I heard “I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations at the cafeteria at work today. It is a truly spectacular song. If you have three minutes, I can think of no better way to spend it. When it was playing, I couldn’t help but think how well everything works. The performance and the arrangement and the lyrics are perfectly in sync. And, naturally, the song was stuck in my head the rest of the day.
It’s an unusual song for popular music in that it is so very sad. It’s about a man whose woman left, but there’s no, “I’m gonna get you back,” or, “I’ll find another girl.” It’s just bleak. He can’t stop crying and can’t leave the house. I think that’s part of the magic of the song. Most won’t go that far, but this is as cathartic as pop songs get. I get the same feeling listening to it as I get from Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem.
As I’m apt to do, I looked up the song and confirmed that it’s a Whitfield/Strong composition. But I learned that the lyrics were written by Roger Penzabene. It turns out, according to various blogs and Wikipedia, that the song is autobiographical. His wife was cheating and left. He wrote the lyrics, but didn’t get any catharsis. He killed himself a week after the song was released.
This new information left me feeling strange, but I can’t quite explain why. It doesn’t change the quality of the song, but it does add kind of a real sadness to it. Artistic sadness is one thing, but this is real despair. I listened to the song again when I got home. The catharsis was still there for me, but it was accompanied by some real sadness. It’s just strange, and seems wrong, that I get something from the song that its author could not.