Monday, December 21, 2015

December Sunsets and the Velvet Underground

I was looking through the back pages of my old, and defunct blog, and found a memory worth sharing from 2005, ten long years ago.  It comes from my last year in graduate school, right before I attended my first American Historical Association conference and slowly began to realize that my future was about to get really rocky.  Something about the winter solstice really resonates with me, and instead of trying to write something new, I thought I'd share something old that better articulates the feelings that this time of year can give.  These are feelings independent of Christmas, but of the elemental effect of the longest night of the year, the reason why the ancients decided we needed some times of good cheer to counteract it.  Here it is below, complete with reference to a discman.  Dolores the cat, I can gladly say, still lives:


December sunsets, I love them so. So today, after feeding my friends Rachel and Ed's wondrously lustrous feline Delores, I took a walk around in the late afternoon, listening to the Velvet Underground's first album on my discman. It's one I love, especially in December, it just sounds wintry to me for some reason, even though I first started listening to the album in the spring of 1994. Nico's voice (or Nordic foghorn, more accurately) is like a chilly north wind, and the sparks of feedback courtesy of Lou Reed's guitar shoot into my skull like the cold air knifes through my coat. When I listen to "Heroin" or "All Tomorrow's Parties" on that album, though, they seem to physically warm me somehow.

John Cale's background drone on "Heroin" replicates the hazy feeling of a December dawn. The setting sun today created that orange-grey dusk that somehow sets my heart affire in ways that I cannot comprehend. It is ethereal, as if I am on another planet further from the sun, where the sun is more of a star that provides light but no warmth, and a dim light at that. Perhaps it is in the shortest days of the year that we come closest to seeing universal death, and it just might be that brush with mortality that gets me every time.

Or maybe just memory. Growing up, my family would go to Mass on Christmas Eve at 5PM, the church's "children's Mass." Because my parents have a pathological fear of being late, we always arrived more than half an hour early, able to take any seat in the church, and right as the sun was setting. The church lay in a spot where the sun would strike the stained glass quite directly, flooding the church with a golden bath of color and warmth. It would set before the special Mass so full of ritual, and in a child's eyes, magic. (When a child is very young, that's what religion is to them.) The setting sun of Christmas Eve was probably the closest I came to religious ecstasy in my life, and I guess there's a piece of that exhilarating feeling in the sunset I saw today.

No comments: