Billy Joel – Falling of the Rain
The intent of this post is not necessarily to write anything that my regular blog readers wanted to read, but for any fans of Billy Joel who find this page searching for the meaning of the song “Falling of the Rain,” a song that has enchanted me with its piano playing and long confused me with its lyrics.
Even though the internet is normally a vast repository of all sorts of useless information, what the internet lacks is a correct explanation of the meaning of this song. For example, this guy writes about the song, but he has no clue as to its true meaning.
Also, here is a very interesting video of Billy Joel quite recently playing part of the song in front of a live audience and treating it like it’s some horrible song that someone else wrote. The song represents a part of his life when he was practically still a kid that he wishes never happened.
And if you want to hear something really horrible, this is what the song sounded like on the original LP which was pressed at the wrong speed and made Billy Joel sound like a chipmunk. Another reason why Billy Joel hates that album and all of the songs on it.
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“Falling of the Rain,” in the middle of Billy Joel’s Cold Spring Harbor album, was a mystery to me for a long time. All of the other songs on the album are about being in love, the pain of unrequited love, the even greater pain of being dumped by the person you love, suicidal thoughts after being dumped, and finally coming to grips with a horribly broken heart and getting back to life.
But in the middle of all this is a song which presents itself as fairy tale, on the surface having nothing to do with the rest of the album, yet the melody accompanying the lyrics seems to imply the same tragedy and loss that the rest of the album speaks to more directly.
The song his hard to understand because (1) the lyrics are not in chronological order; and (2) most of the song is a metaphor. The song begins:
Once upon a time, in the land of misty satin dreams
There stood a house and a man who painted nature scenes.
He painted trees and fields and animals and streams.
And he stayed and he didn’t hear the falling of the rain,
No, he didn’t hear the falling of the rain.
The first line suggests that the song is a fairy tale.
The second line introduces us to a man who’s a painter. The painter, a visual artist, is a stand-in for Billy Joel who is a musical artist.
Just as the artist paints nature, Billy Joel sings about the world. But in both cases, there’s an important aspect of the world that is not being fully experienced, and that is metaphorically referred to as “the rain.” The rain is a metaphor for romantic love, the true meaning of life.
Why is romantic love compared to rain, a thing which most people find unpleasant and a reason to stay indoors in order to avoid it? Rain is water falling from the sky. Water is a source of life. Without rain, there would be no trees, fields, animals or streams to paint. All would be a barren desert. And rain is something which just, all of a sudden, comes falling out of the sky, a gift from the heavens which you have no control over. Billy Joel, who recently experienced the feeling of being in love for the first time, must have felt that love was like that; the source of everything important, and something he had no control over.
As we will see from examining the rest of the song, there are multiple levels of experiencing “the rain.” In the first verse, Joel is able to see the rain but he doesn’t hear it.
Now for the second verse:
In the forest green lived a girl who put her hair in braids
And she sang as she walked all about the wooded glades.
She was glad when the rain came falling on her face.
And she sang, ’cause she did not mind the falling of the rain,
No, she didn’t mind the falling of the rain.
Although second, I believe that chronologically this happens shortly before the first stanza. The girl represents the first and only girl that Billy Joel ever felt true romantic love for. In real life that would be Elizabeth Weber, the wife of his bandmate. They had an affair which meant a lot more to Billy Joel than it did to Elizabeth. After she left him (as well as her husband), he tried to commit suicide. His suicidal thoughts are what the song “Tomorrow is Today,” later in the album, is about.
While the artist lives in a house somewhat removed from nature, the girls lives within the forest, fully experiencing life in a way that the artist is unable to. And she fully experiences “the rain” with all of her senses.
This impression that, for pretty women, life is easy, fun and carefree, while life is hard and difficult for emotionally sensitive men like Billy Joel, is also the main theme of the song “Everybody Loves You Now” earlier in the album.
I say that chronologically this verse takes place before the first verse because the girl has opened Billy Joel’s eyes to seeing “the rain”. He has completely fallen in love with her, the first time in his life he has experienced the feeling of love, but she doesn’t return the love, it’s just a minor fling for her, having some quick fun cheating on her husband. Thus he can see “the rain” but cannot experience it fully with all of his senses because she will not give him an exclusive totally committed relationship in which she returns the love he feels for her.
Will it always be the same as we recall?
Does it touch you when the rain begins to fall?
Ah, but I don’t want to know and I don’t want to see
Another rainy day without you lying next to me.
Above is the song’s chorus, which leaves the fairy tale and takes place in an imaginary future of the real world where rain is just rain, and Billy Joel is in a long-term relationship, presumably married, to a woman he’s in love with. In this imaginary future, a day of bad weather is a reason to be happy and contented that he’s able to spend it with the woman he loves who loves him back. Remember that Billy Joel is imagining the kind of relationship he wishes he could have, but he has never experienced in reality. He can only write about it in a song.
High upon a hill, far away from all the dusty crowd
Is a boy with his eyes on the ground, his head is bowed.
He’s a fool, and his mind is filled with hopeless dreams.
And he waits, but he will not see the falling of the rain,
No, he will not see the falling of the rain.
The above verse takes place chronologically at the beginning of the story. Before Billy Joel met the girl who he fell in love with, and before he’s an artist, he’s just a boy who’s a loner and shy around women, with dreams about being successful in the future, and dreams about girls which all heterosexual boys experience, but he has not yet experienced the feeling of being in love, thus he doesn’t even see “the rain.” Looking back, now knowing that love is the most important thing in the world (or so it seems to someone experiencing it for the first time), his past self seems like a fool for not understanding that.
So now the boy becomes the man who sits and paints all day,
But the girl with the braids in her hair has gone away.
And it seems that time has brought things to an end.
Nothing’s changed, ’cause you can’t stop the falling of the rain, No,
you can’t stop the falling of the rain.
And finally, the depressing ending to the song. This verse reveals that the boy and the artist are the same person. And the girl has left him; he is to be forever alone and sad, wiser than the boy but much less happy. “Time has brought things to an end. Nothing’s changed” echoes the themes from his suicidal song “Tomorrow is Today” in which life seems pointless, with no future and no past, just never-ending depression.