There is but one Leonard Cohen, and yet we are just short of an infinite number of interpretations of Famous Blue Raincoat. According to the Wikipedia article Cohen has forgotten long ago whether he was the cheater or the cheated on, but he knows that a love triangle existed, and that a blue raincoat was involved.
I never knew of this song until I went to the Oakland show in 2009. I took Micky, who was simply my girlfriend then as opposed to my essence now. The stage became that infamous raincoat as it was washed in a sea of blue gels. The Maestro said but one line and the audience launched into a frenzy. This is the sign of a truly incredible connection between artist and audience. When someone says John 3:16, one instantly recognizes the most sacred poem of the Christian faith. It takes but one chord at an Elton John concert for the crowd to go into a religious fervor for “Bennie and the Jets”. And so it was to be that when the stage went blue, and the Maestro sang “It’s 4 in the morning/the end of December” I was instantly to begin my own indoctrination into the cult of this song.
This is no ordinary raincoat we are taught. History tells us it was in the Peabody style, and that Leonard Cohen’s lover at the time made fun of his selection. Faith tells us that the raincoat was in the style of a cocoon that encompasses us into a deep sleep to only wake up one morning to discover a world we never knew could exist.
The instant thrill of this new world is the yin to the instant pain of this world’s yang. We have in essence been delivered, but the cost we have paid is too much.
I sat on the edge of my seat entranced by the Maestro’s pain as he carefully navigated his way through each lyric of that epic ballad. I came out on the other side of “Signed L. Cohen” with only the sound of my own breathing echoing through my head.
And so it was with this last visit to Raleigh that I realized that Raleigh is my blue raincoat. The truth is that I’d rather stay in its cocoon than to come out transformed into a reality which no longer recognizes me, and which I no longer understand. There is too much pain, and too much hate. But then there’s love, nostalgia and the sweet sound of silence.
In the end, the silence won me over, but not until 4 in the morning.