The Freelance Mentalists.
Monday, March 01, 2004
Some Songs Haunt You Like a Not-So-Friendly Ghost

Ann Peebles, "I Can't Stand the Rain" (Hi Records, 1973)

She was leaving the house to go clubbing with her husband/producer and a deejay friend and she complained because it was raining and they all looked at each other and went back into the house and wrote the song that night.

The song is about many things. It is supposed to be about the narrator not being able to stand the rain because it brings back memories of the man she loves, about how that man, like the window through which she sees the rain, ain't got nothing to say.

But that is only the narrative drive of the song. What these lyrics are "about" isn't what they are really about. What they are really about is how deep the sadness can run in the human heart. It's like House of Leaves, where they realize that an entire malevolent anti-matter universe exists inside their house, how you can get lost there for days and days unless someone pulls you out, except that when it's your heart no one realizes you're gone. And no one pulls you out, because they're all busy with the rain on their own windowpane. So you decide to live there.

And it's a song about rain itself, the inexorable torture of water from the sky, seasonal affective disorder and the fallacy called Pathetic for a reason, pathos taking a bathos, how rain more than anything else collects and pools in the spaces of one's soul, how when you stare into those pools and puddles you see yourself but you're all fucked up now, all ripply and distorted, how sadness has changed your face, how it's impossible to cry up so the angels have to cry down for us.

But, more than any of these things, it's a song about the sound of itself. That nagging pizzicato riff that punctuates the whole thing is the damndest thing: is it a synthesizer or violins or the sound made when you tap on the bleachers down at the baseball field when there are no games, that sad lonely metal sound that means no one else would understand why you're there tapping the bleachers all alone to see what they sound like, why you don't seem to fit in, why sometimes you burst into tears and you don't know why, why despite having friends and family members who love you and support you the distance and the pain remain, plucking away at you from within, plucking in time with the rhythm of the rain because you live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon where it always rains so there's always accompaniment for your inner sound of desolation

and when you hear this song as a kid you always loved how it was weird at the beginning and then kinda normal, just a regular soul song, beautiful and all that, but there's that boop boop bup bup bip bip, beep beep, all the way through it

and when you are older and they play this song on the prog-jazz radio station you listen to, and you hear that riff, you RUN over to the radio and crank it up so someone else can give voice to that feeling, that odd disconnected never-quite-made-it-back-from-Mars certainty, that floats around your brainpan

and when you are even older still you don't really even want to hear this song

and when you are even older than that you are alone one night in Memphis Tennessee and you go down to Beale Street and eat in a crummy touristy restaurant under the blue gaze of the original Stax sign and you feel like you are going to split in half from loneliness and depression and boredom. But you don't. Instead, you walk around the corner to the Tower Records there and purchase an Ann Peebles CD and drive home listening to Isaac Hayes' radio show through a light January drizzle to your hotel and you rip the plastic off with your teeth and you put the disc in your Discman player and put the headphones in and listen

and you can't even cry anymore
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