Carolina Rain – Ryan Adams – The Art of Storytelling In Music

Carolina Rain - Ryan Adams

The art of storytelling in music is a distinctive form that draws from a rich tradition handed down through the ages. While every song tells a story on some level, a unique experience is offered when an artist successfully weaves a fictional tale into a musical composition. Its meaning is gradually revealed by the imagery, characters and their actions and is also significantly shaped by the music that colors its spaces. Few artists have been able to master this discipline and present it with convincing authenticity and relevance.

Storytelling in rock music has its roots in traditional American folk, blues and country, epitomized by artists like Pete Seeger, Townes Van Zandt, Leadbelly and Johnny Cash, to name a few. The form was best represented in the 60s and 70s by the imaginatively narrative works of both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Instead of singing directly about the possibility of escaping the suffocating, dead end aspects of working class life, Springsteen would introduce listeners to colorful characters like the Magic Rat, Crazy Janie and Rosalita, communicating his idea through their stories. Dylan, similarly, was able to craft tales that described modern alienation and the search for connection with songs like his epic “Tangled Up In Blue.”

That storytelling torch now rests in the hands of a young man from Jacksonville, North Carolina who at the age of 8 was writing short stories on his grandmother’s typewriter. It wasn’t until he was 14 that Ryan Adams began learning the guitar while his love for writing tales lingered, waiting to find its full expression. After quitting high school and experimenting with a punk rock band, Adams formed Whiskeytown and gave voice to the calling of his soul. His ensuing artistic career has been consistently marked by a passion for folk and country influences, but most of all storytelling.

“Carolina Rain,” from Adams’ eighth studio album, 29, was released in 2005. It demonstrates his uncanny ability to entwine story and song. Musically ambling, like a slow moving train, it tells the tale of a drifter who rolls into Mecklenburg, North Carolina to help a woman named Rose deal with a landlord threatening her with a choice of eviction or prostitution. They murder the landlord and place his body at the bottom of a water filled quarry. At a diner, the drifter meets a waitress named Caroline and he immediately falls madly in love with her, but she marries Alderman, a wealthy man in town. The drifter marries Caroline’s sister Percy so he can stay close to Caroline. When Alderman becomes curious about him, he murders Alderman as well. Rose, under increasing pressure, confesses to the landlord’s murder. Two angry drunks find the drifter at a banquet hall “where the gun went off,” ending his life. The song crescendos with a final musical Carolina rainfall.

“Rose lived on the south side of town
Until her landlord showed up with two hundred dollar bills29 ryan adams
A notice of eviction on the other hand
Now she don’t live there no more and everyone thinks he drowned.
I pulled into Mecklenburg on them trains
Into a station that got flooded when they opened up the dam
And broke their connections to the railway lines
so they could blast into the quarry
And for every load of granite we got a ton of worry.
One night at the diner over eggs
Over easy she showed me the length of her legs
But that gold plated cross on her neck, it was real
And you don’t get that kind of money from pushing meal
I should’ve told him that you were the one for me
But I lied, but I lied
To most any drifter who’s looking for work is too weird
I met your sister and I married her in July
But if only to be closer to you, Caroline
Percy and I moved down the street
Until we lost two pretty girls
One was seven and one was three
Alderman and Caroline owned the house right up the hill
Where we laid those babies down so they could still see our house
Suspicion got the best of old Alderman Haint
He owned an auto parts store off the interstate
But the lord took him home in July
And then Rose spilled the beans on the day that he died
We was in trouble
I should’ve told him that you were the one for me
But I lied, but I lied
Tied up to concrete at the bottom of the quarry
With a tattoo on his heart that spelled out “Caroline”
He was silent but his rosary
Well, it drifted into the custody
Of a sheriff that was just deputized
And I was down at the banquet hall
When two guys came up, pretty angry and drunk
And I’m still here at the banquet hall
At the banquet hall
Where the gun went off in the Carolina rain.”