We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at Leonard Cohen’s simply stunning performance of the 1971 hit ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. It was a performance that saw the Canadian singer-songwriter reach new stadium-sized heights.
During the 1990s and early-2000s, Leonard Cohen had retreated completely from the public eye. He lived on a Buddhist monastery on Mount Baldy near Los Angeles and kept his company very private. But he couldn’t stay hidden for too long.
In fact, when Cohen finally returned to the stage in 2008, it was the last thing on his mind: “I never thought I’d tour again,” he told Rolling Stone in 2012. “Although I did have dreams. Sometimes my dreams would entail me being up on stage and not remembering the words or the chords. It had a nightmarish quality, which did not invite me to pursue the enterprise.”
But, as ever, the need for money in modern society usually outweighs an artist desire to stay hibernating. So, during financial difficulties in the mid-2000s, the singer was forced to reconsider his position and a very short Canadian theatre tour was booked.
Cohen hadn’t taken to the stage since 1993 and, when he arrived at the small theatre in New Brunswick, the tension was very high. The tour kicked off in tiny remote cities away from the media spotlight—but that didn’t last long, as soon fears of Cohen’s rustiness dissipated. It wouldn’t take long before reviews and audience adulation would see Cohen back in the big time and taking headline slots wherever he went. But even for the singer, who has performed for gigantic masses, London’s O2 may have appeared a daunting feat.
Cohen, however, arrived back on stage as if no time had passed, performing with the same verve and incandescent star power that had endeared him to so many hearts during his first period of touring. A particular highlight of the evening in London back in 2008 was Cohen’s perfect renditon of the Songs of Love and Hate track ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’.
Once described by Nick Cave as the song that changed his life, the Aussie rocker said: “This song [‘Famous Blue Raincoat’] to me just seemed like a true kind of confessional song. It just seemed to be so open and kind of honest in some way. Whether it is or not, I don’t really know.”
Adding: “It just had that effect on me and it really kinda changed the way I looked at things. He had a tendency to air his linen in public in a way. I thought that was all very impressive at the time. I still do, of course.” It’s what has set Cohen apart from his contemporaries since he first arrived on the scene in the 1960s.
While other musicians always pursued some version of a rock star dream, Cohen seemed purer, more honest, a real poet troubadour. To put it simply, Leonard Cohen was 100% the real deal. The performance at the O2 was so impressive Cohen captured it as a live album, Live in London.
If you needed proof, then see Cohen performing the song he wrote some 35 years beforehand, with the exact same transfixing power that when he first played it.
Watch Leonard Cohen’s spine-tingling performance of ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ live in London