Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cemetery Rain

Sitting on the bed at night playing my guitar, all is peaceful as I watch the rain against the window. The colors continually shift into new Impressionistic patterns as the rain and glass refract the glare from street lights, traffic lights, and cars. The colors have a liquid flow not unlike the lava lamp my childhood dentist had in his waiting room. 

With all this tranquility, I naturally think about cemetery rain. Great name for a song, huh? "Cemetery Rain."

More specifically, about how no one ever visits a cemetery when it’s raining. I used to be one of those people. But a few days later, I find myself driving around Cathedral Cemetery (est. 1876) in New Castle County, Delaware, hopping out of my car here and there to grab a few shots with an umbrella over my head. When the rain gets heavier, I simply shoot out the car window. With the exception of the occasional funeral, I’m alone in a cemetery when it’s raining. It’s a very quiet place. As Cathedral Cemetery’s website says, “when our temporal world requires refuge, our cemeteries offer solace.
Being here brings to mind the old Velvet Underground song, “Who Loves the Sun:”

"Who loves the rain
Who cares that it makes flowers
Who cares that it makes showers
Since you broke my heart
Who loves the sun
Who cares that it is shining
Who cares what it does
Since you broke my heart."

When you play guitar while looking out at the rain, you find yourself playing to the rhythm of the weather, the rain gently tapping against the window pane. Which is not unlike visiting a cemetery in the rain – you play to the rhythm of the weather. You’d be surprised at the new things you see, once you get yourself past the inconvenience of it all − strange dampness forming on headstones, water dripping off plant leaves, marble monuments glistening. The odd patterns that formed on this mausoleum above as the moisture soaked into the granite made me realize that this stoic material is not impervious to change. 

I wouldn’t have even noticed this flat-to-the-ground headstone if it wasn’t for the wet, red artificial flower resting forlornly at its base. A lot of people assume headstones just fall over, and that is why they’re flush with the ground. Who would’ve known they do this on purpose in Scotland? In Glasgow, any rickety headstone is placed flat for safety reasons. Unfortunately, a playing child was once killed when an old tombstone fell on him, prompting the practice.  

It sounds counter-intuitive, but you really can’t take a bad photograph during a cemetery rain. You would think it would be severely limiting, given the conditions. Sure you may not be able to control every aspect of the photographs you make, but nature may help you create something you would never have thought possible. Like playing guitar during a rain, it alters your mood. When I photograph cemeteries under less than ideal weather conditions, it’s very much like allowing the rain and color patterns on my window to influence my playing. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but it always adds a new creative dimension that helps me leave the temporal world. When I can’t quite coax what I feel out of the instrument, however, I take solace in the words of guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke, who  said, A guitar sounds good even if you drop it on the floor.