Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Leonard Cohen's brief Scientology interlude

by Salman Hameed

Somehow this doesn't surprises me at all. He is a fascinatingly creative guy, and I can see him experimenting with a new religion. This is from the review of a new Leonard Cohen biography, I'm Your Man:
And, it turns out, she tells us an enormous amount that even I, a Cohen aficionado, didn’t know, including exactly how Jewish Cohen’s upbringing was — he was steeped in Judaism — and that his religious exploration included a brief period as a Scientologist. This detail illuminates the line in Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Rain Coat,” “Did you ever go clear?,” an explicit reference to Scientology that until now was always opaque to me.
And here is the live version of the song from Leonard Cohen's last tour (and lyrics underneath it).

And here are the lyrics:

Famous Blue Raincoat

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
And 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

Very cool! Also, see this post after I saw him perform live in a 2009 show.


Don said...

A little too smooth for me with that sax solo, although I always enjoy Cohen's vocals. I also found some of his lyrical substitutions and omissions to be interesting, especially with the lyrics right here for comparison.

As for the scientology reference, well, I still don't get it. Unless 'going clear' refers to an attempt to get a thetan off of one's back. Or is it to purify one's native thetan spirit? I guess we'll have to wait and see when one of us has enough cash to pony up and find out!

Diana Trimble said...

It has always seemed so obvious to me that the expression "to go clear" was to do with Scientology that I am amazed that people are only just now figuring it out while some continue to doubt it! Maybe because I lived in LA right across from the Scientology celebrity centre and knew many people that had either escaped from it or were considering joining Scientology, but I have known for many years that the expression "to go clear" is a specific thing you do in Scientology (or rather, a specific experience that you are promised and charged a bunch of money to have). When I found out later that it had been confirmed that Cohen had a brief dalliance with and interest in Scientology in the 60s, it came as no surprise to me and I don't think there can be any doubt, now, that he used this phrase in the Scientology context. I believe it has been officially confirmed in the most recent biography. Of course, as a poet, it would not be lost on Cohen that the phrase also has many interesting and open possibilities for interpretation, so that even people unaware of Scientology would be able to give meaning to it. It is a very enigmatic phrase, if you don't know what it is referring to, and that is OK for poetry. However, it is very clear that the person penning the letter (Cohen) in the song is referring to a specific experience and not just tossing out a metaphor when he poses the question "did you ever go clear?"

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