“The unwelcome November rain had perversely stolen the day’s last hour and pawned it with that ancient fence, the night.
-F. Scott Fitzgerlad-
This Side of Paradise
Knowing What to Blame and Why?
Water is life; water is livelihood. Spend some time on a farm and you will begin to truly appreciate this idea. My days of working on a farm are long past, but there are a few lessons that I still carry with me from that time. One of those lessons is the importance of rain.
There are a few distinct memories I have from the time spent my grandparents’ cattle farm regarding rain. I remember watching my grandfather checking the water gauge every morning after breakfast, even when it didn’t rain. I learned that even a good morning dew could be a welcomed reprieve of sorts. I overheard conversations between my grandfather and other farmers about there not being enough rain and there being too many bills. I sat at the dinner table and listened to my grandparents talk about having water trucked in order to keep the cattle properly watered. There were times when my grandfather and I would walk alongside dried creek beds and I would hear him cursing under his breath. Rain was an essential element necessary to the success of his farm, and rain was one of the few things he could not control.
I knew at a young age that rain was important to success on the farm, but it wasn’t until years later that I truly understood the weight of not being in control of something that is crucial to success. In my younger years I would often lay the blame for missed opportunities and failures on forces beyond my control. It was easier to blame fate, luck, or God for failing than admitting I didn’t plan enough or work hard enough to achieve my goals, and I wasn’t alone. I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations but I’ve seen and heard many people over the years (past and present) do the same. It’s all too easy to blame our misfortunes on a lack of rain (I mean rain in a figurative sense here). But there came a time in my life when I got to thinking about my grandparents and their farm. There were years when there wasn’t enough rain, and my grandfather’s quite cursing may have included some comments about fate, luck, or God. But he never gave up. He may not have been able to control rain, but he and my grandmother continued to work and manage a successful cattle farm until they decided to retire. That’s when I realized that I was in control of much more than I thought I was, and if something really is beyond my control then I need to find a way to persevere.
I don’t worry about rain the way my grandparents did, but those memories of dry creek beds and grandpa checking the rain gauge taught me something I carried beyond the farm. It’s important to recognize what we can and can’t control in life and to be careful about misplacing blame.
Let’s Talk About Joe Cocker and Metaphors
One of my favorite scenes from Saturday Night Live is John Belushi’s impression of Joe Cocker. My Pops had a bunch of Joe Cocker albums, but I didn’t start listening to them until I saw Cocker and Belushi sing “Feelin’ Alright” on SNL (check it out on the YouTube if you want to see a couple great artists at work). I Can Stand a Little Rain is my favorite Joe Cocker album and the song of the same name is makes for an interesting study of metaphor.
“I Can Stand a Little Rain” isn’t unique in its use of metaphor; more songs incorporate metaphor than don’t. What I find interesting about this song is the turn half way through. Rain serves as a metaphor for the many hardships life forces upon us, but there is a shift in the third verse of the song. It is here that the song moves away from the pains of life and toward the possibility of a happy ending. Joe Cocker’s sorrowful voice takes us from pain to hope in four verses that span of three and half minutes.
The first verse establishes the metaphor. We get Cocker’s sorrowful repetition of, “I can stand a little rain,” three times followed by a line about pain. The imagery of water coming up through the floorboards, the rising water, portrays impending doom. The verse ends with a desire for some rest from all this rain, which serves as a metaphor for pain and hardship. The second verse continues the metaphor. It is a testament to how much pain we can stand and for how long we can stand it. This verse reinforces the idea that this is all just part of life. It is here, at this low point, that the song takes a turn.
The third verse moves away from a focus on the rain as a metaphor for the pains and hardships of life and toward a desire for love. At first listen it sounds as if it is a plea for love, anything to get away from the pain. But as the verse progresses we realize that the singer is willing to take any “test” that life may present regarding love. This willingness to take any “test” is carried into the fourth, and final, verse of the song. The singer has weathered the rain and the hardships of life and knows that any test of love will be easy in comparison. This is shown not only in the lyrics but also in the change in Cocker’s voice and chorus. We see that the singer will “make it” in the end.
When I first saw Joe Cocker perform with John Belushi all those years ago I knew these were two artists I would follow. Joe Cocker’s voice and his passion make any song he sings uniquely his. “I Can Stand a Little Rain” is more than an example of Joe Cocker at his best. It is a song that shows us that if we dig deep down we can endure the pains and hardships of life, and in so doing we are better prepared when the rain breaks and the sun comes out.
I Can Stand a Little Rain (1974) by Joe Cocker. Produced by Jim Price.
“It was a rainy night. It was the myth of a rainy night.”
On the Road
Sunday view from apartment.
Toward the train station.
Some Memories Don’t Need Photos
Picture (no pun intended) a scene from circa 1990. I carried an Olympus Stylus at the time (I still shoot it when I get sentimental) and usually one or two rolls of 24 exposure ISO 200 film. I wasn’t as serious about photography then as I am now, but I always had my camera at the ready.
So I was armed with my trusty Stylus and three rolls of 24 exposure when my buddies Brad, Chris, and I went to NIU’s homecoming. I have some great memories of pre-game festivities, the game itself (we sat in the visitors’ section for giggles), and of a post-game get together. A few drinks and good times were had by all. I burnt through all three rolls of film that day. I shot a couple of keepers but most of them ended up in a shoebox. But what would have been the best shot of the trip occurred on the drive home.
It was about three in the morning when we drove past a house that had been TPed. This was (and still is) the finest job of toilet papering I’ve ever seen. It was a grand undertaking in both scale and style (we’re talking house, hedges, lawn ornaments, and every tree in the front yard were covered). The breeze was just strong enough to blow some of the toilet paper hanging from a tree into the road. Brad slowed down to about five miles an hour drive through it. Chis and I leaned out the passenger windows and were actually able to touch the Charmin softness. Of course I didn’t have any film left to shoot it so I didn’t even bother reaching for my camera.
For a while after that night I regretting not being able to take a shot of that scene, but ultimately it taught me two lessons. One is that no matter how well prepared you are you aren’t going to get every shot. The other (and the more important one to me) is that to truly enjoy a moment with friends it may be best to put the camera down.