Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Loving A Hurricane” / John Hiatt


I love John Hiatt’s persona as devoted family man – but what makes it really meaningful for me is that it comes packaged with a wild-at-heart personality. Staying on the straight and narrow is a daily struggle when those demons in your soul – or as Nick Lowe would have it, “The Beast In Me” – refuse to lie quiet.

Hiatt’s 1993 album Perfectly Good Guitar simply howls with untamed spirit. It’s on song after song – “Something Wild” (“When I was a kid I thought that someday / I could tame this lion heart some way, somehow”), “Buffalo River Home” (“I’ve been circling the wagons / Down at Times Square / Trying to fill up this hole in my soul”), or “Cross My Fingers” (“”I’m driftin’ away . . . To a cold white line down a highway in my head”). Every scenario portrays hell breaking out, from the abused woman in “Old Habits” to the betrayed wife of “Permanent Hurt” to the cataclysmic “Wreck of the Barbie Ferrari,” where an overwrought husband splatters his wife’s and kids’ brains on the walls of the family room. Yow. In the snarky title song, Hiatt even gets angry at his fellow rockers – “It breaks my heart to see those stars / Smashing a perfectly good guitar . . .There oughtta be a law with no bail / Smash a guitar and you go to jail.” He’s laughing, but he’s serious (and I happen to think he’s right).

Well, somebody’s got to speak up for the hellraisers, and John Hiatt takes it on like a man with a mission. It all comes together in the album’s final track, “Loving A Hurricane.” This is the flip side of Hiatt’s langorously sexy “Feels Like Rain” – there’s a hurricane blowing in, all right, but HE is the hurricane, and he’s awed by the strength of any woman who’s willing to take him on. “That’s what she gets for loving a hurricane,” he declares over and over, as if that absolves him from all responsibility.

There’s something magnificent and elemental in this love affair, all the same. “The whole foundation just went flying right past her / She put her heart into it, and you just yank it out. / You pulled her love out through the window pane.” I grew up in Indianapolis, same as John (same neighborhood, in fact – I knew him by sight as a kid), and I remember all too well how it felt when tornadoes came whipping through town: Weird green skies, spooky noises, and barometric pressure so high it’d make anybody temporarily insane. I know EXACTLY the kind of love he’s talking about here.

There’s a whole short story in this verse -- “She could have rode off with some Texas tornado / Some mister twister she could kick up her boot heels with / Could have rode him on down to Laredo / But you blew in from the gulf like a hot wet kiss,” fairly panting with lust on that “hot wet kiss” line. In the chorus, Hiatt howls and wails for all he’s worth, repeating “Waaah, wind and rain / Waah, it’s a shame.” The guitar lays down a particular nasty snarling riff, and a fierce drum track rattles the windows. He’s not just talking about passion, he’s acting it out . . . and no woman worth her salt could resist.

Loving a Hurricane sample

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