It’s early morning. A man is stealing out of the house, leaving a woman sleeping.
He’s dressed in railroad boots and a leather jacket. That’s all he needs.
Feeling his way in the dark, he passes some broken wind chimes.
Outside, he takes a scarf off the clothes line.
He curses the rain. The goddamn rain.
That’s it. That’s Ruby’s Arms.
Half a dozen details that break your heart. The woman’s heart is already broken.
It’s Tom Waits’ song, but it’s sung here by Patti Griffin. Beautifully. I know: this is always subjective, but it’s my favourite version. Not least because Patti utterly swerves the convention that a story told from a male point of view should be sung by a man.
It doesn’t matter a good goddamn. I dunno why. I’m not even going to offer a theory. I don’t want to break the spell. If anyone in the hive mind can explain, please leave a comment.
I do think I know where and how and why this song breaks hearts. Put it down to the details, but there's also that vocal leap again, cursing the goddamn rain.
That’s the whole story. Right there.
Updated: Jan 16
Strange synchronicity. I came home last night to the news that Jeff Beck had died. Shockingly sudden. The news was accompanied by a short clip, without a lot of biography, of the great man playing Over the Rainbow.
An obvious choice, given the primetime news audience. They could have run Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers; or Behind the Veil; or Beck’s Bolero; or even Guitar Shop (Well, maybe not that one, though it would have been fun).
It’s tragic that we lost him, but this isn’t really about Beck. That very evening, you see, my band had been running through Over the Rainbow, so it was fixed in my head when it popped up on the news.
Not only had we attempted it, but we’d had the conversation we always have, about how to start the song. And while I don’t want to disparage Eva Cassidy’s memory - because her acoustic version is beautiful and delightful and different - I stick to my guns every time and demand that it starts with that joyous vocal leap. Some and Where, a whole octave apart.
Which of course is how Judy Garland sang it, her whole life long.
So what, you may say, and you’d be right. It’s one of the great songs, and that’s probably why it’s open to so much successful variation. The Eva Cassidy version. The Israel Kamakawiwo’ole version. The Eric Clapton version. The endless American Idol versions. The Ariana Grande version. And the Jeff Beck version, which starts with the leap, natch.
Take your pick. They’re all lovely, because the song is lovely. But just this once I’m going to be uncharacteristically fixed, and stick to the way Judy sang it.
Because, IMHO, that first octave takes you right over the rainbow, above the chimney tops, with the clouds far behind. And we all need a bit of that, right?
RIP Jeff Beck.
(Please treat this as a beta blog post. I’m experimenting, to see if this is a good thing to do. Should I carry on? Your comments will be welcome, either on the blog or in the Facebook hive mind. I’ll worry about Twitter another day.)
PS: I've just noticed. If you stick with the Judy Garland clip to the end, you may notice that there ain't no octave leap at the start of the last verse. Which sets her up gloriously for the end of the song. You learn something new every day...