Thing a Week 34 – Famous Blue Raincoat

By JoCo May 26, 2006

This is a cover of a Leonard Cohen song. If some of you kiddies haven’t heard it, you should, and in fact you’re about to. I’m sort of obsessed with it – to me it’s a nearly perfect example of how stories can be told in songs. You never know exactly what happened, but you get glimpses through all these tiny verbal gestures. The title itself says so much without being at all specific. I like to try to fill in the gaps – there’s something about a friend, a wife, and a betrayal, but also something more complicated and private. It’s especially creepy to hear Leonard Cohen sing it, because he is nothing if not totally creepy.

And a small plug – I’ll be at Jammin Java in Vienna, VA tonight with Paul and Storm. If you’re in the area, come on out and see us.

Famous Blue Raincoat

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bryand says

I was wondering if you'd get around to this one...

Dave says

Got my ticket for tonight!

Dan Coulter says

Dude, Leonard Cohen is in my list of my favorite seven artists and this song is one of my favorite. You did a really amazing cover. Good work!

Dan Coulter says

Beautiful. Leonard Cohen has a really scary gravelly voice from decades of smoking and drinking whiskey, but the poetry in his song writing still blows me away. This is such a good cover.

julie coulter says

Oops! That last comment was really from me. Although, I'd like to point out that my husband misspelled "favorites".

Dan Burke says

See you at tonight's show!

Shig says

Very nice, as a cover. Some songs are too perfect in their original form to really improve on or make your own (unlike "All Along the Watchtower," say, or "Baby Got Back"), but your voice and orchestrations are always good to listen to.

Cinco says

Oh, I can't wait to hear this- it's my favorite Leonard Cohen song!

But a small rebuke-- I have plans tonight, dammit! Are you going to do anything else in the DC area anytime soon?

Zach says

Is it possible there will be more Coultonistas than Paul-And-Storm-Troops at Jammin' Java tonight? I'll be there--taking along my wife to introduce her to the joys of JoCo...

Brandy says

I had never heard of Leonard Cohen - I researched him a little to see if I had heard him unknowingly before and discovered he wrote Hallelujah which was used in Shrek.

Last night I had to hear When You Go, before I feel asleep and my husband asked Why I listened to a sad song before going to sleep ... I'm not sure, but anyway, this will be another song to haunt my dreams. Good Gravy I love your voice!

Ian says

Nicely done, Jonathan. I like.

Being a Canucklehead I'm briefly taken aback that anyone could not know who Leonard Cohen is. I think he qualifies as one of the four major food groups up here, along with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Celine Dion now qualifies as Fast Food and, as such, has been exported. (Please, no follow-up comments on mon belle Celine)

Brandy, look up the song "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen. Possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever recorded.

David Bock says

I have been a follower of Paul and Storm since the second DaVinci's album, and a fan of yours since your recent slashdotting (I wish I could say longer, but hey). I was at Jammin' Java tonight, surrounded by a few people who were amazed I knew the words to 'The future Soon'. They were kinda suprised when they realized how much of the audience there was yours.

You on stage with P&S - it was like Christina Agulera opening for Brittney Spears... if I were 14.

Come back to the VA side of DC soon - we want you to headline at JJ!


ps: If you change 'Rob' to 'Todd' and 'fritos' to 'cheetos', Code Monkey is my biography - my wife even used to be the receptionist where we work.

Jim Gramling says

Really beautiful song... and beautiful cover (actually, your version is far better than l. cohen's, in my opinion! much less creepy!).

Is it pure coincidence that this comes on the heels of your Tom Cruise song?

The phrase "Did you ever go clear?" is a scientology reference, and Leonard Cohen has said in interviews that he dabbled in it (along with about every other organized religion or cult that existed during his lifetime!)

Anyway, keep up the good work! Another dollar well spent!

kostia says

Great show tonight! Paul and Storm were fun, but you were amazing. I'm so glad I went. And to come home and find you'd posted a Leonard Cohen cover? And not just any Leonard Cohen song, but one of the top three? Perfect. Day.

Sparky says

"I think he qualifies as one of the four major food groups up here, along with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young."

Hey, you forgot RUSH!

/aw, never mind, I'm sure it was intentional

supersamurai says

Hey i was going to post last night but i forgot. Your performance was top notch at JJ! I'm really glad you came all the way from NY just to see us! Unfortunately I was hoping for Tom Cruise Crazy but hearing re Your Brains (the song that got me into your work) more than made my evening

haha as a side note. i think i was the youngest guy there (17, still a junior in high school)

Lobsterman says

Still waiting for your first show in Vienna, Austria!

Though I really don't know if anyone but me would show up.

Ian says

Of course Sparky, the fourth major food group goes without saying ;)

Patrick says

I remember a cover of this from the early 90s by a woman who changed some of the pronouns but not all of them, so it only made sense if two of the characters were bisexual. Anyway, you've neatly avoided that pitfall. KUDOS

Hugh Brackett says

Tori Amos did a fantastic version on the tribute album, "Tower of Song the Songs of Leonard Cohen". Tori didn't change any pronouns, though.

glych says

A wonderfully sad and moving cover, Jon. ^_^


Carin says

Someone doesn't know who Leonard Cohen is? *gasp!* That's an awesome cover, and it's been in my head since Saturday.

Brandy says

Ok, I listened to The Essential Leonard Cohen and read lots of his lyrics and I think he's kind of icky. Some of his lyrics are really phenomenal .. ahhkkk, but his voice makes me squirm uncomfortably and I am afraid of being possessed if I try to listen with headphones on. He reminds me of a guy I met on a grey hound (when I was not even 20) all sweaty and possibly drunk, who wanted to debate religion, but twisting everythig to be sexual ... anyway, so maybe it's too late for me to become a fan ... I like it when JC sing Famous Blue Raincoat, but LC ... uh ... not so much.

Ian, don't take it personally (as if when you tell someone to listen to a song you love and they tell you it's icky, you don't take it personally), perhaps just not in the right phase of life. But I tried. Thanks anyway. At least now I have heard of him...and people won't gasp at my ignorance. Wikipedia says: "He is among the English language's most distinguished and influential songwriters of the twentieth century." Who knew?!

Wilson Fowlie (aka CuriousMind) says

Brandy: you might consider listening to some of LC's other songs, sung by other artists. I highly recommend the 'Tower of Song' CD that Hugh mentioned.

My personal fave on that album is "Light as the Breeze", sung by Billy Joel. Hopefully that doesn't demonstrate a woeful lack of taste to those who know better. :)

Carin says

I couldn't agree more about Leonard Cohen's voice. He sounds like he's already dead. Wouldn't it be funny if he sang re: your brains? I just got a vision of him as a zombi.

JoCo says

Oh. My. God. I would kill a man with my bare hands to hear Leonard Cohen cover that song.

Richard Crawford says

Wow, your voice sounds so much like Leonard Cohen (the old LC, not the Tom Waits-ish LC) that it freaked me out. This is an awesome cover of a fantastic song.

There are people who don't know who Leonard Cohen is? Sheesh. Kids these days.

Leonard Cohen would do great with a cover of "Re: Your Brains", but don't you all think that Tom Waits would do an even more terrifying job on that song?

mhenry1384 says

There's a number of artists that are considered geniuses by everyone who I don't get. Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. Apparently I be dumb.

That sucks that I'm dumb.

flytape8490 says


Ice Wolf says

Sorry John Coulton, but that song sucks. I don't really blame you because you didn't write it.

I haven't heard the original, but I imagine it could always be better than yours, like if you changed the tempo or melody or something.

Don't be discouraged, keep up the great work you've exhibited with just about all your other songs. You've got amazing talent.

Michael M. Butler says

Funny thing there, JoCo, the earlier song about Tom Cruise followed by Cohen's _Famous Blue Raincoat_:

I have the distinct impression from the date and context LC wrote it that "going clear" in those lyrics refers to the Pre-Scientology Dianetics days... Back when "Clear" was the best you could be according to Ron's model. Sort of, "Hey, did she ever attain apotheosis? You'd know; I lost touch with her..."

Yes, lots of chiaroscuro in that song, some sort of fidelity-to-herself at the cost of fidelity-to-Leonard... "do what thou wilt" beat idealism... Moody and atmospheric as all hell.

Michael M. Butler says

Ach, pronoun trouble. Sorry for forgetting the lyrics. It's late in my brain.

"...did _you_...", not "...did she..."

Zach Totz says

It's a couple years after the initial post, but I thought I'd let you know that the song is sort of a message from Cohen to himself.

He used to wear an old blue raincoat that became sort of famous, he was the one that dabbled in Dianetics, the "little house in the desert" was a metaphor for his semi-hermitage, etc.

Jack Clandestine says

I love this song, but the only version I had ever heard was yours, so I just went and found the original and, Sweet Dancing Jehoshaphat, it's awful. I don't know what possessed you to take that wrenched song and cover it, but you improved it exponentially.