If it’s raining, I’m in my attic, where the impotent drizzle outside is amplified into an orchestral sonic flogging, like BBs fired at a denim pup tent. When it’s raining, I’m driving on treadless tires, admiring the view from behind ineffective windshield wipers. Were it ever to rain, I would be drinking tea, listening to Astral Weeks, changing my socks.
My mother gave me tea, my dad gave me Van Morrison, and if those were their only legacies they could still feel satisfied punching out and calling it a life. I doubt Mom has been prouder than when I was eight years old, addicted to caffeine from my morning mug of Constant Comment. It is mediocre black tea, obvious and sweet, and I’ve long since grown out of it. My dad acts as though paternal pride is unconditional, but he couldn’t have been prouder than when I bought my first Van album, the gospel-tinged His Band and the Street Choir. I teeter between it and Astral Weeks as my favorite, though, if it’s raining, I have no doubt.
It’s not an original opinion, I believe, that Astral Weeks was just made for rainy afternoons. The album is grey and mopey. It lets up and comes down, cleanses and muddies. The layered production on “Beside you” trickles to fill cracks and puddles. The subdued “Sweet Thing” is a rainbow-like pause, quickly washed away by the unrelenting “Cypress Avenue.” Winter is supposed to be stark, but, like Astral Weeks, it is really dynamic and fierce and repentant, not to mention damned beautiful. Summer is too hot to think. Winter, though, is crafted just so to inspire introspection. It isolates us from crowds and community; it sequesters us indoors; it leaves us bored and anxious.
It is on those proverbial rainy days, when we slog through our stored-up caches of solitude, that I feel like my parents’ son. I have my mom’s freckles and neuroses and taste for tea. I have my dad’s brow and nostalgia and taste for rock `n’ roll. Both the beverage and the folk star fulfill needs in our family, tea being at its best a salve to a cold and lonely day, Van being that melancholy/joy jumble that is a rainstorm.
I wouldn’t dare say that we must take our values or politics or hipster tastes from our parents – more likely we only do if our folks are exceptionally good or bad. But we do learn how to look at the world, if not what to look for. It is a paradigmatic transfer. I don’t know if my mom or dad would hide in the attic with Van and a cup of tea when the sky turns solemn. But my mom would cope by looking for small, manageable tasks – boiling water, seeping a tea bag – that guarantee an instantly gratifying, digestible result. My dad would surely comfort himself by seeking solitude and turning to somebody who relates, spiritually and nostalgically, while demanding nothing in return – likely someone in print or on vinyl or of scripture.
It’s been months since it last rained, but still I do the same thing a few nights per week. I crawl into the attic, tea and Astral Weeks cued up, alone in the pup tent.
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Cat Power – Moon Pix
Nick Drake – Bryter Layter