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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" Our veterans certainly have

In a thousand-yard stare of a song, CCR — contrary to many other artists — reflect on how darkness can always penetrate the light.

I had a hard time figuring out what song fit my mood for today, because today... just felt strange. Because of where November 11 fell on this year's calendar, I had a day off from classes on this Thursday, only to then have my one class remain on schedule for Friday. It simultaneously did and didn't feel like the start of my weekend.

More relevant to this musical discussion, there's also the aspect of today being Veterans Day. I don't take this observance lightly, partly owing to having members of my extended family and mentors who have served. At the same time, I also find it hard to treat the day simply as a celebration of veterans of our Armed Forces. Perhaps it's because of the conditions under which many of them have served, especially in more recent tours, but more likely it's because of the physical and/or mental wounds with which veterans are left following their military tenure. In recognition of our veterans and the lasting damages they carry after sacrificing for our country, I sought for today's entry a song that can be heard as capturing a sort of lingering trauma on the horizon.

While its artist-recognized meaning doesn't tie into any sort of military themes, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" has long been heard as having to do with America grappling with the Vietnam War. The titular rain is the downpour of reality onto a nation in the process of reconfiguring itself on both domestic and foreign stages, disrupting their previously rose-tinted, or "sunny," views in the decades following World War II. From the perspective of a veteran, the song is even more poignant as they dourly reflect on the changes in their world and worldview from before their service.

"Have You Ever Seen the Rain" is a relatively short and gentle roots rock number, driven by Tom Fogerty's rhythm guitar and his brother John's signature, rough but endearing vocals. It's a song that instrumentally gives the surface impression that everything is fine and dandy... but the lyrics suggest quite the opposite:

Someone told me long ago
There's a calm before the storm
I know, it's been comin' for some time

In this musical moment, CCR are in the calm about which John Fogerty sings. Their quartet would soon become a trio, with Tom leaving shortly after the release of their sixth album, Pendulum. John saw it coming with how hard he'd worked the band during the sessions, and even in the best of times with the group, he couldn't stop thinking about the severance and dissolution that lay ahead.

Connecting the song to the more veteran-leaning narrative I have in mind today is John Fogerty's personal rain "comin' down on a sunny day": his depression. While he would have more of a mental downturn in the early stages of his solo career, he was already feeling the effects as he watched the band he formed with his childhood friends from El Cerrito High School (yes, despite the impression their sound may give, CCR were from the East Bay) begin to slip away.

When it comes to members of our armed forces, depression and similar mental illnesses like anxiety and PTSD are some of the most common lasting scars of the trauma they faced during their service. These conditions can be debilitating forces on otherwise bright lives. Thankfully, modern medicine, therapy, and understanding of the effects of combat have been able to improve the lives of many current and former service members... but at the same time, no medicinal or therapeutic solution can be fully effective or permanent. Even on the sunniest of days, depression can return to darkly cloud one's mind. John's second-verse lyrics can be seen as a commentary on the cyclical nature of mental illness:

'Til forever, on it goes
Through the circle, fast and slow
I know, it can't stop, I wonder

In the context of the song's 1970 writing and release, I along with many others understand these mental scars as coming from the aforementioned shock of Vietnam. The Vietnam War era was a time of reckoning for the country and the world, and no group felt — or continues to feel — that reckoning harder than the soldiers who were sent there, from standpoints ranging from culture, politics, and combat and mortality. The recurrence of their conditions can thus be as sudden and fierce as a torrential rain and a flash flood emerging from a cloudless sky. While those of us who have not served may never understand the true extent of their pain, we can at least acknowledge the lasting effects of their service on their psyche and assist them in whatever way we can.

My reading of "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" goes along with my emphasis on Veterans Day being not a celebration, but rather a solemn recognition of the sacrifice made by all who go into military service. Along with this recognition should come sympathy for the load they continue to bear, the harrowing and stormy side effects of dedicating one's most productive years to protecting our nation.


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