I’ve been on a Roy Orbison kick lately, which makes me think about the end of summer. And it’s July. His music does this to me in the way Tom Waits does and some jazz does, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” for instance. I once listened to that album through earphones on the El, the Blue Line coming out of Chicago and heading towards the northwest and it was raining and it may have been one of the most cinematic things I’ve ever done, looking out the window, on a train, in lonely weather. Some music doesn’t have linear peaks and valleys so much as it has folds and that’s the music that braids with you in filaments of twine and you feel swallowed, sort of how winter swallows you and you bob there, waiting, existing, anticipating life while alive.
Two things about Roy Orbison: One, I can’t help but think of David Lynch films when I hear him. It absolutely has to do with the scene in “Blue Velvet” when Dean Stockwell lip syncs Orbison’s “In Dreams,” illuminated only by a shop lamp and he looks like the subject of a Caravaggio painting in dark, which limits our impression of his surrounding world, how much of it is there, he a blade of grass within cupped hands, a plane, oversea, directionless. And in another movie, a scene happening in a mostly empty theater at night, a woman sings Orbison’s “Crying” in Spanish—these songs presented in these ways make me feel as if I’m living removed from the straight, the recognizable and familiar world. Still, there are things to be found there. You’re often at your own library at these times and get to ponder your own narrative. The things-to-be-found-there teach.
And, two, about Roy Orbison, he has a tune called “Summer Song” that’s about what’s left, what’s gone and what lingers. There are things we experience that take the role of their ending even through their present, through the “during.” The song is about the season and I get its sentiment because seasons for me are always about the ending of the current one instead of the beginning of the new. The transition is in the dying, the leaves gone, the snow gone. The endings prompt reflection, which they tend to do, on the self, on the doing, the done. The season is fixed with the people living in it and they’re the story that gets the shine. And, so, “Summer Song” is true in being about what it is and what it isn’t, about the season and not.
Seasons, in their natural, cyclical arrangement, do provide an interesting, repetitive prompt. Early autumn is now always about cancer because of my mother who had cancer, cancer that was introduced once in early autumn, to her over the phone after tests and to me while at college over the phone, after tests, in my apartment while my roommates were devising methods on how to rid a bat from our living room. They tried tossing a tennis ball wrapped in tin foil near it, hoping to interrupt its sonar, they said, and maybe it’d land or fall into a temporary cripple and they could bag it. A lot was happening that night and none of it quite made sense. Everything felt sorted poorly and that affected the impact. I didn’t know how to come out with it, to introduce the news of this cancer to my friends at that moment. I dichotomously wanted to laugh as I stood in the hallway because of the bat, of the tinned ball, and all of that was right in front of me, in the immediate, while my mom’s cancer was far away and me talking about it didn’t make me feel like I was talking about actual cancer but more a representation of cancer, like a photograph of place, elsewhere.
In Chicago, seasons come with a greater ability to take impression because there is such distinction between the four and, therefore, you prepare for memory by flipping the calendar. And the changes in seasons do something in a way of not only bringing back the memory but bringing back the act itself; it musters all senses the way a touch can return, a smell can return and it is again all very present, close, like a humid, still day can be close, and the memory is there in the re-happening, on your shoulder, you pressing your head into it, an experience of the familiar, a living once-again. My mom’s cancer was in Chicago. My mom’s cancer was waiting for me there that one autumn day and would continue to be waiting, for many of us in similar ways, for autumns to come. It would be ever-present even after its eradication. It would always have an anniversary and it would return, like a song’s chorus, with its folds and braids, while conditioning for the next time, for its return.