Listen to this track by Bermuda-born, London-based singer-songwriter Heather Nova. It’s “London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do)”, a single as taken from her third album, 1998’s Siren. Even though the song is a paean to being home in London, it did much better in the US, possibly due to its inclusion in the soundtrack to an episode of nineties drama Dawson’s Creek.
Emerging in the early nineties, Heather Nova’s music fit into a certain paradigm of women singer-songwriters that proliferated at the time, underscoring the wealth of talent that existed under the still very male-centric music industry. Nova had a unique background from which she pulled her music and her approach to a career in a tough industry. As a child, she lived on a forty-foot boat with her family including a brother and sister plus her two parents, sailing the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea for most of the 1970s and into the 1980s, all the while making music for herself.
It was in this setting that she grew her love for music and for storytelling. But I think too that background may cast light on what makes this specific song such a vital example of what makes Heather Nova unique, along with how much it mirrors a pretty common thread in most people’s lives; a sense of home.
Through out the classic rock and pop era, there have been many, many songs about the hardships and trials of The Road. From Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” to AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll”, to Blur’s “Look Inside America”, the experiences of being a touring musician are varied. Some are joyous and decadent. Some reveal the cracks in the soul that a life on the road can create, or reveal. There are perhaps a slimmer volume of songs that are about coming back home, and about how that sense of home is an anchor to a lifestyle that Robbie Robertson of The Band once called “a goddamn impossible way of life”.
That anchoring effect is what this song hits on, along with also being a love song about coming home to a lover and enjoying some familiar contact as opposed to being the anonymous object of spectacle on stage. I think too, this song is also a document of where Heather Nova was at during an important phase in her career. She was on the rise during the tail-end of what the music industry once was, soon to lose its grip in the wake of the first inklings of what the Internet would bring to the whole equation. That new and upcoming era would put even more pressure on musicians like Nova to tour, and to be away from home more and more.
This song is as much a love song to the comforts and context of home as it is being with the person the narrator of the song loves. The lines are blurred between the two until they are practically one thing, even the intemperate weather. The “London rain” found in this song isn’t traditionally celebrated as a source of healing for anyone. But it is also familiar and reliable. These factors are vital in a life where one is buzzing from one thing and from one place to the next, constantly on the move in body and in mind without pause for reflection. In those circumstances, even the mundane can be a balm.
Whether or not we are in her position as a touring musician who longs for home and a sense of the familiar or not of course, this song hits on some very important and resonant themes common to us all. I know many people who travel extensively for their jobs, and at least one person who has made it a personal mission to be a nomad. What I pick up from all of them is that no matter how far they travel, there are invisible threads that tie them to their own origins, and that simple pleasures and personal connections seem to be the common ingredients in all of the stories they tell about themselves. They need to contact with people who know them. They need little reminders of home and the incomparable comforts they can bring. As this song illustrates, that comfort comes from a context where one can be oneself, free from that which we all take on to meet other people’s expectations of who we are. In busy lives that often don’t allow us to reflect on who we are at any given moment, nothing heals like that does.
Heather Nova is an active musician and songwriter today. You can learn more about her, including her most recent record to date The Way It Feels, at heathernova.com.