The recent wet weather precipitated a rain-themed earworm for me this week. But I couldn't be blessed with, say, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” performed by Ella Fitzgerald, or “Here Comes the Rain Again” by the Eurythmics. Neither Ann Peebles' “I Can't Stand the Rain” nor Missy Elliott's superb reworking of it,“The Rain (Superfly),” deigned to occupy my ears this time around. I'd even take the Weather Girls' “It's Raining Men,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” by BJ Thomas, or “Rainy Days and Mondays” by the Carpenters. Instead, I am saddled with “It's Raining on Prom Night” as performed by Cindy Bullens for the movie soundtrack to Grease.
[jump] “It's Raining on Prom Night” is 100% cheesy and intentionally so. Originally written for the stage musical, it's full of overwrought teenage sentiment, from corsages (and fake ID's) in the gutter to ruined hair and runny mascara. Prom, high school's ultimate romantic fantasy occasion, is ruined by a sudden storm and an ill-timed breakup. It's a pitch-perfect parody of a girl-group hit. In the stage version of Grease, the song is a solo for Sandy, but in the movie it's relegated to playing in the background on the radio in a single scene. You have to listen to the 1978 soundtrack to hear Bullens in full teary wail.
Back in the day, I listened to the soundtrack incessantly. I begged my parents to buy the cassette for me – the vinyl double-album was sold out, and I needed those songs with an urgency. My parents, having actually lived through the 1950s that Grease was so nostalgic for, hated the mere idea. But all my school friends were memorizing the lyrics, casting themselves as Sandy and the Pink Ladies and acting out the production numbers after school every afternoon. I needed to get in on the program. If I could sing along, maybe I could finally find my place, too. It didn't quite work out that way, but I can now recite the entire Grease soundtrack by heart – and most of the movie lines, too. And yes, I can still hand jive.
Unsurprisingly, it turned out that it takes more than a good memory and studiousness to really crack the popularity code. My true bent was probably signaled when I came within a hair of buying the Broadway cast album by mistake. Or maybe I signaled my doom when I picked Rizzo as my Pink Lady of choice.
Rizzo was the leader of her satin-jacketed girl gang, but she was too hard and too fast to make a proper aspirational role model. She was mean to our heroine Sandy. She didn't go steady and almost got pregnant! Better to aspire to be a beauty school dropout or the sweet girl who only gets nasty for her one and only true love or the nameless girl crying in the rain on prom night. Oops. In the end, I skipped out on my own prom night entirely and bartered my parents into spending the dress money on a leather jacket instead. Rizzo, I like to think, would have approved.
Cindy Bullens sang on two other songs for the Grease soundtrack and compiled a solid resume as a working musician, touring as a backup singer for Elton John and working with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris on a handful of well-regarded solo albums. In 2012 he came out as trans and changed his name to Cidny Bullens. He still tours and plays shows to this day.