CSN’s ‘Cold Rain’: Infinite Loneliness

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As we constantly stare at glowing screens right from the time we rub open our bleary eyes until we slip into fidgety, if not insomniacal REM-sleep cycles, we’re also doing ourselves a disservice, apart from the nocturnal overdrive we push ourselves into. Little do we realize that at the heart of all the connectedness and incessant visuals that ping us a la ant-sized electric shocks, we’re all pretty much getting lonely. Doesn’t feel like it? Switch off your device data, unplug your broadband routers, and for added effect, do this when it’s pouring incessantly outside. To quote Pink Floyd’s Summer ’68, How do you feel?

A throwback to the industrialized era, when workers shuffled wearily into claustrophobic floors, completed their shifts, and dragged themselves, cold-boned and depredated back to whatever and wherever they called home, and you know a phenomenon haunted the social system back then too. That phenomenon is called loneliness, and it’s a multi-zone, multi-centuried hermaphrodite, wrapping itself around layers of society, splintering into broken dreams and hopelessness through the prism of everyday struggle. And in their fifth and arguably seminal album, CSN, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash (CSN) addressed this haunter in a powerfully moving song.

Written by Nash, Cold Rain is little over 2 minutes, and yet compresses a black hole of sadness and weariness that’s simply unforgettable. Nash, who also headlines the vocals, begins the number with a piano that tinkles as distinctively as the pitter of a lonesome raindrop’s patter. The notes are heartbreaking, played oh so beautifully by Nash, even as he gets in his vocals, harmonized with halting feeling by Crosby and Stills:

Cold rain down on my face

Buses hurry on

Work’s out, here comes the race

People heading home

Here’s where Nash steeps the story in desperate sadness, the story-teller reaching out to someone, anyone on the street, wanting to have a conversation, now without his harmonic friends. Is the narrator looking for a friend who’s not there?  And as the tune progresses and rises, the string section backs up the piano with a pain that’s almost velvety in its trepidation:

Wait a second, don’t I know you?

Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?

You seem to be like someone I knew

Yes, he lived here but he left

When he thought that there was more

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And then, back to the opening tune, but the nowhere to go is simply heart-wrenching, and Nash follows it up with dreams that are no longer multihued in hope and beauty, but painted ugly with a scarring chemical:

Than cold rain and nowhere to go

Many people share

Sad dreams and hopes that are stained

By the sulphur in the air 

Now, Nash comes in for the final round, and you wonder what he’s doing and who he’s speaking to this time around; note that beautiful vocal mordent he so smoothly accomplishes for the line You seem to be like someone I knew:

Don’t I know you?

Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?

You seem to be like someone I knew

He lived here but he left

When he thought that there was more 

And then you realize that Nash’s directed the song to the worker who’s painted the landscape for you, that the worker’s talking about himself, and his biting loneliness in the windy, wet weather; this time, the string section (arranged by Mr. Prolificus, Nash, and Mike Lewis) wrapping a cloud of haunting pain around the lyrics, even as the song ends with a painful, sinking feeling:

Than cold rain out on the streets

I am all alone

With cold rain down on my face

I am heading home

With Cold Rain, CSN compose and conjure up what would seem mission impossible for a lot of musicians, even as they encompass the industrial and the IT revolution in a minimalistic shot – infinite loneliness that’s as endless as it is viscerally melodic.