Saturday, August 27, 2011


Not that I buy into the panic mentality or anything -- but just in case Irene wipes New York City off the face of the earth  -- or at least in case internet service goes out for the next few days -- here's a couple of old posts revisited, of my favorite hurricane songs. . . 
"Feels Like Rain" / John Hiatt

Want a song to win your true love? You can't go wrong with John Hiatt. And in the end, I always go for "Feels Like Rain," from his 1986 album Slow Turning.  One of the most emotive love songs ever written, it's been covered by loads of other artists -- and it deserves to be -- but I don't think anybody does it better than John himself.

That leisurely tempo takes its own sweet time to get going, with Sonny Landreth laying down light-fingered electric guitar licks while John tinkers around on the electric piano. The texture of this song feels just like the sort of gentle nighttime rain that sweeps in to wash away all the grit and hurt of the day -- if rainfall sound-effects had been layered in, it couldn't sound any more atmospheric. And over it all John's vocals work some serious R&B voodoo, crooning and howling and whispering and coaxing, so gruff and yet so tender.

The first verse starts out lazy and carnal: "Down here the river meets the sea / And in the sticky heat I feel you / Open up to me." (I'm fanning myself already, aren't you?) It's all about the mood, and the moment, and that rising barometric pressure; the chords shift upward too, with growing urgency, as John warns: "Love comes out of nowhere, baby / Just like a hurricane." Then, like a dying gust of wind, his voice drops downward, caressing the refrain: "And it feels like rain / And it feels like rain."

And get this line: ""Underneath the stars, lying next to you / Wonderin' who you are, baby / How do you do?"  This isn't just a guy banging some chick whose name he can't remember; this is a moment mid-passion when he's suddenly rocked by the deep unknowableness between two human beings. They're so close physically, it's a shock to realize that she's still her own separate person.. He may have been married to her for ten years, but at this instant she's a stranger, and he hungers to get close to her all over again.  It's no coincidence that Marshall Crenshaw and Ben Folds have both described this curious phenomenon as well -- I think of Hiatt, Crenshaw, and Folds as the triumvirate of Married Love Experts.   

This rain that's rolling in?  It isn't just rain, of course; it's a metaphor of passion, folks, and I could tell that even if I didn't know Hiatt would later write a song, "Loving a Hurricane."  And in this case, it's heat-wave-breaking, drought-ending rain, the kind of meteorological event that makes folks change their plans. "We'll never make that bridge tonight / Across Lake Pontchartrain," John decides, without a trace of regret; "Batten down the hatches . . . A little bit of stormy weather / That's no cause for us to leave . . ." No indeed, I'm staying right here, all cozy and relaxed and oh yes.

"Lost and Found" / The Kinks

Sure, I knew there was a hurricane on its way on September 27, 1985. The weather forecasts had been calling Hurricane Gloria the "storm of the century" all week. In the end, however, it bypassed Manhattan; a few lashing squalls of rain (enough to send me home from work, in the worst of it!), and then the sky turned blue and calm.  Free day off from work!  Sweee-ee-eet!

I had no idea at the time that Ray Davies was living through the same storm that day, a mere seven blocks south of me. And because I had fallen off the Kinks bandwagon -- driven away by the arena-rock years -- I didn't hear the Kinks' 1986 album Think Visual, where Ray Davies sings, in the opening lines of "Lost and Found": "Waiting for the hurricane / To hit New York City. . . . " But eventually I found my way back into the Kinks fold, and when I finally discovered this album -- and this song -- I felt a shiver of recognition.

"Lost and Found" makes a frequent appearance on my floating list of Top Ten Kinks Songs (how hard it is to choose just ten); I think of it as the companion song to "Stormy Sky," not just because of the storm but because of its sexy syncopation, the tenderness of Ray's vocals, and the central image of lovers finding shelter in each others' arms. It ain't often you find a Ray Davies song about two people simply happy to be together; grab 'em wherever you can.

Of course the storm is a metaphor -- of course! -- for all the crises life is bound to bring.But Ray works the metaphor beautifully here -- "Somebody said it's hit the bay . . . We're near the eye of the storm . . . They're putting up the barricades . . . " It's the anticipation that gets you, battening the hatches and all that, as he sees from afar "the hurricane crossing the coast line."

It wouldn't be a Ray Davies song if he didn't also throw in some quirky details, like "And all the bag ladies / Better put their acts together" and "the old sea dog says shiver me timbers / The sky's gone black / And it's like the dead of winter."  I love those lines, and the whimsical way Ray sings them -- as if this love makes him so secure, he can even see absurdity in the face of disaster.

My favorite bit is the bridge: "This thing is bigger than the both of us / It's gonna put us in our place." It's a brilliant, dual-edged line -- on one hand, the storm is bigger than they are, but it's also their love that is bigger, like the old movie cliche (think Humphrey Bogart -- "This thing is bigger than the two of us, baby.") They're overwhelmed by love, amazed that they can give up being separate and start being a couple.

In "Stormy Sky" the "lost" part of the equation was still stronger; now it's the "found" that matters. He still seems astounded by it happening -- "in the nick of time," he marvels. "We were lost and found, just in time / Now we've got no time to waste." Or, as he realizes in a later version of the chorus: " We came through the storm / Now it all seems clear / We were lost and found, standing here / Looking at the new frontier." It's not just a clear sky he's seeing there; it's the possibility of where his life could go, now that he's got her.

This isn't the way a teenager sees life; this is how you see it when you're middle-aged and have been through your share of painful affairs. When you've given up hope that it's ever gonna happen for you, that you won't get your Hollywood ending. And then joy surprises you, just like that -- "in the nick of time." Bravo, Ray.


The Modesto Kid said...

Whoa, "Lost and Found" is far out, and previously unknown to me. Thanks.

(I put together a fairly indiscriminate playlist of songs my FB friends have suggested for the occasion, at YouTube -- One of my favorite new listens on this list is The Philadelphia Jug Band (and many guests) playing "Wasn't that a mighty storm" -- references to Galveston are made particularly relevant today by Ron Paul's dumbfuck suggestion that it should be a model for response to Hurricane Irene.

The Modesto Kid said...

and many guests

(including sometimes light of my life Maria Muldaur)

The Modesto Kid said...

So my band Mountain Station tried covering The Kinks this afternoon. See what you think...

Anonymous said...

Take care, Holly. MrL

Anonymous said...

Hi Holly, the Youtube clip with Gene Kelly in the climactic part of "Stormy Sky."

Nice piece on Irene...this coupled with Tuesday's "earthquake" shows Nanny State in full blossom.

I thought of underrated CCR, "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?," and the steadfast comfort of folkie Glenn Yarborough's "Baby, The Rain Must Fall."

Yeah, baby the wind must blow.


scottmandu said...

How true and mature (and yet intellectually solid) your analyses of these songs. As a upper-middle ager still hoping for and believing in that good good love, I am huge fans of these songs. Also recently discovered and learned John Lennon's "Grow Old With Me", a bit of a twist from the guy who co-wrote "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and found a baseline of passion with "I Want You (She's So Heavy)".
Thanks, Holly for the "bonus tracks". I hope you were able to keep your feet dry.

scottmandu said...

Oh well I got off topic there didn't I (?) Still one of my favorite storm songs is on Randy Newman's "Good Old Boys". "Louisiana 1927" has been covered a slew of times as well, but Randy has that DRY narrative in his version: " President Coolidge come down in a railroad train/ With a little fat man with a notepad in his hand".
Can't you just see them (in black and white?)