Friday, September 16, 2011

Story of a Song: Rainy Day Women 12 & 35

Well they'll stone ya when your trying to be so good...

Bob Dylan's so called pot anthem, Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35 was written in a time when the 1960s generation gap was nearing it's widest. The sudden rise of the marijuana culture stirred controversy, confusion and paranoia into the America melting pot and parents and politicians viewed it as some sort of evil epidemic that had a stronghold on American youth... Way more so than it is today.

By the mid '60s, marijuana had only recently become a household word, and it's effects were being widely exaggerated and slanted by the press. When Dylan released Rainy Day Women as a single, it was less than a year after he had shocked the folk music world by "going electric." The faithful in that crowd had already turned against him, admonishing his decision to plug his guitar into an electric amp. Now they had more fuel for their fire, and as hypocritical as it was from many in the fan base, the backlash against marijuana from the press became another means to justify their animosity towards him. Meanwhile on the other side of the fence, rock and roll was flourishing. Dylan released Blonde on Blonde in March, and Rainy Day Women shot up the charts peaking at  number two.

Always a jet setter, Bob Dylan left the folk scene to fizzle behind him as he and his newly acquired electric sound forged ahead. This didn't stop many from the folk music crowd from attending his concerts, however. They came in droves and some actually did stone Dylan on occasion, pelting him with rocks from the crowd while he was on stage.

They'll stone ya while you're ridin' in a car...
About this time the U.S. government had deemed marijuana's notoriety to be a threat to the integrity of our country. The Viet Nam War was gaining fast momentum in 1966 and young people across the nation were stepping out from being under the shadow of authority. If there was ever a time in our history when the American youth were leaning towards rebellion, it was then. Vice president Spiro Agnew realized this, and hit 'em where it hurt the most; by calling on the FCC to stop radio stations from playing what he called "drug music."

Remember that in the '60s personal music wasn't as transportable as it is today. 8 Track tape players were just coming on to the scene, and the portable style wasn't widely available to the mainstream public.  Most people listened to their music on vinyl, and record players weren't necessarily a medium that could be toted around easily. That left the radio airwaves... And Agnew felt that if he could control what the people were listening to, he could limit the influence that such a powerful medium might have on a young society. He provided his list of "drug songs" to the FCC and instructed them to prohibit public radio stations from playing them.

As a result, two very predictable things happened: The American youth revolted, and the national media went haywire with it.

Dylan took such a lashing from the American and the British press for the controversial lyrics in Rainy Day Women that he suddenly became public enemy number one in the eyes of parents across the United States and Europe. Here was this shaggy haired kid singing with a liberal view of society and literally telling their children that "everybody must get stoned."

Parents hated him, the folkies hated him, and the only people who seemed to like him were the rock and rollers.

While the studio version of Rainy Day Women is played with a rousing and playful ensemble, and with Dylan giggling through much of it, in 1966 he defiantly told an angry crowd in London that, "I never have and never will write a drug song. I don't know how to. It's not a drug song, it's just vulgar. I like all my songs. It's just that things change all the time."

So... How did this song really come to be?

Well it could be that Bob Dylan was referring to being physically stoned, as he was from unhappy folk fans during his concerts, or, we can believe what  Howard Sounes’ book, “Down The Highway” tells about the the studio recording. According to Sounes, Dylan, who didn’t like to have too much contact with the musicians on the album, and preferring to keep their focus intact, finally approached the band and told them he “wasn’t going to record the song with a bunch of straight people.” This lead to the prompt consumption of several joints and a strange, green-colored drink from a local bar known as “leprechaun cocktails.” If Sounes's account is indeed true,  Rainy Day Women 12 & 35 was recorded under the influence of marijuana and alcohol.

But, does that mean that the song is actually about marijuana?

Of course we'll never get the straight answer from Dylan. He has fueled speculation on all sides of the issue, and has never given a definite answer to the question. In 1966 at the height of popularity for this new song, Time Magazine said that "Rainy Day Woman" was slang for a joint. Dylan never confirmed this or let on that it wasn't. He even made a claim once that while he was recording the song, two females happened to come into the studio to get out of a heavy rain that was falling. As the story goes, Dylan correctly guessed their ages to be 12 and 35.

This has never been founded as fact, but wouldn't you think that these two girls would have come forth about it? Once again we are only left to guess what his motivation really was...


Is "Rainy Day Woman" really slang for "joint?" Check out Waylon Jennings's original ballad and see what you think. (Substitute the word "joint" for "Rainy Day Woman.")

Oh rainy day woman
I've never seem to see you for the good times or the sunshine
You have been a friend of mine, rainy day woman

That woman of mine she ain't happy
Until she finds something wrong and has someone to blame
If it ain't one thing it's another one on the way

I woke up this morning to the sunshine
It sure as hell looks just like rain
But I know where to go on a cloudy day

Oh rainy day woman
I've never seem to see you for the good times or the sunshine
You have been a friend of mine, rainy day woman

Always the same, never complain
Tho’ the times got be tough
It’s not right for you
What can I do?
I can never think of givin’ you up

Oh rainy day woman
I've never seem to see you for the good times or the sunshine
You have been a friend of mine, rainy day woman


As far as what motivated Dylan to write Rainy Day Women and what it is about, I am guessing that the answer lies on the surface. With many Dylan songs, people spend a lot of time trying to decipher the words and find the hidden meaning within his lyrics. With this particular song I am going to step out on a limb and say that  there are none... What he is implying in this track is exactly what he is saying. Everybody must get stoned.

It was 1966, after all, and there was a lot to be motivated about when it came to stepping out of reality...

Could it be that maybe, just maybe... By not committing to one particular story, and by fueling the fire and agreeing to them all, Bob Dylan is actually stoning us?


Yeah.... Just like they said they would.



Anonymous said...

I think you are on to something here. If you multiply 12 times 35, it equals 420. Bam!


Anonymous said...

Nice. RDW 12/35...a cryptic reminder that we all live in the proverbial glass house, all the while under self-righteous delusions that we don't...that the age-old circle/cycle of passing the buck and the blame can and should be broken -- however you can do it :-) -Terra