I'm not the one who should be writing about Patty Griffin's "Rain," that distinction belonging to friend and fellow BBS writer Heather, as she's the one who introduced me to this amazing song via Turntable.FM.
I don't want to linger too much on this point but that's part of the magic of music; it's why we do what we do here and why services like Turntable are so great. Music can transform us in solitude but there's an added dimension when there's a social experience to it, be it at a concert where you connect directly with the artist or because a good friend passes an album, artist, or song and it becomes part of you.
The metaphor of rain as tears is about as overused as any in music. It's easy and relatable and it rhymes with pain- hell, that's an instant chorus, right? It's an exhausted cliche in the hands of most songwriters but it can work. It does for Griffin, anyway.
The first verse sets up the song and metaphor but relies Griffin's amazing, expressive voice to draw us in. The words are plainspoken, the emotion familiar. The scene is set for a story of a lover about to leave. We've heard this kind of song before and lived our own variation of it but Griffin won't let us ignore her story, delivering a haunting, intimate vocal.
The second verse is where the magic happens; it's a song within a song. She could have written this verse and nothing else and you'd have everything you ever need to know, especially in the first two lines:
"It's hard to know when to give up the fight
The things you want that will never be right"
I've seen the beginning and end of a few relationships. I'm not bragging when I say I've been dumped more than once and it sucked every time. I always thought it was the rejection that hurt the worst because it's so damn hard to see beyond our own pain, to examine and ask why something hurts when all we want is for it to stop.
I don't know when it dawned on me a relationship goes beyond connecting two people, that it's a vessel carrying hopes, dreams, potential, and possibilities. Griffin knows it. Her lover is leaving and she wants him to stay if for no other reason than she's not ready to face this end. Releasing what could have been is so damn hard even if, or especially when, it's clear the other person wasn't who you thought they were and the affair has been a horrendous mistake. Sometimes it's a hell of a lot easier to say goodbye to the person than the relationship because a piece of you is going with it.
"I don't want to beg you, baby
For something maybe you could never give
I'm not asking for the rest of your life
I just want another chance to live"
The verses paint the picture of the coming loss and separation and the chorus tells us how she's weathering this storm:
"Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big, dark clouds
And I'm holding on underneath this shroud
She brings another dimension to her vocal in the chorus, adding tones of confusion and strength to the heartbreak of the verses. She's collapsing under the weight of what is happening but she's reaching out, holding on to something. She doesn't tell us what; she he may not even know. It's not the relationship- that's gone, or will be soon. She's holding on, because.
I've gone on at great length already but I want to circle back because we've looked at this exclusively through the prism of "the breakup song" but this is a far more versatile, universal song than that.
Dylan sang "I still have a few dreams that haven't been repossessed" and I kept thinking about that as I listened because this is more than a breakup song. It's a song about weathering life's disappointments and coming to terms with dreams that won't come true. It's another way of considering what Springsteen asked in "The River": "is a dream a life if it don't come true, or is it something worse?"
Dreams and disappointments continue even if you're blessed enough to find someone -- the right someone -- and they stay. The truth in this song is timeless and relevant until the day you stop hoping and dreaming. That's a lot of truth in four minutes.