And when she came back she was nobody's wife" seems to reference a spiritual or psychological journey and awakening, rather than a separation in time or space. The singer’s resigned acceptance of the "good" this did Jane implies that he has acknowledged to himself that he would never have been able to touch her - "I'm glad you stood in my way", "Thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes/I thought it was there for good so I never tried." Jane is no longer the singer's wife or his woman, and only dallies with him for companionship and the distant link to his brother ("Jane came by with a lock of your hair"). Near the close of the song is a cryptic line that feels like the key to understanding why the brother, the powerful figure who has touched and shaken so deeply the lives of others, seems so lost himself ("You’re living for nothing now" "Just to see if you're better"): "If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me [While] your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free." The brother's enemy is not the singer - the brother clearly won Jane's affection with a "flake" of his life - almost incidentally - with the singer's hold on her nothing of consequence and the object of desire (Jane) clearly transitory. The brother's enemy is his illness, which drives him to build a house in the desert and live for nothing, which he planned to escape by "going clear", the illness that is so integral to his mythic and transformative character that it, "the enemy," is what took the trouble from Jane's eye, and made her "his woman". I can find no other way of interpreting this line, or the whole song, of reconciling the brother's tragic emptiness and aimlessness with his dramatic impact on Jane and others without acknowledging the hulking shadow such an enemy. I do know that L. Cohen has made multiple and somewhat conflicting references to love triangles, to him being the owner of the famous blue raincoat, to going clear alluding to scientology (which he has rejected), and the official lyrics do not include the “While” in “While your enemy is sleeping (though I hear it in the song, and others hear the word “well”), so I may be literally wrong about the intended meaning. But the story in the words rings true to life, something that could or did or must have happened.
    mr_bunbunon March 30, 2005   Link
  • +5
    General Comment
    I see this whole song as Cohen's attempt to reconcile his emotions with his deteriorating relationship with Jane. Perhaps he knew that Jane was never really satisfied with Cohen emotionally, yet they continued to stay together, and Cohen is having trouble coming to terms with the fat that he would never completely satisfy his "woman." The "brother" was close to both parties and was suffering from manic depression and drug addication. The line that describes the "brother" as going to the station to meet every train and coming home without Lili Marlene refers to his depression - his manic ambition to get better (meeting every train) and the inevitable return of the depression and drug abuse (Lili Marlene being as strictly symbolic figure). I think it's possible that Jane and the "brother" had an emotional but Cohen assumed it was sexual and because of his own insecurity (knowing he knew he wasn't making Jane happy but unwilling to see it as his own fault or too emotiaonally immature to be proactive about it) labels the problem as Jane's. Jane knows the "brother" needs help and because she is also a close friend to the "brother" (and maybe because she could identify with depression) believes that she can make him better. She brings back the lock of hair (which I see as Jane's attempt to literally clean him up with a haircut and shave) to Cohen because she knows how much the friend means to him. Maybe Jane has even fallen in love with the brother, but realizes that the "brother" will never "go clear" from the drugs or make the commitment to get better so a relationship would never work. I think when Cohen refers to the "brother" as a thin, gypsy theif, it's a sarcastic remark at how disappointed he is in the "brother" - that he perhaps has a certain amount of disgust in the fluctuation of his moods and senses Jane's emotional bond with the "brother" that Cohen sees as being stolen from him. I feel that Jane and Cohen were living together and their relationship worked enough to keep them together, dispite their differences and emotional needs. Maybe Jane really longed to be with the "brother" but knew she could never deal with the drug addication and while Cohen didn't provide her with the excitement and whirl-wind romance she wanted, he was stable - so the two remained together as companions, too afraid to break away from each other. So they're together and both still quite concerned for the "brother." I see Cohen writing to the "brother" after a night of reflection and drinking - a letter he doesn't really intend to send. And maybe he's doing it to punish Jane. I think he's trying hard to resolve his inner conflict - he wants to forgive the "brother" and obviously thinks of him enough to not want to cut him out of his life although he might have for a short time. I think Cohen went through a period when he tried to dismiss the "brother" or forget about him altogether, but in the end he just couldn't do it because he of his love for him...hence the lyric "I'm glad you stood in my way." I think the line in which Cohen writes "if you ever come by here for Jane or for me, your enemy is sleeping and his woman is free" is his bitter invitation to the "brother" to visit him - he admits he's still very angry and hurt but has gotten over it for them moment; he also eludes to his own emotional detachment to Jane. While he's struggling to resolve his bitterness, anger and sadness over the situation, he realizes that the "brother's" relationship with Jane was necessary in order for Cohen and Jane to be together at all. Maybe it's his way of saying that he knew that Jane had feelings for the "brother" (maybe still does) but if she hadn't gone to visit him and try to "fix" him she would never have come to terms with the fact that the "brother" was never going to "go clear" - that he would never take the steps necessary for him to treat his depression and kick his habit. Cohen ending the song with a line he uses at the beginning of the song (the lock of hair) emphasizes the crux of Cohen's conflict - he let Jane go to help the "brother" and when Jane returned somehow uplifted he made up his mind that they'd had an affair and knew it was silly but just couldn't get over it and constantly struggles to resolve it.
    Bohemian Pearlon April 02, 2007   Link
  • +5
    General Comment
    Notes on Famous Blue Raincoat Really cool website for chatting about songs… the comments and different views are great… willy61’s comment says that it puts most of the internet to shame… I agree… I just found this site recently and have never really taken part in any forums before, I like music so it wouldn’t be a bad way to start… well, so much has been said about this song that I’m not sure if there’s anything new I can add, but I’ll give it a try anyhow… I’ve known Cohen’s music for years but have only really started to get into his music recently, he’s becoming one of my musical idols, the songs are amazing, and, as a singer - at his best - he gets it just right on the button in his own particular way, his voice (if not really potent) is sweet and his diction (for me, what I like most about him as a singer) adds so much to the lyrics. I won’t speak too much about the lyrics (as I mentioned, so much has been said already), only to comment on what some say in regards to not taking everything Cohen says in this song at face value (with full respect), fair enough, however I would neither interpret his words as sarcastic… rather, every word contributes something to the meaning of the song… I’ll talk though about what the music adds to the song’s meaning (I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible – hard when talking about a Cohen song). I’ll start with the line “thanks, for the trouble…” as it’s the first line which struck me with the pattern that I want to talk about, and it highlights my point quite well. For me, how the song is sung here reflects something which could easily be lost just looking at the lyrics as they are on paper. It’s sung “thanks, for the trouble you took (pause) from her eyes…” The pause, when you’re listening closely, causes you to hear ‘to take the trouble to do something’, like for example, thanks for taking the trouble you took to help me out with my homework last night, then as the line continues after the pause with “…from her eyes” the meaning of ‘to take the trouble’ changes, giving this particular phrase a double meaning, from ‘to take the trouble to do something’ to ‘to take something away’. In my view, just brilliant (sorry for that little outburst). I’ll just quickly give two more examples of this. When the lyrics “Jane came (pause) by…” are sung, if sung well, the word ‘came’ could be the past tense of the verb ‘to cum’ (as in to have an orgasm) rather than ‘to come’, giving this line the double meaning: Jane ‘came’ (was exited, jubilant or in love) during her amorous adventures with the ‘brother’ or ‘friend’ and also, Jane dropped by the house. The other quick example I wanted to mention (and this one makes my hairs stand on end, it’s sung so beautifully), is when the word “flake” is sung, Cohen, with his beautiful diction, sings “flay (pause) kə. The kə is a flake of the word flake. One more small outburst if you’ll forgive me: if I’m right about that one, absolute genius, and take note, even without that particular interpretation most people do mention the “flake” when interpreting this song. The main question has to be: Was any of this was actually intended by Cohen himself or is it just my own invention? The melody change in the “Jane came by…” part of the song lends itself pretty well to this interpretation if Cohen is as good a musician as I think, and not only a great lyricist who did this by accident. Saying this, the pause after “Jane came…” is less prominent, and so, less sure. I listened to two other versions of the song on youtube to compare other musicians’ interpretations: an unknown (by me anyway) Scottish girl, Angela Mccluskey - whose video I clicked on by chance just to hear a version by a singer I don’t know - sings the song with the pauses I mentioned, though it’s impossible for me to know if she had the same ideas as me or if that’s just her singing style. Tori Amos sings a nice version however she raises the note and sustains it on the word “took” which makes it ambiguous as to whether or not she meant to use the pauses to add meaning. Cohen himself is certainly aware of what meaning the lyrics and music can add to each other: in the first verse of the song hallelujah he describes the chord changes of the very same song as they happen in the lyrics “and it goes like this and the forth the fifth…” the chord changes fit – impressively - perfectly with the lyrics. And also, another great musician, Paco De Lucia, one of the best living guitarists today, said, at some point he could take any scale and make it as fast as he wanted, but later he realised that the pauses you make are more important than the virtuosity you display. These points make me think that it’s definitely possible that all this was deliberate, however, each person will have to decide for himself how to interpret this song and Cohen is so brilliant that endless ways of seeing his songs are always found. I did say I’d try to keep it brief and I managed to fit into just over 900 words what I think could easily be an essay of 5000 words, so I reckon, not so bad… I’ll try to keep the next take at under 500 words… we’ll see… and keep up the good work, keep (as we are) talking about Cohen and keep his songs alive… Cohen’s great.
    almic81on November 14, 2008   Link
  • +5
    General Comment
    Hi! Please, forgive my bad english, I´m from Czech republic. Recently (in my middle age) I felt in love with LC and I study his songs, I try to understand them and maybe sing some of them. In FBR I kind of felt, that LC may be writting to himself. On internet ( I found this quote: "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." Together with his another words- he said, that this song is against tyrany, "tyrany I feel myself which is the possession of women, and woman's possession of man"- I thing this: This song is about his feelings toward women (maybe one woman). When he was in love with a woman, probably when young, he couldn´t stop beeing possesive, even though he knew, it´s killing. That sort of feeling is hardly to abandon. And another thing. Recently I found myslef jalous at myslef. I knew, that that extraordinery moment of love I am in, will never happen again,it will never be that new, that beautiful. My relationship may be and will be beautiful in some other way, but it will never be the same. I am jalous at me, when I was young, I am jalous at me when I was with my lover yesterday. And I am jalous at my lover when he smiled at me last day, because the yesterday´s me is not today´s me. And I am not crazy, I am quite rational woman, could you imagine, how the maniodpresive persone feels? (LC suffers with MD the whole life)? What this desease makes to you? What did it make to LC?
    woman2010on May 12, 2010   Link
  • +4
    General Comment
    This is my combined thoughts about the incredible Leonard Cohen song "Famous Blue Raincoat" This song has allways had a enigmatic pull in me, since the first time i heard it. And from time to time over the years i have thought that i had the interpretation fixed, only to discard my theories the next day. (I work a lot with my hands as a craftsman, so i have lots of time to listen to music and let my thought wander *s*) I have searshed the web for explanations and intervievs with Cohen, to help me understand the meaning of the lyrics, but have allways come up short. But pice by pice the puzzle has fallen into place, and this is my interpretation...... (and sorry for any eventual grammar misshaps - I`m Swedish) ;-) First of all - lets hear the good L.Cohens own words about the song... -Frankfurt, May 6, 1970 "...this is one of those songs that I really mean. And it's against the greatest tyranny that I myself experience. I feel many kinds of tyrannies from every... Almost every time men group themselves together, I flash on their tyranny. But this is not a government, this is a tyranny I feel myself which is the possession of women, and woman's possession of man. And I know those chains have to be broken before anything happens. All the manifestos and all the demonstrations will change nothing until we stop enslaving each other, especially within the sexual embrace." from 1972 (broadcast on TV in Sweden in Sept., 1973): "Here's a song that was written for two people, for a woman and a man, and especially for a woman that I had to share with another man. But, you know, it's true what they say, that there won't be any free men until there are free women." There are many more quotes about this song out there, but I think these two are really on the spot. Keep them in mind in the back of your head as we move on to define the characters of the lyric........ There are three main characters in the song. Cohen himself, Jane, and the one refered to as brother/my killer/thin gypsy thief. In this text however I will refer to him as "The Brother". So... Cohen is the first one. Nothing special there.. we all know and love the guy ;-) This "brother" should`t be taken litterary.. We are talking about a different era in time here... An era where everyone were eashothers "brother" and "sister". Surely he was a dear friend, but not a blood relative. Jane - Since Cohen never has been married but refers to her as "my wife", I think we can safely assume she is someone he was having a serius relationship with. We mustnt forget the concept of artistic freedom here... I can imagine that it was a hole lot easier to compose a lyric containing the word Wife, than trying to squeeze in The Girl I Was Living With At The moment And Really Really Like ;-) There is also a 4:th character mentioned. One not to be overlooked - Lilly Marlene Now Lili Marlene isn`t one of Cohens own characters - It originally comes from the poem "The Song of a Young Sentry". The theme of the song is "dreaming for one's lover" and were immensly popular during WW2 on both sides of the border. With no doubt Cohen heard the song many many times in his youth, and the symbol Lilly Marlene stuch to hes mind at one of "missing love".… So... Through piecing together the characters and the quotes I have come up with this explanation, here presented in a chronological order of events... Cohen and Jane are a couple. Not married, but living as such for the moment, being faithfull towards each other. Cohen however is troubled by the concept of "owning another person" by demanding faithfullnes. The naturally ocuring jealousy in the realationship (between 2 people "going steady") is eating at not only him but Jane to, and Cohen can clearly see that. His jealously is hurting (limiting) Jane, but he is unable to brake free from he`s own feelings. He is unable to stop hurting/limiting the one he loves... becuse he loves her! Then into this scene comes "The Brother". A person allready troubled himself, being in love with someone that probably doesen`t return he`s feelings, and/or is abcent. He comes home to Cohen and Jane, resignated to his fate (that he will never see his loved one again), and Jane comforts him. He then decides to brake free, and move on with he´s life, and in the heat of the moment Jane feels pity and they end up in bed together. This however is just a 1-time event, and nothing serius. But after coming clean to Cohen about it, his and Janes previously exclusive relationship is never the same again. They still loves each other, but something have changed. He dosent feel the urge to "own" Jane anymore (to be exclusive), and becuse of that. he neither feels owned himself. the letter/lyrics is written some time after these events. Jane is no longer living with Cohen permanently (perhaps they never did?), but they still love each other and sleep togeter from time to time. ***************** 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. I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record. [This is basicly just describing the setting. "See if you're better" however, is probably referring to wether the brother has overcome his depression about the Lilly Marlene-character] Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair She said that you gave it to her That night that you planned to go clear Did you ever go clear? [When Jane came over this time she had with her a lock of this Brothers hair. (why? No idea, but probably not that important in the context of the lyrics). Seeing the lock of hair however, trigger memories of the event and questions in Cohen, and it is becuse of this he is writing the letter. This "going clear" has often been interpreted to as drug-rehab or such, something i think is taking teh easy (and wrong) way. "That night that you planned to go clear" is the night that the Brother decided to brake free from he`s love towards the Lilly Marlene-character. Note taht he _planned_ to go clear, and last time Cohen saw/heard from him (presumibly when all these actions took place) he was still unhappily in love. Hence the question "Did you ever go clear?"] Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder You'd been to the station to meet every train And you came home without Lili Marlene And you treated my woman to a flake of your life And when she came back she was nobody's wife. [As stated above, this Brother was unhappily in love, and had aparently hoped to meet his loved one at the train station. When he came back to Jane and Cohen he was in despair, and after comforting him Jane ended up having pity-sex with him ;-) ] Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth One more thin gypsy thief Well I see Jane's awake -- She sends her regards. [Jane wakes up while Cohen is writing, and the topic of The Brother dosen`t seem to be infected since she sends her regards. Jane and Cohen has obviusly talked about it and decided to let it go.] And what can I tell you my brother, my killer What can I possibly say? I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you I'm glad you stood in my way. If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free. ["What can I possibly say?" is to me an indication that Cohen admits that the situation is somewhat absurd... And with all rights! He is actually happy and thanking the man that he`s "wife" was unfaithful with. But i guess the easiest way to explain it is to say that hes not happy about the Brother nad Jane screwing around, but he is happy over the result it brought in the relationship between him and Jane. That the crack in the relationship that occured becuse of this Brother gave Cohen the ability to shake loose his need to _own_ his woman. Cohens and Janes relationship has become better since the event and that is why he says "I'm glad you stood in my way." He allso promises this brother that if he was to come over for a visit, Jane is free to do whatever she pleases, and that the "enemy" (refering to the jealousy he earlier felt) is sleeping.] Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes I thought it was there for good so I never tried. [Now these two scentenses are the key to understanding _why_ Cohen reasons as he does. Why be happy that your girlfriend is being unfaithful? - Becuse She Is Happier. The "trouble you took from her eyes" is trouble brought on by jealousy and the feeling of being "owned" in a relationship. No matter how much Cohen loved her, he could never release Jane from that pain, just becous he loved her and it was that love that brought on the pain!! Through this dramatic turn of events and through the influence of this Brother, hes beloved Jane is no longer troubled. She is free to what she pleases, and in the end that means tha he himself is truly free.] And Jane came by with a lock of your hair She said that you gave it to her That night that you planned to go clear -- Sincerely, L. Cohen ***************** There... this is my interpretation of this complexed and enigmatic text. and i actually believe all that i have been typing. With no doubt this will neither be the last or final text written about the Famous Blue Raincoat, but I hope that my analyzis have brought some light to the subject.. Finally i´d like to end this text with a quote not my L.Cohen, but by another gigant from the same era - Richard Bach (L.Cohen born 1934 - R.Bach born 1936) Strangely, but possibly not without reason, this famous quote summorize Cohens lyrics perfecly in my opinion... "If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours; if they don't they never were." -Richard Bach /Malsum July 2006
    malsumon July 23, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment
    Cohen's 'Famous Blue Raincoat' is a typically inward complexity. Interpreting this epistolary song is made difficult by the ambiguity surrounding the specific relationships of it's subjects. Cohen's description of a love-triangle is none-the-less tremendously astute, provoking great tenderness and empathy for his intense, and often contradictory emotions. Certainly 'Jane' was an intimate of the author, referring to her both in the first and third person as 'his woman', however Jane's relationship with 'Famous Blue Raincoat' is less clear. Unquestionably she was unfaithful to Cohen with him, however the extent to which is speculation. The evidence purports that Jane's involvement was somewhat more than a single act of infidelity. The line, 'And you treated my woman to a flake of your life, And when she came back she was nobody's wife' definately implies that their relationship was sustained for some duration, and sarcastically, that it was an honor. For her to come back, she must have gone away, surely for more than a single night. Moreover, for the incident to inspire such beautiful verse, and such interest and knowledge in the adulterer you would expect the affair to have spanned some time. Cohen's 'enemy', his rival in affection for the woman, deserts her, leaving her with neither Cohen, who is cuckolded, or of course, himself - grown tired of the engagement. The heart of this song is it's exposition of envy. Cohen reluctantly and with devastating resignation, thanks his rival for removing the sadness that pained the face of his woman - something he was impotent to. Because of his love for Jane, his humiliation; his rejection and loss, even though at her hands is abated by her improvement. Furthermore, Cohen is with hindsight, 'glad' that he was prevented from reclaiming his woman, recognising (again with reluctance) that regardless of his love for her, she could never be his. Not after such disloyalty. The tale is composed some time after the conclusion of the affair. The three members of the triangle are essentially independant, although Cohen and Jane remain close enough for a memento of her one-time-only suitor to be brought over to his residence. Perhaps this is the most vague aspect of the song. Cohen and Jane are separated, coming by 'with a lock of your hair' seems an incredibly insensitive act on the woman's part, excusable only if both the author and she, feel together the abscence of 'Famous Blue Raincoat', a man who we are informed has aged, remains unsettled, (is dissatisfied perhaps). Such a supposition though, disagrees with the rest of the song. The detail, 'The last time we saw you... Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder' suggests the loss of eligibility, possibly giving Cohen some form of wicked consolation and the song's proviso, 'Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free', reveals the author's present temper; he refuses to see the man that stole his woman, but cannot inhibit him, should he return for Jane. He is too badly wrecked, made passive by rejection.
    sidebeardon April 28, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General Comment
    I think the singer is writing this letter to his brother after he died. I may be completely off my rocker here, but after listening to this song, and reading the lyrics to it over and over for the past several months and trying to figure it out, I finally sat down, and decided to read it from a different angle. Maybe his wife cheated on him, and he killed himself? I don't know. Definitely an interesting song, from any interpretation.
    torislittlefaerieon April 27, 2005   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation
    There is a background to this song. There are 4 characters here. 2 main, one subject and one unknown. I'm going to try to explain to the best of my ability what I gathered from the song. It’s a very complex piece with a lot of layers and background and emotion. It wont be possible to go linearly to explain it so I've had to jump back and forth, picking sections from here and there and placing them in context as far as I could build. This letter brings out many aspects of relationships and love between men and women and between men. The pain and conflict between love shared between lovers and the love shared between friends. Cohen - the writer writing the letter. A result of a chain of events that has played out over time. Lots of conflicting thoughts, pain, anger, sadness and resignation. He's writing the letter in present day - it’s the end of December, it’s a cold night. He cannot sleep because a recent chain of events that haunts him and is causing immense disturbance. Its four in the morning, he decides to write a letter to his friend in an attempt to comfort the storms raging within him. He starts with a generic opening to the letter, talking about what life's like right now. He's in New York, its cold, there's music in the streets etc. As he writes further, we'll dissolve into the background behind whatever he writes next. FBR (Famous Blue Raincoat) is a good friend, possibly his best friend whom he loves like a brother and has great affection toward. FBR refers to his friend's public identity. He's possibly a good man with high social standing - a celebrity of sorts. He's charming, successful, a brilliant man but has a great emptiness inside of him. Cohen's aware of that. This emptiness probably resulted from an estranged love or his (FBR's)own pursuit for true love. It is possible that FBR was and is still in love with someone else - referred to as "lili marlene". The reference is made in the song in which FBR is said to wait for "lili marlene" at the "train station" repeatedly. It’s a graphical picture Cohen paints here of FBR, looking for something he's missing - a void deep within himself - a love he's lost. He probably has everything yet has nothing to live for because he feels so empty inside, even if he has everything material. He wants to get away from it all so he's (metaphorically speaking) building his house in the desert - away from everything and all the hurt he feels from that estranged relationship. Cohen writes - Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder You'd been to the station to meet every train And you came home without Lili Marlene It clearly shows that Cohen sees the pain that FBR is facing, losing his loved one. His "Lili Marlene". Its taken a toll on him. FBR in his emptiness, yet his charming self was able to win the heart of Jane - currently Cohen's woman - his wife (probably in an attempt to distract himself from his pain). There is something peculiar about FBR as he's a man and as many men can relate, he was unable to find himself to love - true satisfactory love. He looks for temporary love in sexual exploits but is unable to fill the void in his soul. To FBR, Jane is just a sexual exploit to free him from his own chains of pain and dissatisfaction. Jane, however has fallen in love with FBR. This represents a great loss for Cohen as he loves Jane a lot. FBR however, is not a bad man and Cohen knows that. He's just unable to love Jane back because he already loves someone else. Jane is unaware of this but Cohen knows that is the case as they're such good friends. Cohen writes - And you treated my woman to a flake of your life And when she came back she was nobody's wife. This describes how FBR gave himself to Jane so selfishly. He just gave her a small portion of himself. Jane gave herself completely and now she has no-one to belong to. She's no longer Cohen's wife because of the breach of trust. He cannot accept Jane back and blames FBR for Jane's current fate. In a previous section, Cohen writes - Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair She said that you gave it to her That night that you planned to go clear Did you ever go clear? Initially, Cohen had probably suspected something going on but never had enough evidence to confront Jane about it. As what usually happens, he must have trusted them both so much to put aside his own inner suspicions and give them both the benefit of the doubt. The confrontation finally came when in due course probably discovered the lock of hair in Jane's possession. Cohen, being suspicious of he affair finally decided to ask Jane about it, and put his suspicions to the test. During the confrontation, Jane must have said that FBR had given that to her, trying to validate her custody of it, however Cohen knew the significance behind it. It broke his heart to know that his fears were realized. He felt betrayed and devastated at the time. There is a rather intriguing nuance here that probably has not been picked up by many. Cohen mentions "that night that you planned to go clear". This speaks in depth of the kind of relationship he and FBR shared. FBR probably did mention to Cohen of a "lover" he'd been spending time with recently. It is possible that FBR, was burdened by a guilt of betraying his friend and knowing that he was not doing justice to Jane's love for him. He would have mentioned it to Cohen in that he should tell the woman he was fooling around with that he loved someone else and "come clean". Cohen obviously had never expected this love was in fact his own wife. . . . Cohen then reflects and asks the question - did he ever come clean, to which the answer is quite obviously no. Today, (a few days or weeks after all this has happened) as Cohen is writing this letter to FBR, he reflects on all that had happened recently. He has his own inner conflict to deal with. This is where is becomes complicated. He has a LOT of mixed emotions and thoughts to deal with right now. When he looks back in time he realizes that Jane's happiness was not because of him, but because of FBR. He remembers all the times when Jane was happy and smiling and attributes it to her relationship with FBR and not to himself. It brought a realization of his own inadequacy. Inside, he loves Jane so much he'd rather see her happy, but at the same time losing her to his best friend is immensely painful. He's angry, frustrated, hurt, disappointed, sad and at loss for words to express his inner feelings completely. Instead of venting out his anger, he decides to express his sadness. He knows his friend so well and knows that FBR doesn't love Jane back in the same way that she loves him. He knows his friend's emptiness in his soul and feels bad for Jane. There is an unsaid tension in the air and he senses Jane's dissatisfaction in her relationship with FBR as well. Right now Jane's with Cohen but she's sleeping. Cohen writes - Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth One more thin gypsy thief Well I see Jane's awake -- Here, there's a break in his thought as he's writing the letter. He's talking about FBR waiting in vain for his romantic love. The reference to the rose suggesting the obvious. As he writes "one more thing Gypsy thief", he's interrupted. Jane wakes up. He meant to say more, but his thoughts terminate there for a moment. Enough for him to change the subject, so he writes she's awake. Cohen writes - She sends her regards. And what can I tell you my brother, my killer What can I possibly say? I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you I'm glad you stood in my way. She probably asks him what he's doing up so late but all he sees is a veil. He knows she misses FBR. He is no longer in the physical world, but sees right through to her soul. She has said nothing but he writes, she sends her regards. He goes on to express his feelings but finds himself unable to say anything. There is a lot of pain in his words - "my brother, my killer". Cohen misses his friend terribly but is hurt and blames him to have "killed his spirit. FBR probably disappeared from his life for a while now after this whole incident unfolded. He missed him, and is looking in his heart to forgive him. There's no point losing your best friend over these carnal issues in life. Cohen starts the close of his letter by writing - If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free. Here he means that, if FBR ever comes to see either of them, he should know that he holds nothing against him anymore. He's free to do what he wants with Jane because she doesn't belong to Cohen anymore. The enemy here is referring to the other side of Cohen's personality - the demon he becomes bringing out the possessiveness over his woman - Jane. Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes I thought it was there for good so I never tried. Here he talks as he reflects back in time to the smiles he saw on Jane's face despite the troubles in their own relationship, attributing her happiness to her relationship with FBR. "I thought it was there for good so I never tried" means he had his suspicions of the affair, but he saw that Jane was happy and that meant more to him than anything else. That’s really the reason why he never tried to fight about it. Its an extremely sacrificing way of dealing with the whole solution. Cohen is definitely very deeply hurt and is trying hard to gather himself and look at the brighter side of things despite him tremendous loss. And as he closes, he once again thinks of the time when it all blew up… the time when Jane came back with a lock of his hair. . . And Jane came by with a lock of your hair She said that you gave it to her That night that you planned to go clear -- Sincerely, L. Cohen
    inatosemaon September 15, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Comment
    My thanks to those on this and other sites for of their time and trouble in giving their insights, it's been very helpful to me. As a long-time fan of Leonard Cohen and in particular of the song I thought that I could throw in my two cents worth, to see if it strikes any chords with anyone. One of the difficulties I think in trying to analyse lyrics is to avoid the human urge to achieve certainties. To me it's all a question of images, and the emotions and the mental pictures that they throw out. Thus for the "lock of your hair" it doesn't matter whether it's light hair or dark hair, or even hair at all, as it’s symbolic of a keepsake or memento. So having said where I'm coming from, in my view of the song is that it's Cohen speaking to another side of his own character. Put simply, it's the possessive Cohen talking to the non-jealous, free and liberated Cohen. Possessive Cohen (PC) realises that in being the way he is, he has damaged the relationship which he has with Jane, as she felt stifled at times and wanted to return to the free Cohen (FC). PC is saying that he and FC are a dichotomy; and in the first verse he is acknowledging this by talking to his other side. Perhaps FC existed in another place, and PC is saying that in returning to an old haunt he has reverted to the PC characteristics. The second verse using "deep in the desert" symbolises FC being far far away from the relationship at the moment, and perhaps combines with a feeling of self-justification to his "brother". The chorus (third verse) with the lock of hair shows the symbolism of Jane returning from FC to PC, and bringing with her a part of the FC. FC acknowledged that the transition from PC to him was only temporary, and that he “left”, leaving only the PC to return. “Going clear” is a question asked by PC, wondering if he himself can ever again allow an element of freedom in his attitude to the relationship with Jane. The "looking so much older" in the fourth verse suggests that it is a long time since Cohen himself allowed freedom to exist in the relationship, and he is possibly lamenting his possessive jealousy towards Jane. Is this because it is causing problems in the relationship at this time? The reference to the famous blue raincoat shows that things change (and the damage occurs to something that once was perfect) over time, and things can never be the same as they were before. And this theme of never been able to go back is repeated in the fifth verse, "and when she came back she was nobody’s wife". This indicates that having seen FC, Jane could never tolerate fully the style of the PC. Whilst Jane at times may love the PC, and there are times she longs for the PC to allow her to be herself in the relationship. The possession and selfishness comes out with the gypsy thief analogy -- PC is a frustrated because he now realises that FC has stolen away part of his partner, and that in the future she will want some of the FC to return. The seventh verse (“she sends her regards”) is PC’s acknowledgement that the way he acts and behaves is not completely justified -- he realises that his selfishness is being unfair on Jane, and he acknowledges that her sake he is glad that FC dragged her away. This is the first acknowledgement of his love of Jane wanting to give her happiness at his (PCs) own expense. He acknowledges this in the eighth verse, where he states that his enemy is sleeping and that he is quite willing for FC to show himself to take Jane away to satisfy her emotionally. In the ninth verse he acknowledges he is selfishness "so I never tried" In the final verse, used as a chorus, he again acknowledges that things can never be the same as they once were with Jane. I hope that these musings may provide some entertainment or enlightenment.
    devilsadvocate99on April 10, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General Comment
    Interesting to find this site, so late! Was searching for interpretations of this song because Jennifer Warnes' version showed up on my CD rotation and found this site. Will look at the site more, it looks interesting. Enjoyed the various interpretations of FBR, but I have my own. I feel close to this song, because 30+ years ago, my wife left our relationship for my best friend. Also, I too checked out Scientology (went away with similar feelings, too), though it was a couple of years later. No doubt about that "going Clear" interpretation though. I think Leonard was trying to describe many-layered feelings. I know at the time, I felt like I was losing two very dear attachments and felt a two deep voids. And I knew that I'd been a party to it, that my wife & I were too young, and becoming somewhat less at ease or attracted to each other - something was missing, the magic was evaporating. I encouraged her to be friends with my friend (she'd expressed that she didn't like him) and I'd tried to get them to be friendly (not sexually - it just went there before too long). So, what are you left with? Feelings of hopelessness, feelings of having brought it on oneself, perhaps feelings of wanting to salvage something? They lived together a few years and split up. My friend & I re-established our friendship, though we now live far from each other. Curiously, at my male friend's wedding 20 years ago to someone else, my ex-wife and I talked briefly. We both had other love interests too by then. She took me aside, apparently, for some kind of apology for the craziness of years before, and said that "I was right about it all" (not sure what exactly). Looking back, - we were young - those were hard lessons of the heart. Much of the FBR lyrics though, evoke the feelings I had when I was trying to be calm, to salvage something (pride?, sanity?, friendships? intimacy? a lesson to move forward with?). I'm glad I chose to try to understand and forgive them - they didn't choose to fall for each other. They both wish they'd been kinder, and told me so years later. That's all I wanted. And this song helps with the wrapping, by the words and somber haunting mood of the music.
    jasjbon February 04, 2010   Link

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