Secret Name–Clotilde

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 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.

Secret Name–Clotilde

Cloudbusting–Kate Bush

By Andrew Fort

Hounds_of_love

 

When the album “Hounds of Love” came out I was in high school. Even though Kate Bush was hugely popular in Europe, she was still perceived in the U.S. as bizarre, willful, and somewhat immature. If anyone knew about her at all, it was as “that chick who sang with Peter Gabriel.” I think that’s still all most people here know about her.

But I was obsessed. I had all the albums–on cassette. I read all the interviews. People used to see me walking home from school and think I was talking to myself. I wasn’t. I was just singing the entire album to myself. From start to finish. Track by track. With sound effects.

Kate Bush looking childish
Kate Bush looking childish

But I was a Freshman, so people wrote me off, and I was left to my liner notes and reviews. I remember one in particular (in ROLLING STONE, I think) which was unable to deny the songcraft and production ingenuity of the album, but which still wrote off the lyrics as nothing more than the rantings of a woman with the emotional maturity of an eight-year-old. And though I would have vehemently denied it to anybody I was trying to convert, I always felt the same about this one particular song, Cloudbusting: bizarre, willful, somewhat immature. I mean, she actually sings from the perspective of an eight-year-old here. She sings about her glow-in-the-dark yo-yo. She sings about her dad being taken away by the government.

a book of dreamsPerhaps not coincidentally, my parents split up around this time. My dad had been jobless for a long while and I think this was the source of the conflict. My mom felt like she had to do everything and my dad felt worthless, a them which would carry through the rest of his life. At the time I didn’t really understand the pressures of having a family, so I spent most of the time in my room, with my liner notes and interviews and cassette tapes. With the kind of obsessive attention that only a high-school Freshman seems to have time to lavish on his favorite music, I even went so far as to seek out the book which inspired the song: A BOOK OF DREAMS by Peter Reich. It explained the backstory: Reich’s father, the brilliant scientist and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, regarded glow-in-the-dark items as radioactive and was later taken away by “men in black” who thought him dangerous. Yet is still didn’t excused the childishness of the song or the video, in which Bush, with the aplomb that only someone as brilliant as she can manage when being totally ridiculous, dresses as a child and spends time with her magical, brilliant father (played by Donald Sutherland) until he’s taken away. 

So. My father has been dead for nearly twenty years. He wasn’t brilliant. He wasn’t magical. Towards the end of his life he was close to being homeless, struggling with alcohol and joblessness. He wasn’t taken away by the government, but by a heart attack. And I was almost too busy trying to be an adult to even take notice.

About five years ago I wrote a calculatedly tear-jerking essay about him for a now-defunct website called Field Report. The site’s gone now, but at the time it was offering $1,000 prizes for winning entries. Even though I have never really written for money, this time I did. I won the $1,000, as I knew I would. But I still didn’t feel much. Because my dad had always been a cipher, someone I was vaguely embarrassed by.

Quickly enough the $1,000 evaporated, as money tends to do. And little things began to permeate the air, like alpha particles being ejected from a radioactive material. I began to feel guilty for writing the piece. I remembered the time my dad got so angry at my older sister that he broke down the bathroom door with his bare hands while she hid inside. I remembered the birthday when I had given him a carton of cigarettes, because he couldn’t afford his own. Then, the next year, to atone for contributing to his terrible smoking habit, I gave him a book of Mark Twain stories, only to learn somewhat later that he was most likely dyslexic and could barely read. As someone who writes, this realization hit me the hardest.

Then, slowly, happier memories began to come through. Tickle-torture matches. The way he could dance completely unselfconsciously, something I’ve never been able to do. How much he loved his parents.

My father wasn’t magical. He wasn’t brilliant. He was jobless, on the verge of homelessness, and could barely read. But I began to understand how difficult it all must have been for him. I began to see how earnestly he attempted to make a connection with his sometimes bizarre, willful, and immature offspring.Cloudbusting Quote

I think that what troubled me most about Kate Bush’s song when I was in high school was that it felt embarrassing and childish at a time when the last thing I wanted to be was embarrassing and childish. But the childishness was still with me. I hadn’t shaken it yet. And ultimately Kate Bush was right, as she seems to be about most things, given time.

My dad’s entire side of the family has died out, and often it seems to me like my his life was completely pointless, and it feels far too self-congratulatory to imagine that all of his struggling went towards forming my sisters and me.

But ultimately it doesn’t matter anyway, because his memory is like Kate Bush’s yo-yo: something radioactive which I keep in my pocket. And it continues to emit energy into the air whether I acknowledge it or not.

Cloudbusting video on YouTube

Cloudbusting–Kate Bush