June Christy

Hang Them on the Tree

By Kedrick Rue

this-time-of-yearTalking my atheist parents into buying a Christmas tree was an endeavor that seemed doomed from the start. We didn’t celebrate this most commercial of holidays that the “hoi polloi gushed so foolishly about”–my mother’s exact words—not with carols, not with presents, not with cookies.

It was all utter foolishness.

The Canyon in which I grew up was an unusual place, and within that place, we were an unusual family. For the most part we were a typical Eisenhower-era family, dragged into the late ’60s. My father wore button-down shirts and a sport coat to work every day. My mother was a housewife active in the PTA. She made my breakfast every morning, packed my lunch, and drove me to school. But they had been closet Communists at a time when it was the most dangerous thing to be, and were devout atheists in a country steeped in baby boomer Protestantism.

The Canyon wasn’t Christian; it was Pagan. There were the satyrs: horny old goats with connections to the record industry. There were the sylphs: groupies and junkies—often both—with long hair and flowing clothes. Every post-puberty man imagined himself as a Jim Morrison-style Dionysus, and every night was a bacchanal set to fuzzed out electric guitar, tablas, and harmonium.

june-christyBut this was in the other houses. At our house, things had stalled out in 1961. Though my parents were tolerant of the general canyon culture, even as it became more and more hedonistic, they were never friends with most of our neighbors. We would loan them a cup of sugar or flour; we even once babysat a dog for a whole week. But my parents would never leave me with them; the one time this happened the girl they had hired to babysit ended up dancing naked in our living room after she thought I was asleep. Though dancing naked was okay in pagan rituals, it was not okay in a babysitting context. Still, my mother preferred the Pagan to the Christian.

But neither moved her when it came to getting a Christmas tree.

Her fatal mistake came through a choice of friends. My father was in a branch of the Industry, and was friends with a lot of the people in the Industry. I only met June Christy once, when I was about five. I remember her as being funny and beautiful, with a mischievous sense of humor. Because I only met her once, I thought that out of all my parents’ friends she was the most intriguing.

A few years later, when lobbying for a Christmas tree, I searched my house high and low for incriminating evidence that my parents, deep in their hearts, harbored that little twinkle of Christmas that the “hoi polloi gushed so foolishly about” every December. The one crumb I was able to find was this album. And because June was a friend, I was allowed to listen to it.

the-little-red-henThe fortress had been breached. I was next able to convince my mother to make cookies (oatmeal raisin, a most un-Christmas-like cookie, as if even my mother’s baking were bearing a grudge against rampant consumerism and shallow religiosity). Then I was able to get her to buy me a gift—the Little Golden Book version of The Little Red Hen, because she liked its socialist message. Finally, I convinced her to bring a tree in from the back yard—a scrub pine I decorated with paper chains.

For that one year, I was satisfied in believing that we were just like everyone else.

I want to say that my mother’s heart grew three sizes that day. But instead she moved around the house like a caged thing, confined by the trappings of popular culture which had invaded our home. I still remember that tree as the bitterest of victories. And I also learned that there was very little—not a carol, not a cookie, not a tree—that could make us just like everyone else.

My mother stuck with the Canyon for the rest of her life, and she never fit in. But she wouldn’t have fit in anywhere. When she died I realized I could have resented her for imposing her way of life on me, but somehow I never did. Somehow I appreciated this perspective of difference, even through the bleakest years of high school.

As I was clearing out her things I found June Christy’s album. I listened to the song again for the first time in nearly two decades.

I’ll take the sorrows of last November
Make them a part of Christmas Day
Color them shiny, bright and gay
And hang them on the tree…

I still don’t have a tree in my house at Christmas—except for that one disastrous year when I dated a Pagan, which resulted in a number of broken hand-fired ornaments and a backyard bonfire—but I do have June’s song. It helps me to put the year, and the life behind me, in perspective.

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June Christy

Phil Collins

In the Air Tonight

by Mary Catherine Wilson

Phil_Collins_InTheAirTonightSometimes an actor will use a specific piece of music or a song to help create a character or prepare an emotional state of being that can propel them onto the stage to start a scene. I don’t particularly work that way, but I do believe all actors–whether consciously or unconsciously–use pre-show music to prepare for the show they are about to perform. For me, this pre-show music that the director or sound designer has pumped into the theater is like a countdown clock to the beginning of the show. When a certain song comes on I know I have 3 minutes until curtain goes up.

There is, however, one song that whenever I hear it–be it in an elevator, store, supermarket, or unexpectedly on the radio–that even twenty-three years later creates a specific emotional state of both dread and disbelieving laughter.

The show this song brings to mind was a shapeless monstrosity, probably the worst show I have ever done. It will remain nameless to protect the guilty. Let’s just say it was a two-hander, revolving around an alcoholic, abusive mother and her broken relationship with her only daughter. This most vile of mothers was played by yours truly: the most innocent of twenty-two-year-olds, never having had a drink much lessi am an actor been drunk, never having had sex much less had a kid, never having hit anyone much less beat the shit out of her own daughter. And the daughter was played by my twenty-six year old friend.

Still, I performed my role in true jumping-off-a-cliff-passionate-twenty-something-year-old earnest. It was the worst show with the best intentions of being good, and I had every intention of being good as well.

The song? In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins.

“I can feel it coming in the air tonight, OH LORD!”

That feeling of dread and nearly helpless hilarity the song dredges up in me is not because of the mediocre writing, the ever-looping dialog where my fellow actress and I kept losing our place. (Each night the show ended a wee bit differently depending on how the hell we managed to get it back on track.)

It’s not because of the late night rehearsals–beginning at 11:00 p.m., because that was the only time we could use the rehearsal space.

It’s not because of the home-made props (I managed to cut my throat, killing myself onstage, every night with a plastic vodka bottle that had a blood squeezer in it).

The mix of emotions the song brings up in me is because of that true jumping off a cliff-passionate twenty-something-year-old earnest feeling. The feeling that sure I AM AN ACTOR- I can act anything! The feeling of bravado, moxie, or whatever you want to call it. The indomitable spirit that could not be quieted or squelched for me at that age when it came to acting.

I was not super out-going in my real life. I was a bit shy unless I really trusted you. I was fat and felt horribly unattractive and ugly. But as an actor I was fearless. I wanted to do and be everything I wasn’t in my real life.

Lately, after years of being in the entertainment industry in various capacities I am missing that twenty-something-year-old spirit. I am missing my brave take-no-prisoners self. I need to find her again, for the world shouldn’t be without her.

There is a video of this horror somewhere in the world. Maybe I should find it and watch it and regain that girl.

Can you feel that coming in the air?

OH LORD!

Phil Collins

Rimsky-Korsakov

Scheherazade

By Meg Currell

scheherazade

A few years ago my husband and kids sent me to the symphony for Mother’s Day. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had been performing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and Tim earmarked this event at the beginning of the symphony season as the perfect chance for me to do something just for me.

I love going to movies and live performances by myself. It’s easier to get lost in the moment. I find it taxing to be considerate of another person’s thoughts and responses. My sweet husband–as bright and thoughtful as he is–does not have the background in music that I do, and doesn’t always appreciate it the way I do.

The irony was, though the performance was on a Mother’s Day, the person who taught me to appreciate music on a deeper level was my non-musician father. My musical talent came directly from my mother’s side; she was an accomplished pianist and soprano. But my father was a completely self-taught student of music from the Baroque era to the 20th Century. He and I would sit at the dinner table after everyone else had finished, and I’d listen to him talk about libretti and composers and conductors and pianists. In that pre-Internet era, he had researched all subjects “classical” music. It was from him, the U.S. Marine/farm boy, that I first learned that “classical” is an era in the history of Western music, not a designation for all music played on WFMT in Chicago, or all music played by an orchestra. He taught me about Bach and Mozart, sonata form and the classical orchestra.

I was shocked — but shouldn’t have been — to realize my father knew at least as much as my music history and literature professors. When a subject interested him, he’d pile books on his nightstand and read endlessly. Neither he nor my mother were ever without a book. He spoke in the language of great conductors and performers, of Ashkenazy and St. Martin’s in the Field, of Emmanuel Ax and Borodin and Scriabin. He knew the prose and poetry of the Goldberg Variations, the delicate power of Debussy, the fearsomeness of Wagner and the intimacy of Chopin, the simplicity of Copland. My mother’s musical ability may have been the genesis of my interest, but there is no doubt my father’s influence propelled my fascination.

meg-quoteAnd it all started with a recording of Scheherazade. My dad loved to tell stories, often creative narratives to entice me to finish my peas. I remember when he told the vivid story of Scheherazade, the slave girl who saved her own life nightly by telling the King, who had a penchant for murdering his brides, stories whose ending required another night of telling. This was the premise of 1,001 Arabian Nights, and of my lifelong love affair with music’s magical ability to transport us from reality.

When I was around 10, he started an annual tradition of taking me on “dates,” consisting of dinner and then live performances in the city. Starting with a performance of the musical 42nd Street and carrying through multiple symphony, ballet, chamber, solo and opera performances, he taught me the beauty and wonder of live performance. We’d get dressed in our Sunday best, have dinner at amazing restaurants, and then nestle in the quiet theater, where, wide-eyed, I’d gaze upon grown-ups in beautiful clothes, some men in tuxedos, chatting casually among themselves, as if this were the most natural thing ever. To me, it was the height of sophistication, and I was careful to behave myself as well as I knew how. My father, always well dressed, was my idea of a dignified man, and I watched him closely for cues on how to comport myself. The entire experience worked together to create for me heightened expectations both of myself and of the performance. It was inebriating.

To this day, live performances by talented musicians are transcendent experiences for me, an opportunity to set aside the mundane and inhabit an enchanted world of wordless storytelling, witness musical incantations that create moments of pure magic. The musicians have worked tirelessly to perfect their art to the point where they can convey beauty and tragedy and glory and defeat and passion and grief, and in the moment of their big performance, they share it with me. Just for that moment. Small wonder that my first husband was a professional musician.

meg-quote-2So, while that visit to the symphony a few years ago was my Mother’s Day gift, I was thinking of my father. We’ve grown apart in recent years, with little hope of reconciliation. What divides us is a gulf I’ve failed to bridge. But he gave me the great gift of appreciating music and stories beyond the pleasant sounds, into the heart of human understanding.

And even now, when I listen to Scheherazade, I have his voice in my head, telling me all about the symphony from his bottomless well of musical knowledge. The rift will disappear, and I’ll be his kid again, sharing that moment of transient beauty.

 

Rimsky-Korsakov

Call for Submissions

Is there a song that reminds you of that last, awkward Halloween when you were too old to Trick-or-Treat but unwilling to give it up? Is there a piece of music that reminds you of that snowed-in, boozy weekend in December with your then girlfriend and her annoying brother?

Prepare it for us and send it in! We’re looking for all kinds of submissions, from artwork to essays to embarrassing live covers on video in your basement.

www.medicineididntknowineeded@gmail.com

Call for Submissions

Olivia Newton-John

denim-record-player

Have You Never Been Mellow?

By Andrew Fort

I know I’m not the only one who occasionally feels pity for those children growing up in the digital age. I like to hold a book in my hands. I like surface noise on vinyl. I like tape hiss. And I like it when children are bored and forced to come up with solutions to their boredom which involve sticks, or dirt, or lumps of clay.

One of the lumps of clay I used as a solution to my boredom when I was a child was a record player decorated as if it were made out of denim, with a pocket on the lid. It had three speeds—33 rpm, 45 rpm, and “N”.

“N” stood for “neutral,” and it was a godsend for a bored kid with an ear for strange sounds. My friend down the street and I discovered that “N” was the secret to unleashing all sorts of demonic voices on the world. Had we been of different inclinations, we might have discovered scratching, about a decade too early. Hip-hop could have had a very different face—the face of white suburban California eight-year-olds. Somehow I don’t think it would have caught on that way.

olivia_newton-john-have_you_never_been_mellow-front
Good for demonic voices

What we did instead was scare the dogs, scare the cats, scare the younger children down the street. My garage was in a perpetual state of disarray due to my long-term planning of a haunted house thrill ride which never fully materialized, and the record player was an ideal addition to the collection of cheap masks, blacklights, and thrift store wig heads.

But then something else happened. I discovered that you could play a 33rpm record on 45 rpm.

I have kids. I teach kids. And I know understand how relentless children can be. Often they are not simply kids, but a whole other state of being. They pull you out of whatever brainspace you may have happily, blissfully inhabited, into their chaotic and hyper-intense world. And that world is usually frenetic, sticky, and very very noisy.

To quote a worn-out phrase, they harsh your mellow.

But at the time I didn’t understand how potentially annoying playing the song “Have You Ever Been Mellow” over and over again at 45rpm might possibly be. Maybe that, or I didn’t care. What I did know is that it seemed the ideal voice for the pom-pom creature which seemed to be the cutest thing ever and in my imagination a constant companion on my adventures. And with his sticky feet, he stuck right to the denim pocket on the lid of my record player! Voila! A perfect way to spend the afternoon.

pom-poms-googly-eyesI don’t know how many times I played that record before my dad finally snapped. To his credit, it was more than twice. I think it may have been five or six times? Also to his credit, he didn’t direct his anger at me. No, he walked straight into my room, pulled the record off the record player, and slammed it against my desk. I didn’t know vinyl could shatter in that many pieces.

I was shocked into silence. Probably a silence that my father had wished for for a long, long, time. Maybe even since he’d had children.

Had been more prescient, I might have simply asked him the question which was on Olivia Newton-John’s mind, and which is on my mind a lot these days as we start up another year of school lunches, homework, sticky countertops, and noisy, noisy mornings: Have you never been mellow? Have you never tried?

TIP: For an approximation of a googly-eyed voice, click on the “tools” icon in the YouTube player and choose SPEED>2. For an awesomely mellow experience, choose SPEED>.5

Olivia Newton-John

Des’ree

Life

By Lara Shelton

At the time, I fancied myself a poet.

On a good night, there might be twenty of us. Some of us came and went. You could usually tell who wasn’t going to stick around because they would come with a little notepad or a carefully typed-out manuscript, and they would order a beer and place it before them on the table like a novitiate’s candle. Or they would come in with a bunch of friends–a traveling fan club which encircled them like a layer of bubble wrap, insulating them from the rougher members of the group.

Some of them were pretty rough. There was the guy who told me, bleary-eyed, that he had written his poem for the night on a sanitary napkin because the muse had taken hold of him and he had been tossing and turning for hours, and the only place he could find paper was in the women’s bathroom at the bar below his apartment. There was the woman who had a facial tattoo of Rimbaud’s quote Misfortune is my god.

These were my people.

There were public readings involved. The “scene”, as I called it in my head, consisted of a lot of drinking in bars, a stage usually made up of a couple of moving pallets with a piece of cardboard and some old carpet thrown over them, and all of the characters I mentioned above, along with a lot of drunken wannabe screenwriters.

There was a hierarchy. First the man who founded the reading night, he was most important, because he had published a chapbook that had gotten him noticed by a certain popular singer who then paid him a shitload of money to plagiarize his poem and add a good-time chorus. As I said, he was first, then anyone who had made it into his inner circle by being sycophantic enough to cut through his alcohol haze. They came next. If you were a hot enough girl, and his type, you could sometimes worm your way into this circle without having to be sycophantic to excess. I was a hot enough girl. Meaning, I was blonde and had no visible facial scarring.

Des'ree square 2So, in the beginning, even though I liked to hide in the darkest corner of the bar with the people who desperately scrawled their poetry on coffee filters in the middle of the night, and we liked to laugh hoarsely and share cigarettes and trash talk,  I came in the mid-section of the evening, between the guy who had founded the reading night and the people at the end–my people–the ones who liked to go dark. I was just a blonde with no visible facial scarring some poetic pretensions that had been stoked by winning a high-school writing contest.

What is it about older guys and sexualizing fatherhood? Why do older guys always want to think that you’re going to find them sexy because they’re more accomplished than you are? What is that about?

I was about to find out. First I got noticed, for being angry and bruised. Or at least for having angry and bruised poetry. When I look back on it now, it’s utterly ridiculous. I was angry, sure, but I was unbruised as a Whole Foods Asian pear. I had been wrapped in the styrofoam netting of privilege since I was young. Not the privilege of money, exactly, but the privilege of a stable childhood in a safe environment. But somehow being angry and bruised seemed more appealing than good schools and a two-car garage on a cul-de-sac, and so that’s what I spewed forth.

But I think he thought that I was damaged goods. And damaged goods come cheap.

Des'ree square 1Or maybe he wanted to save me, somehow. Maybe he wanted to stand up in his Bukowski sweater and point his fatherly finger in a fatherly direction and show me the way. Either way, there was an implied intimacy, and an implication that I should somehow be grateful. All while my own father, my real father, was probably at home watching 60 Minutes in the wood-paneled rec room.

I didn’t sense anything weird at first. I thought, foolishly, that it was merit which singled me out.

When he began to move me forward in the line-up I thought that was merit too.

Except, I was running out of new poems. The anger which had fueled the first dozen or so, once I had exhausted it, began to feel less and less authentic. But I had started off writing in a certain vein, and couldn’t exactly show up with hearts and flowers.

When I got there, things felt different. The people that I had bonded with looked at me like I was a traitor. When he announced that I was to come first, right after him, they sniggered behind my back. And when I looked at the material I had brought, I realized I was going to crash and burn.

So instead I got up and recited the lyrics to this song, which I had heard on the radio on the way over:

Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot doot dooo.
Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot dooo

I’m afraid of the dark,
Especially when I’m in a park
And there’s no-one else around,
Oh, I get the shivers

I don’t want to see a ghost,
It’s a sight that I fear most
I’d rather have a piece of toast
And watch the evening news

Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot doot dooo.
Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot dooo

Needless to say, I didn’t go back the next week.
Des’ree

Clotilde

Secret Name

By Kedrick Rue

LAcityscape2Sometimes when you tell a secret–a secret without real context or precedent–you’re creating a mystery rather than solving one.

This is the kind of secret I’m writing about today.

So there was a bar, and there was a back room. You may as well think of it as a fairy tale, because it may as well be. A bar, and a back room, and a guitar.

Also, there was a woman. She may have been French. Her name may have been Clotilde; that may also have been a disguise she was wearing.

It was the early seventies, everyone at the bar was there to see the stoner band which went on at 10:00. But I was restless, and I was still young enough for something stunning passing through my line of sight to make a deep impression. I ventured into the back room, which was private. I knocked three times; I said the magic word; I passed through the hidden doorway. The woman sang a song.

The song was called Secret Name.

If I remembered the lyrics, it would be worse than forgetting them. If I remembered even a hint of the chord progression, it might disappear into thin air. What I can tell you is that Clotilde was small and thin. Upturned nose, brown heavy-lashed eyes. Impeccably dressed Kedrick Quote Clotildein a tailored white tunic which nodded towards hippie culture even as it summarily dismissed it. There was no crowd; the crowd had come to hear the stoner band which didn’t go on for another hour.

She played guitar with manicured nails. Her thumbnail had been reinforced with a shaving from a ping pong ball, and I remember her commenting that this, more than anything, would be the reason that she would never be a star. I think this was humor; it may have been deadly serious.

I also remember the subject matter of the song. It was a fairy tale which may have been invented by Clotilde, about a woman imprisoned in a pillar of stone by a curse, doomed to languish until someone discovers her secret name. Unlike most fairy tales of this sort, however, there was no one attempting to rescue her. No prince, no fairy godmother.

After establishing the context, the song went on to list the people in the village passing by the stone: the baker, the parson, the farmer. The baker commented that it might become a millstone, to mill his wheat. The parson mentioned that it might be carved into a crucifix. The farmer wanted to carve it into a watering trough. No one seemed to notice that the pillar they were walking past was actually a person.

Eventually five hundred years passed, and at the end of the song the woman herself had forgotten her name. And she hadn’t become a millstone, or a crucifix, or a watering trough. She had been only a pillar.

Kedrick Quote Clotilde 2The song ended, and the few people lucky enough to have heard it were shaken from their spell enough to mumble and clap. And then the stoner band began to play, and the crowds rushed in, and Clotilde packed up her guitar and left.

I woke up the next morning not quite remembering how I’d gotten home, but with a scrap of melody flowing through my head, like a lone golden feather drifting through a darkening forest, and the memory of a name–her secret name–which I had been certain she had whispered to me in my sleep.

I later met this woman at a party. It was a few years later, and she supposed no one remembered her. She didn’t seem particularly pleased that I did. But I did, and I asked her several questions, which she answered in third person.

ME: Why did you stop?
CLOTILDE: Why did she start?
ME: Because she had something to say.
CLOTILDE: Her English is not so good.
ME: But there was a spirit, an esprit–
CLOTILDE: A spirit in the air…maybe only a passing spirit…
ME: And did anyone ever discover her name?
CLOTILDE: No one even knew to ask. Finally she remembered it herself, and the stone cracked. So she walked away.

I never saw her again after that night. Somebody at the party told me that she had recorded a single in France, and that if you knew who to ask or if you looked hard enough, you might find it. But even in this era of YouTube and Spotify, it fails to show up. I wonder if this means she recorded under another name.

And I realize that, even as I’m writing this, it’s the sort of secret which cannot be shared. It was shared once, and may never be shared again, like the door you go through in the fairy tale to find that five hundred years have passed.

Five hundred years have passed, and I am still thinking about a song whose words I can’t remember, and whose music is just a suggestion in my memory.

If that’s not a spell, I don’t know what is.

If you have information on Clotilde, e-mail Kedrick at kedrickrue@gmail.com.

Clotilde