Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dark Sunrise: An Interpretation of 'Let Her Cry' (Hootie and the Blowfish, 1994)

"Let Her Cry" Single CD Sleeve

April 7, 2014

I have always been a music lover.  I admire those who can express themselves in musical prose and create a shared experience of those emotions with an audience.  There are songs that bring a sense of elation when we hear them.  Some songs evoke a burning desire.  Some songs make us smile.  Some dig so deeply into our soul that the lyrics and melody play in our mind repeatedly - creating a landscape of emotion for us to explore with the lyricist and any others in the crowd sharing the emotions.  Note that as we traverse this landscape we do not go alone!  This is the point of the shared experience created by the author.  This also brings about a bond shared through the author, singer and audience.  

The other day I heard just such a song, although when the song premiered in 1994 I gave it very little attention...

Funny, that a song heard long ago meant nothing more than a good 'slow-dance' song in a club can mean a great deal more years later, yes?

Hmmmm... well, maybe not...

Time, life, people and places bring about a great many changes in one's outlook on life.  Some changes are  good - circumstances that make us laugh out loud, dance for no reason.... you get the picture.  Some experiences, as anyone over age ten knows, tear us to our very core - rip our reality out from under us - break us... any one of us could go on ad nauseum about the pain negative experiences and loss have caused us.  

The song I speak of was, as the title suggests, "Let Her Cry" by Hootie and the Blowfish.  The song was playing softly in the background while I worked.  I barely heard the introduction.  A few seconds into it and the song was playing full volume while I leaned back, staring into space.  The lyrics combined with Darius Rucker's soulful, agonized voice throughout the song and I got that invisible-but-cold, heavy, tear-jerking weight press down on my heart.  Many people shove these feelings aside or push them down; I prefer to experience everything to its fullest.  I sat back and let the emotions wash over me.  It was overwhelming, of course, as deep, life-changing, speak-to-me, can-I-get-an-amen emotions tend to be.  I quickly pulled the song up on YouTube and listened again, repeating the song several times until it found residency in my subconscious - where, for the time being, it plays over and over now.  You know the feeling, yes?

Finally, I resolved to write a small literary interpretation and research piece on the lyrics in the hopes that the paper would act as a divining rod; gently nudging me to a deeper understanding of myself... 

"Let Her Cry"  - Hootie and the Blowfish: Dark Sunrise

It must be noted that the song is a well crafted piece of pop literature, in that it employs a concept rarely used in prose songwriting and is, then, barely recognized by its audience.  The technique, reverse chronology  takes the audience through a reversed order of events.  This is indicated in the tense of each verse.  In verse   
one, we have no viable time frame - an indicator of present time, or 'now'.  Verse two starts with the time placement "This morning..." implying a time some time earlier in the present day, while verse three begins with the time statement "Last night...", giving the audience a timeline of events in reverse.  This difficult strategy is very powerful, as it first brings the audience the lack of resolution then follows with the tragic backstory of how the author arrived at this moment in his life.

Many have attributed drug or alcohol addiction to the song, and while I can see the weight behind the argument, I don't ascribe  to their theory.  A song reflecting a hopelessness so vast as to suggest leaving a loved one to cry - to cause the author to feel such depression, hopelessness and self loathing, must, of necessity, reflect a deeper meaning.

The opening verse, then, gives the listener the present-day vision or resolution, the bridge gives a picture of events leading to the outcome and the last verse shows us how the situation began.  This significant block of time, in which the author's epiphany of the situation he finds himself is quite small; approximately twenty four hours.  One full day that reveals to the author, (and then to us),  the kind of agony accumulated over vast quantities of time.  This small time period opens our eyes to the kind of painful heartache that could well take a lifetime to heal.  This brilliant piece of writing shows us the briefest of glimpses into the very center of the heart, where unrequited love, and the rejection that accompanies it, is revealed not in small portions, but as the complete meal.  It is then a strong statement on the human condition of being unable to "see the forest for the trees".

In the interest of continuity, this paper will begin with verse three and move forward.  

The author shows us a bleak, toxic, dysfunctional relationship that he is helpless to escape.  We are given very little information on the longevity of the relationship.  We know that the author is very much in love with her, that they live together, ('This morning I woke up alone... V. 2, L. 1), and that her tears affect him at a level which could be described as spiritual.  We see this in the repetition of the chorus and its first line.  The author repeats the chorus more than the generally accepted number of times, perhaps indicating something he's been repeatedly telling himself, perhaps in a failing attempt to find the strength to walk away from what may be the love of his life:

Let her cry if the tears fall down like rain.Let her sing if it eases all her pain.Let her go; let her walk right out on me.And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be. (Chorus)

We are brought into this small block of the author's life on the day after his first attempt to leave his girlfriend, ('Last night I tried to leave...' V:3 L:1).  It is plain that, when he tried to leave, she surprised him with tears.  The strong feelings of attachment clearly shocked the author, who may not have seen this level of emotion for some time, ('[She] cried so much I could not believe she was the same girl I fell in love with long ago... V3, L2-3).  While we are not privileged to the conversation, if any, that followed.  It is clear that he didn't leave, and that following the discussion she reverted back to the cold, emotionless person he'd come to dread - while perhaps simultaneously realizing that she was the one, the revelation that she may never change, and that the accompanying heartache could well last until he can let go finally overwhelms him until finally he cries out for the strength to let go:
          She went in the back to get high,
          I sat down on my couch and cried:
          'Oh mama - will you hold my hand,
          and just..."


                (V3, L4-7)

The second verse sets an equally bleak scene.  The author is surprised by her absence when he wakes up the morning after her tears dissuade him from leaving the relationship.  Not only does he wake up alone, we can only speculate that there was a facsimile of reconciliation and perhaps things looked hopeful only hours before.  He greets the day in unwelcomed solitude; greeted only by a note by the telephone:

This morning I woke up alone; Found a note standin' by the phone
          Saying maybe, maybe I'll be back some day  (V2, L1-3)

 Alone with his imagination, the author's angst and heartache festers and grows.  Panic quickly sets in as he wrestles with the decision of whether to go and look for her.  The 'where' and certainly the 'why' questions must certainly be taking a toll as he paces the same pattern any of us would, (and perhaps have), in the situation.  Still he holds on to one word: maybe.  It is true that the human condition adapts well to nearly any living condition; with one exception: letting go.  We, as a species, tend to have to work at separation... many times twice as hard as we do on any relationship.  We are consumers used to plastic bags at our favorite grocery store; bags meant for disposal or recycling, and yet how many of us have a cabinet designated for storage of these bags?  It is so difficult for the author to sit, and yet he clings, as so many of us have, to the word maybe.  Holding on to the word as a talisman, (derived from the repeat of the word), he is convinced, perhaps, that she will come back. Possibly the rejection he might face is too much to bear in light of the revelation hours ago that he does indeed love her.  

 As we read, (or listen), on, we see that in his desperation he says: "I wanted to look for you" (V2, L4).  It is obvious that he either forces himself to gather what dignity the unrequited love has left him with and refrain from looking for her, or he simply doesn't have time, as she walks through the door an undisclosed time later:

                                                 You walked in
                                                 I didn't know just what I should do.
                                                 (V2, L5-6) 

Like most people in pain, he is completely disillusioned by the turn of events, her lack of reaction to his agony and the apparent distance she has been able to effortlessly put between them.  He is devastated by the situation and, it seems, is out of answers.  He has given.  He has forgiven.  He has allowed himself to become drowned in a relationship defined by his inability to 'let her go' (chorus).  He responds, as many of us would:
                    So I sat back down and had a beer, and felt sorry for myself, saying...
(V2, L7)

The reverse-chronological order affords us a unique look into the author's toxic relationship.  We're introduced to the depth of love and devotion the author has for this woman and her lack of anything but superficial emotional connection to him.  He brings us into this portion of his life with a glimpse of the pain as he has, it appears, found her after some searching the very same evening - approximately twenty four hours after he tried to leave, sitting under a street lamp, ('She sits alone by a lamp post...' V1, L1).  Her mental condition is compromised by too much alcohol, as she is "Trying to find a thought that has escaped her mind." (V1, L2) 

As he walks up, happy that he's found her,  hoping to be greeted in a loving and affectionate manner she greets him indifferently and intoxicated.

                                   She says; 'Dad's the one I love the most,                                                                    But Stipe's not far behind. (V1, L4-6)

According to Darius Rucker (author and performer), 'Stipe' refers John Michael Stipe, lead singer for the alternative rock group R.E.M.  He has agreed, largely due to her tears, to stay with her even though she obviously makes him feel unloved and used... he comes to pick her up after a night of drinking... we can safely assume he is smiling when he finds her and is ready to greet her with happiness and open arms.  She greets him by telling him who she loves most and second-most - neither of which is him.

We see in this picture that Mr. Rucker has painted for us that for some time now the author has been contending with a woman who doesn't return the love he feels and doesn't feel remorse for the pain she's causing him by blatantly ignoring his professions of love.  This would be sad enough, but the author is treated to another excruciating conversation.  He notes that 'She never lets me in..." (V1, L7), indicating that she doesn't share emotional response with him anymore.  He is obviously not the one she confides in any longer.  She has cut him off unless, as stated in verse three, he attempts to leave.  The exception seems to be on the night in question, under the lamp post, she has had too much alcohol (as indicated in the line "Tryin' to find a thought that just left her mind" (V1, L3):

                                      Only tells me where she's been
                                                When she's had too much to drink. (V1, L8-9)

So then, on this night, barely twenty four hours after he tried to leave, she 'told him where she'd been'... obviously somewhere that she normally kept from him. We are left to imagine where this might have been.  Could she have been at another lover's home?  Most likely and sadly, the indication is yes.  In her drunken state she spills the truth and it lands all over the author.  I don't think anyone, most especially the 'girlfriend', would trade places with Darius here.  He shows a remarkable strength and ability to both handle what she says and to nurture this woman who, he believes, is his One True Love. His response is to simply tell himself, (and her), that he doesn't care.  He strokes her hair and prays to God to give him the unbelievable strength it will take to leave her:

I say that I don't care,  I just run my hands through her dark hair
Then I pray to God : 'You gotta help me fly away, and just... [Chorus]  (V1. :L11-12)

The love he feels for her is so strong that the author would go out in the middle of the night to pick her up without question.  His pain is so strong that he is compelled to pray for the strength to endure his life without her. 

Another look at the chorus tells us what he needs to do - and that he is aware of the necessity of his leaving.  First, he must not allow her tears to keep him in this relationship.  Second, he must not interfere with her healing process, (she is not an animal - some small part of her will need to heal.  If singing does this, 'let her sing...'  it is imperative that once he leaves he doesn't intrude into her life again.  If she will not change, and it becomes necessary for separation, then he must not change his mind; he must 'let her go...' - let her walk out.  Finally, if the world doesn't end, ('if the sun comes up tomorrow...[Chorus]), that is, no matter what, leave her alone: no texts... no Skype... no Phone Calls... no Facebook stalking.  A tall order, but a necessary one.  As with the fifth and final stage of grief, acceptance becomes the main goal for the sufferer.  

 Let her cry, if the tears fall like rain.
 Let her sing, if it eases all her pain.
 Let her go, let her walk right out on me.
 And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be... let her be. (Chorus)

 We are never afforded the knowledge of the final outcome.  We know that she asked him to stay with her the first time he tried to leave.  We know that he did, at least for that day.  We know that Darius Rucker was married in 2001 - the song debuted in 1994... even in this small duo of facts we are taught by our author, to wit:

He got over it... 

He survived the pain...
He found a way to leave and to move on...

His wife of over ten years is not the woman portrayed in the song. (Interview, The Late Show with David Letterman, 1994).  We are given hope that even heartache this devastating can be endured, if not cured.

 The song reaches out to the audience and creates a shared emotional experience.  Both singer and listener walk together through the weary, painful and insecure twenty four hours defining pain, heartbreak and desperation.  We fully identify with the author, who finds himself, as many of us have, 'hearing' the brain, but 'listening' to the heart.  Through it all, the artist has the answer which will both set him free and bind him with the shackles of inconceivable pain.  Our own experiences allow us to identify.  Our shared experiences provide wisdom and strength.

"Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but
 this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them."

- Leo Tolstoy

R. Henson