Note: At the end of this is a video. Please watch the first moments to see an essential letter about this subject.
“And as I turned to make my way back home the snow turned into rain”
This afternoon a friend left me with a question: Did the snow, in fact, turn into rain, or is the rain a metaphor for his tears? I’m sure he was being rhetorical, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. And before you jump to conclusions and push out “OMG! Clearly he was crying!” consider this:
We can assume Dan and his ex, whose name was Jill, by the way, are in Peoria, Illinois, since that is where Dan is from and the song implies that she hasn’t seen him since before he did well. This is an old lover he met in a grocery store on Christmas Eve, so they both were probably home visiting folks. Had he ran into her somewhere else, like Colorado where Dan lived at about the time the song had hit the charts and before, when he would have been composing it, he would have had to fit in a lyric something like, “Holy Shit! What are you doing in Colorado?!” but his lack of surprise at her being there at all, while circumstantial, seems solid enough to demonstrate they were in Peoria.
The average temperature in Peoria on December 24th is a high of 36 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 23 degrees. This is interesting because with the averages of both extremes rocking it pretty close to the freezing point, it is more than a little plausible that it would snow and turn to rain or perhaps even rain and then turn to snow. I’ve spent my share of winter days in northern regions—central Massachusetts, western New York—and more than a few times a snowy evening gave way to rain as the winds shifted from the south and cloud cover warmed the atmosphere enough. The literal interpretation of this line is a fair assessment of what was going on for Dan and the architect’s wife that Christmas Eve.
However, they couldn’t find an open bar. Now I’ve only driven through Illinois and spent a weekend in Chicago in the summer; otherwise, I’ve no first hand knowledge, but everywhere else I’ve been, particularly during the late seventies, bars were open on Christmas Eve. In fact, more than a few songs were written about such people seeking some company there. In Illinois, the drinking age changed from 18 to 21 in 1979, exactly when the song was written (released in 1981), so it is plausible with less foot traffic due to the tight-assed regulations imposed on the military-aged citizens of The Sucker State (I didn’t make that up), the bars were, in fact, closed, forcing Dan and his beer-guzzling, clumsy friend to drink in the car.
So now we’re in the car, and, as a result, we’re back in high school, which is exactly where this mastermind of a songwriter wanted us to be. Two kids drinking beer in the back of a car; the one scenario that can take a woman who doesn’t love her husband and a famous musician and make them both feel seventeen again.
Who doesn’t get that?
Who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be at the start again, just for a quick, blissful moment, reminiscing about when you had nothing but plans, little else but hope? The song was released on his double album platinum album, The Innocent Age.
It’s a brief, Goose-Island Stout induced walk through the high school gym, the Friday night football game, holding hands. It’s talking quietly about family, about what happened after what happened, about the road and the hits, about parents and siblings. “One went to Chicago,” Dan might have told her, “the other to St Paul.”
I’ve been seventeen a few times. Once, I sat on the boardwalk steps reminiscing about what could have been with an old friend who could have been. Of course, we all do. And we talked about our common friends, about how sad it was what happened to Dave, and to Bobbie, and a few others. And how I kept in touch with one and didn’t the other, and how another friend and I simply drifted apart, despite how close we were all those decades earlier. We had just come from having a glass of wine and some tuna, and we walked a bit until we came to that point we had to go separate ways to get to the cars, and we sat and talked a while longer, not wanting the afternoon to end, knowing it already had, knowing it had ended so many years earlier.
And she gave me a long hug—it was hard to breakaway—and said she’d keep in touch, though…
And I turned back down the boardwalk to head to my car, and I turned my collar up against the wind coming from up the beach, and I wiped the spray from the ocean off my face.