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The hardest working line in Rock and Roll

August 18, 2021

Hmm, maybe not the hardest working line in rock and roll, maybe in baroque folk pop.

There’s a line in Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat that changes direction four times in the space of nine words. The line is:

Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes.

The way Cohen sings it, it goes:

Thanks …

A simple start, Leonard is thanking someone. He’s always been well-mannered, so this is not unusual.

… for the trouble …

Ah, he was being sarcastic. It feels like the line will continue along the lines of ‘… you caused.’ But it doesn’t.

… you took …

Back to the gratitude.

… from her eyes.

But what he’s really talking about is the positive emotional impact the person had on Jane (the third person in the song). The trouble wasn’t a ruckus of any kind, but a deep-seated depression or sadness or anger that had clearly been building in Jane for a long time. In the context of the song, this is noble and kind, a cuckolded man swallowing his pride and admitting that the affair his partner had with his friend was better for her than anything he could have done for her.

Nine words. A story in itself. A beginning, middle, twist, and resolution in one sentence.

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