Famous Blue Raincoat

Still floating in the lingering contrails of last night’s Leonard Cohen performance, I went to YouTube to listen once again to “Famous Blue Raincoat”. And I ended up playing it over and over, just for the shifts in Cohen’s voice, in his guitar, and in the way he uses these subtle changes to convey the most exquisite shades of emotion.

It’s a beautiful recording, sort of infinite in its way, with layers upon layers of meaning drifting below the surface.

This song might be the purest distillation of a view of things that could be called “Leonard Cohen Zen”. It’s the idea that our life is precious not merely because it contains moments of beauty, but because we know that these moments will not be ours forever.

He reminds us that we need to pay homage to sadness and loss along with ecstasy, because these remind us that our connection to each other is never easy, and never free. The pain that inevitably shadows our happiness is, in fact, the measure by which we can know the value of what we cherish in each other.

6 thoughts on “Famous Blue Raincoat”

  1. Wow. So well said. I have to ask though whether you think pain is really “the measure” or is it just “a measure”. Are those moments of ecstasy (and hours of remembered ecstasy) not a measure too?

  2. Good question!

    I do not consider remembered ecstasy to be the best measure because it does not make a distinction between (A) remembered happiness whose loss we truly mourn and (B) fleeting pleasures we don’t really miss after they are gone.

    It is only after the fact, when we find ourselves experiencing a sense of loss, the we can know for certain how precious something was to us.

  3. Interesting. I have to disagree. I think it is possible to know and appreciate in the moment how precious something is, when we take care to be present in the moments of our lives (something that is easy to forget to do most of the time). Didn’t you experience that while you were at the concert? I know I did when I saw him in San Jose last month.

  4. I completely agree with you in the case of a concert.

    I think it gets a lot more difficult when you get to the topic that Cohen’s songs are about: Relationships between people.

  5. Relationships are complicated. It is definitely possible to fail to appreciate some of the preciousness until it is gone. Joni Mitchell had a point.

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