The Real Pain of Rodger Penzabene

I was planning to write about Barrett Strong, the lyricist who, along with composer Norman Whitfield, wrote many of the Temptations’ biggest hits. Of all their great songs, which one would I write about? “Just My Imagination”? Fabulous song. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” was a very strong contender too, a story you can sink your ears into. Then I thought about “I Wish It Would Rain,” a very powerful, very moving song. Only, I learned, Barrett Strong didn’t write the lyric, Rodger Penzabene did (with music by Whitfield). And when I read a little more about the story behind the song, and about Penzabene’s ultimate fate, it was too compelling a tale to hold off on. Barrett Strong would just have to wait his turn on the back burner.

Penzabene had penned the words for an earlier Temptations song, “You’re My Everything.”

You surely must know magic girl
‘Cause you changed my life
It was dull and ordinary
But you made it sunny and bright

Now, I was blessed the day I found you
Gonna build my whole world around you
You’re everything good, girl
And you’re all that matters to me…

This song was inspired by Penzabene’s wife, with whom he was head over heels in love.

Alas, not long after, Penzabene discovered his wife was cheating on him. Terrible for the psyche, but fodder for one of the great modern torch songs.

“I Wish It Would Rain”

Sunshine, blue skies, please go away.
My girl has found another and gone away.
With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom.
So day after day, I stayed locked up in my room.
I know to you it might sound strange.
But I wish it would rain. (How I wish that it would rain)
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

‘Cause so badly I wanna go outside. (Such a lovely day)
But everyone knows that a man ain’t suppose to cry, listen.
I gotta cry ’cause cryin’ eases the pain, oh yeah.
People this hurt I feel inside, words can never explain.
I just wish it would rain. (Oh, how I wish that it would rain)

Oh, let it rain.
Rain, rain, rain (Oh, how I wish that it would rain)
Ooo, baby. Let it rain.
(Let it rain) Oh yeah, let it rain.

Day in, day out, my tear stained face
Pressed against the window pane.
My eyes search the skies, desperately for rain.
‘Cause raindrops will hide my teardrops.
And no one will ever know.
That I’m cryin’… cryin’ when I go outside.
To the world outside my tears, I refuse to explain.
Oh, I wish it would rain. (Oh, how I wish that it would rain)
Ooo, baby.

Let it rain, let it rain.
I need rain to disguise the tears in my eyes.
Oh, let it rain.
Oh, yeah, yeah listen.
I’m a man and I got my pride.
Give me rain or I’m gonna stay inside.
Let it rain.

(Let it rain)
(Let it (rain) (rain) (rain) rain, rain)

This is a torch song with a vengeance. The pain is palpable. The prevailing conceit, the weather motif, common enough in popular music (“Stormy Weather” anyone?), is worked out eloquently and consistently, from a simple but powerful beginning: “Sunshine, blue skies, please go away.” The jilted lover doesn’t see stormy weather, he wants stormy weather, so his pain can blend in.

Just the other day I was asking my musical collaborator Lee Feldman, an excellent lyricist in his own right, what qualities he thought made for a great lyric. He said strong visual imagery was the thing he most looks for, the image that can crystallize the sentiment.

Day in, day out, my tear stained face
Pressed against the window pane.
My eyes search the skies, desperately for rain.
‘Cause raindrops will hide my teardrops.
And no one will ever know.

Positively cinematic, no? A man (who “ain’t supposed to cry”), crying at the window, cursing the beautiful day, yearning for an external manifestation of his inner misery in the weather, a kind of cosmic companionship as well as convenient camouflage for his tears.

The record was released in late December of 1967. A week later, on New Year’s Eve, Rodger Penzabene committed suicide.


17 thoughts on “The Real Pain of Rodger Penzabene

  1. I’ll never listen to “I Wish It Would Rain” the same way again.

    The Temps had some great lyrics, and this is a fine example. Further weather themes are found in the neatly opposing “My Girl” and “Since I Lost My Baby.” Consider:

    (My Girl)
    I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
    When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May
    I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way?
    My girl…

    (Since I Lost My Baby)
    The sun is shining, there’s plenty of light
    A new day is dawning, sunny and bright
    But after I’ve been crying all night
    The sun is cold and the new day seems old
    Since I lost my baby…

    “Since I Lost My Baby” also has one of my favorite Temps moments, the long build-up to the simple plaint, “I feel so bad!”

  2. “I Wish It Would Rain” is timeless and for all people always, and such a good example of words-and-music, The others, good pop songs that lose something without the choreography. And you cannot talk about “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” without talking about the production. Film kids study “M”; record producers study “Papa”.

  3. The great thing about those songs were not only the lyrics, but the power, emotion and heartfelt pain/pleasure of the person singing it, ala, David Ruffin. RIP David, you were the greatest.

  4. Rodger Penzabene was my cousin. I dont ever remember meeting him i was 10 when he died . I always loved this song and knew he wrote it. Didnt know why he killed himself though. Thanks for writing this about him !

  5. Roger Penzabene was my cousin, although I’ve never meant him I love the passion he had and I’m sorry for the pain that he felt. RIP ..cuz

  6. I always liked the song You’re My Everything, but I really loved I knew it was a sad song, but didn’t understand why. I was a teenager madly in Love with the Temptations, and their lead singers singers on both songs. I thank God for Mr. Penzabene’s creative talent. May he rest well in peace and in paradise. Your music stole a little girl’s years 40 years ago, I listen to those songs today as well as my children. Peace & Blessings to his family………

  7. Everytime I hear the song your my everything it reminds me of us battling in the war in Vietnam. Every night at abt.1pm they play that song on my transistor radio. This was in 1967 when it first came out. In 2015 I love the song just as much today. I too am a lyricist and admired Rodger Penzabene’s talent to be so young. R.I.P.

  8. It’s amazing how a person can pour their heart out in the words of a song; and what a powerful song. It’s mind boggling to know the reason for the song. I was just floored when I found out the reason for the song. This song will always have great meaning whenever I hear it.

  9. Rodger wrote 3 of the most heartfelt, deeply personal songs of all time. His music will live forever although
    his life was cut short. Thank you for your everlasting legacy.

  10. I sang this song in school in elementary school in the 1960’s. At the time, I thought it was a good song with a fictional inspiration. I had no idea that it was a song about real pain that caused it’s writer to take his life to avoid further suffering.

  11. Rodger was also my cousin, being only 6 when he passed I don’t really remember him but my mother and father would often speak of him and of course The Temp’s were always being played ! Rodger did have 2 sons (Rodger Jr. and Carl) with the lady whom he apparently wrote these songs about. Her name was Helga and when I spoke to her many years ago she said she didn’t know if he wrote them about her that she was also writing a book about her life with him !
    R.I.P Cuz

  12. I had a next door neighbor in 1967 when these songs hit. Butchie could sing the hell out of the David Ruffin parts. We had no idea of the pain of the songwriter. His music lives on and so does he through it. RIP Rodger.

  13. I knew about Mr. Penzabene and his story, and yes, it was terribly tragic. But my favorite by him is I Could Never Love Another. Ruffin’s delivery was fantastic. And later learning about HIS own inner demons, I’d say they made beautiful timless music. It eas particularly difficult to hear that Rodger kept breaking down when the Tempts recorded I wish it would rain. RIP Rodger, Norman Whitfield, and David Ruffin.

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