Thanks for joining me on my discursions on Oregon's greatest cultural asset — rain. The rainy season has rotated our way and the lakes will soon begin colliding overhead, perhaps as you read this. Are you ready? Are you rapturous at the thought? As Jack Kerouac wrote, "The taste of rain — why kneel?"
Rain thoughts keep falling on my head. Some final observations:
• Invariably, when a new book comes out, a few days, weeks, or months later I discover (or remember) a fantastic story about the subject of the book that obviously won't be included.
It happened again last month when I purchased a 35-year-old pamphlet for $3 at a Lincoln City bookstore. The pamphlet is titled "Orygone III, or, everything you always wanted to know about Oregon, but were afraid to find out." The first sentence goes, "...it was Sunday and it was raining and it was in Oregon."
I read that sentence and felt dumbstruck: I had forgotten to include in my book about rain perhaps the greatest Oregon Coast rain story ever captured in literature, one I had read a dozen times over, one written by a Nobel Prize–winning author whose working editorial mantra was: "An American writer has to know his land and the people if he is going to write about America." (By the way, my working editorial mantra is: "An Oregon writer has to know rain if he is going to write about Oregon.")
That sentence was written by John Steinbeck in 1960 and appeared in Travels with Charley, the greatest dog book of all time. My favorite scene in Travels with Charley is Steinbeck's anguished description of blowing out a tire during a deluge on the Oregon Coast and how an elderly and laconic garage owner improbably rescues him with new tires for his custom-made camper. Steinbeck never mentions the name of the town, "After forty years in the painful wet desert with no cloud by day nor pillar of fire by night to guide us, we came to a damp little shut-up town whose name escapes me because I never learned it." (I believe it was Tillamook.)
It's a wonderfully rendered story of a black rain veteran aiding a green rookie bewildered by a deluge, and Steinbeck was grateful: "I hope that evil-looking service-station man may live a thousand years and people the earth with his offspring."
Who knows, this story might even be true, although you would never know in Travels with Charley because apparently much of the book was fabricated, pure fiction. Did Steinbeck lie about Oregon rain? Does it matter?
• When I was writing my book on rain last spring, I never had the courage to listen to Kenny G's song about rain. But I knew where it was, the Pick of the Litter thrift store in Newport, in the wall of cassette tapes, each one a quarter. I nearly purchased it months ago but couldn't bring myself to hear rain murdered.
The other week, that tape mysteriously called out to me and I ventured to the thrift store to claim it as easily as someone might explore a deep, terrible place in one's soul with a mediocre psychoanalyst. Naturally, it was raining.
It was gone. No tape! I felt stunned, cheated, deprived of soft impotent jazz interpreting hard erect precipitation. Nevertheless, I knew what I would find next. Rain is like that. I reached out and randomly grabbed a cassette and knew it would contain a rain song I've never heard before. It would either be a liquid nugget or sheer mud.
Rain delivered. I beheld Sonny and Cher's All I Ever Need Is You, a 1972 release from the oddest collaborative enterprise in the history of pop music. The cover photograph appeared almost Gram Parsons flower power in nature. Was this a psychedelic country album? The year was right. Did Sonny and Cher drop acid?
I read the back of the cassette. There it was, of course, second song: "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling." I bought the tape and ran out to the truck. I smashed the tape into the cassette player and prayed to the gods it worked after 41 years in the moldy wilderness.
A song came on. Cher belted it out as only Cher can. I mean she was murdering, giving it a bath as the old Vaudeville performers used to say.
Rain, let it rain
Let it wash these muddy waters
Rain, let it rain
Pour, let it pour
And while these muddy waters raise
I'll be staring into your eyes
Out of the rain
What? I didn't get it. They did take acid! Then Sonny started singing something about crystal clear. Who cared? Give me more Cher on rain or give me death by dehydration!
But wait. It occurred to me that this wasn't "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling."
I ejected the cassette, scanned the songs, and saw one titled, "Crystal Clear/Muddy Waters." Sonny and Cher had two rain songs on one album. Sometimes I miss the 1970s, variety shows and sane Republicans.
• A few days later, as rain fell lightly on the cabin, I found a poem I wrote in one of my old college journals:
Walking to Class in the Rain — Random Thoughts (U of O 1984)
How ever I die, I don't want it to be in the rain.
The rain covers, soaks and rusts away a friendly disposition.
Nature seems to be saying — I am depressed, therefore, so will you.
I trudge on, bored, irritated, distracted.
Rain is a very cynical experience, especially before class.
As I return to my naïve and immature days when the Duck football team routinely and happily finished 4-7, I really have no idea who I was then. I wanted to become a writer but had no language to express this desire except English. That is never enough.
Some 15 years later, I found the necessary language after relocating to the Oregon Coast. Rain was an instrumental part of acquiring this language.
• I have never fancied myself a poet, but I read poetry all the time. The other day, after mowing the irrelevant lawn in maddening sunshine, I retrieved an anthology of poetry and sat on the deck to relax. I opened the table of contents and knew a rain poem would randomly be pouring there. It was, "The Rain," written in 1959 by Robert Creely. I'd never read it.
The last two stanzas:
Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out
Of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
with a decent happiness.
I ripped the poem out of the anthology and flung it across the deck. Damn you, Creely. In two stanzas you conveyed what I tried to convey in 50,000 windy words on rain. You undercut and amplified me; you humbled and reduced me, too. You mastered the semiotics of rain and let rain wash away the "intentional indifference" or what I call the insidious malaise known as whatever.
• Some last random notions of rain:
Poets are the unacknowledged meteorologists of the world. "God help all men on rainy afternoons," wrote Raymond Chandler. That was LA rain. Big deal. You should see me on rainy mornings. Suppose English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had been a man of rain instead of the umbrella? He was, in fact, privately ridiculed by Hitler for carrying an umbrella in such a foppish manner. History might have turned out very differently had Chamberlain stood in Munich rain and said, "No." Is using an umbrella synonymous with appeasing? This is a metaphorical question for love and life. Rain is the Oregon Coast's great secret weapon against overpopulation, the righteous bane of developers. Actually, it's not a secret. Everyone knows it here. The most lethal weapon we have is when people move here and then quit because of rain and then go back and tell everyone else about the miserable weather. The greatest Oregon quote of all time was from legendary two-term governor Tom McCall. He said: "We want you to visit our State of Rain often. Come again and again. But for heaven's sake, don't move here to live." Speaking of Tom McCall, I recently attended a party where an elderly man remembered listening to McCall reading sports and weather news for KGW TV back in 1955. It was the man's contention that McCall invented the ludicrously repetitive phrase, "Chance of scattered showers with intermittent rain," which has since become boilerplate jargon around the region. The man laughed as he told me this, and then complained about another absurd forecasting phrase he'd heard this spring on television: "Chance of rolling mist through a light drizzle." I picked up Anaïs Nin's A Spy in the House of Love for a quarter at a thrift store yesterday. A Spy in the House of Rain would have been a great title for my book. I wonder if this book, which is billed as "an erotic masterpiece," has any wild scenes involving rain? It tried and failed. Gatsby might have lived had he abstained from umbrellas. Rain annexed me. Rain is vertiginous, the sun a parallelogram. Rain integrates, the sun subjugates. I feel sedulous in rain, flimsy in the sun. I want to meet a grisette who dances in rain. In a fit of grandiosity, I appointed myself a Count of Rain who immediately emancipated the serfs slaving under the sun. Rain frolics, the sun besieges. I almost see myself as a willing marionette of rain. Rain is protean in its dramatic performances, the sun a stock character. I can invent my own audience by writing about rain. Rain inspired this Oregon writer to write a book on rain. The sun inspired nothing. Is something the reverse going on with a writer in Arizona or Florida? If so, although I doubt it, I want to meet this person and compare notes. Mine will be soggy and unreadable. His will be stored inside an electronic device. I live where rain inflicts damage on cell phones and I relish that fact. My aunt in Phoenix told me she has been reading my rain book to elderly people in hospice care. She says they uniformly enjoy it. They are calmed and encouraged. Rain will be the last thing they ever hear before they begin their long journey back to water. I helped ease their passage. The sun can't do that. When I read a sentence Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote in his novel Her, "The rain fell down in loose swirling skeins, the kind a child makes with string between his fingers," I almost quit writing on rain because it made no sense to continue. Everything important I felt about rain was encapsulated by that crystalline sentence, so what was the point? Later, I realized that others still required persuasion of rain's exquisite qualities and that I had work left to do. I just saw a video of Elvis singing "Kentucky Rain." I didn't believe a word of it.
And now let me end my reign of rain by quoting Henry Miller from Tropic of Rain, "These are night thoughts produced by walking in the rain after two thousand years of Christianity."
÷ ÷ ÷
Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain