Come Sail Away
by Kedrick Rue
I don’t care what they say
I’m gonna keep it anyway
I won’t let them stretch their necks
To see my little black egg with the little white specks
I first heard the song “The Little Black Egg” when I was five or six years old, and I remember thinking even at the time that it sounded like the sort of song a child might invent: There comes Mary, there comes Lee! I’ll bet what they want to see. Musically, the term “earworm” comes to mind. It’s a simple I-IV-V progression with a catchy opening riff, the kind of song that when heard at a young age never leaves your mind. But there’s also something beyond that which caused my young mind to gnaw at the song like a dog gnawing at a piece of bone, and that’s the central enigma of the Little Black Egg. Is that what the song’s really about? Is it really as simple as that?
Even though this song was only a minor hit, it stood out in stark relief among the other songs of the day: Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher; Up, Up and Away; All You Need is Love. Only Procol Harum and Jefferson Airplane reached the kind of absurd surrealism this song does. Its central enigma was particularly appealing to a child of my turn of mind, a child who insisted that fairies were real and who believed that if he tried hard enough he could move things with his mind. The Little Black Egg began to take on an occult significance, and more than once I was caught searching in the tree tops of Laurel Canyon, should I happen to find one.
Loath as I am to discuss personal matters in blog form or any other form, let me just say that there was a woman. She is the little black egg in this scenario, and I found her not in a tree, but in the folklore department of the liberal arts college I attended. At the time I felt fortunate, as if I had discovered something genuinely special, something I had to nurse and keep away from the other onlookers. But I came to feel that the egg possessed me, rather than I it, just as the singer of the song’s singular obsession with his find starts to feel increasingly pathological as the song progresses.
I am not, and have never been one of sunny disposition. But I appeared positively sunny compared to this woman. She was like the magnetic core of a dark star, pulling me ever deeper into her world.
At the time I was writing my thesis linking UFO abduction narratives with the fairy folklore of the British Isles, and she was finishing up her thesis on the folklore of La Cegua, a Central American phantom who is in many ways like the beautiful vanishing hitchhiker of American urban legend. Perhaps I should also mention that La Cegua, when picked up by a virile young man on a deserted road, turns into a phantom with the head of a putrefied horse as they drive along.
Too early in our relationship to do such a thing she and I took a trip to Costa Rica to search for La Cegua, and she became convinced that we would find her. This was the first indication that the endeavor might not be wholly academic.
I am not a man who shies away from dark topics. I inherited a collection of monkeys’ paws from my great-grandfather, and they still hold pride of place among other artifacts in my living room. I am not in the least squeamish about putrefied horseflesh, and I have also participated in a number of Dark Arts rituals from a fairly early age–a not uncommon thing in the neighborhood in which I grew up. But things began to get spooky. I found myself waiting late one night by the side of an empty road in Costa Rica waiting for La Cegua. While we waited, this woman started talking about how things were going badly with us. That she was going to need to leave me, and that things were rotten. It seemed an awfully colloquial word for her to use: rotten, and I asked her what she meant by it. She said that she was rotting, that she was dying. I thought perhaps she was experiencing what medical students experience, when they feel they have every symptom of every disease they study. Perhaps she thought she was La Cegua. Then I asked her if she had been to the doctor. If there was a tumor, or something she hadn’t told me. She said that it didn’t matter, because she was already dead. At the time, I thought she was trying to scare me, and it worked. I could feel La Cegua moving close in the darkness, breathing her rotten breath on me. The folly of the whole enterprise suddenly came to me, waiting out in the darkness of a foreign country, and for nothing more than lust. It became clear how easy it would be for someone to come by and rob us, or worse.
At some point, deep in the night, I saw a bright light approaching us. She stood right in the middle of the road, waiting for it, while I hid in the brush. It turned out to be a police car.
On the way home she was despondent, and I finally realized what was going on. I told her that I thought she should see a therapist, and she turned on me. We spent the rest of the flight home not talking. When I ran into her on campus the following week, she pretended I didn’t exist.
Eventually she got her degree and I got my degree, and we never saw each other again. But at some point she became my Little Black Egg, a curio that I pull out and admire from time to time for its dark beauty.
By Lara Shelton
When I was thirteen my family took a trip to Germany to attend the funeral of a distant relative that I’d never met. We stayed in a little town called Westhausen, and there was only one other family in the hotel at the time. They were American as well. Where, even a year before, their American-ness might have passed by me unnoticed, as a thirteen-year-old everything they did or said mortified me. Baseball caps? Check. Chewing gum? Check. Complaining about the accommodations? Check. I remember thinking: Is this what my family looks like? Is this what I look like? Is it really that obvious? Does everyone see it but me?
In my mid-20s I had a serious relationship with a man who I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. In many ways he was my polar opposite. He had done a stint in the Peace Corps. He came from a large, poor-but-happy family, who felt and expressed nothing but love for me and talked about their feelings without the slightest hint of embarrassment. He took things one day at a time, as they came, and he never worried about the future. He was, in short, everything I wanted to be. But things went sour, and we broke up. We split up the furniture, and we fought over who would stay in the apartment. I won. But when I came home from work the day he moved out, I found this CD: Blue, by Joni Mitchell. Sitting right in the middle of the the kitchen table.
As we had no kids, no pets, and the break up had been painful for us both, I couldn’t bring myself to ask him what he meant by leaving this particular CD on the dining room table we had purchased together in that first excited rush to be a couple. Was it a parting gift? A whimsical reminder of the color of his post-break-up emotional state? A mistake?
One thing I was sure of, it was his CD and not mine. I still hadn’t moved out of my industrial phase, and 60’s-era folkies were certainly not on heavy rotation in my CD player. Yes, I had heard the song “River” before and thought it was fine, in a singer-songwriter sort of way, but singer-songwriter has never been my thing, and I chalked it up to an honest mistake.
Then the night began to go by. All of my other close friends were in relationships at the time, and I was finding myself in the apartment alone for the first time in years. And I mean really alone. None of the old medicines were helping. Around midnight, with the toilet running and a raccoon rooting around outside in the trash cans, and sleep far away, all of my old CDs reminded me of good times that had passed.
I decided to put Blue on.
And Joni annoyed the hell out of me.
Don’t get me wrong. Joni is top notch, even if she does like to rhyme phrases like “figure skater” with phrases like “coffee percolator.” But that night she reminded me more of me than my own CDs did. It was as if I were suddenly seeing all of the things my ex hated about me, written by laser on the mirror-like surface of the CD. Joni’s got a way of standing at a distance, and judging. She does it even with herself. With Joni, there is no joy in being clever, only bitterness. And there’s no real joy in love, only insecurity that it might someday be lost. Sometimes it sounds as if her piano is her only friend. I don’t even play the piano.
So once the last lyrics on the album ran through the room: I’m gonna blow this damn candle out/I don’t want nobody coming over to my table, I got nothing to talk to anybody about, I found myself less able to sleep than before. Was this a gift, or a little drop of poison? Was this a mirror? Is this what I look like? Does everyone see it but me? I suddenly remembered the phrase “you’re not my shrink, you’re my girlfriend,” which I had heard more than once, usually in the midst of a screaming match. Joni, you bitch, why do you know me better than I know myself?
I took the CD out of the player and snapped it in half. I also cut my finger on the jagged edge.
Let’s just say it was a very dark night, and I began to wonder if everything had been my fault. He wasn’t to blame, as he had no depth—he was always exactly what was advertised on the package. I was the one who was evasive, and cynical, and judgmental.
But let’s say—let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that Joni and I were a couple. We would be like those two cats, in the old nursery rhyme:
There once were two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit
And they scratched and they bit
Till (excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails)
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.
I lived with this image for a long time. And I began to obsess over this album, Blue, being a secret letter to my innermost self, the self that couldn’t live with itself. From “All I Want”:
All I really want to do
Is to bring out the best in me and in you.
From “My Old Man”:
He’s a singer in the park.
He’s a walker in the rain, he’s a dancer in the dark…
And then I’d gone and spoiled it all. As Joni croons in “River,” I’d made my baby say goodbye.
Turns out, thought, that it was all an innocent mistake. He had, in his own, good-hearted, honest, depthless way, thought that the CD belonged to me. Which just goes to prove that he never really knew me in the first place. I found this out late one night, in a tearful, soul-bearing, excruciatingly embarrassing phone call which was met with mostly silence on his end.
Here is your song from me….
by Bill Cameron
Very early on the morning of December 9, 1980, I awoke from a troubling dream. I can’t remember the dream itself, just that it had left me unsettled and anxious. It was shortly after four, and I didn’t have to be up for another two-and-a-half hours. The house was dark and quiet, so I reached over to the clock radio on my nightstand and twisted the snooze knob. Thirty minutes of tunes should be enough to knock me out again. Dreamless this time, I hoped.
I read the news today, oh boy…
I doubt it was the first time I heard “A Day in the Life.” I was a senior in high school, too young to have experienced the Beatles in real time — but everyone had heard The Beatles. Still, my bands were Pink Floyd and Queen. I didn’t own a single Beatles album. Hell, in 1980, I was more familiar with Band on the Run than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
So when John Lennon sang that first line, it wasn’t exactly new to me, but it may have been the first time I really listened to it. I remember staring at the fluid shadows of a hanging plant cast by the moon through the window curious as the melodious beginning took that first sudden turn.
…but I just had to look,
Having read the book…
As the song continued, I began to feel peaceful, floating there in my bed. The unsettled dream was still there, but it was fading in the music, a sound as soft as dew. Then the song changed again, now into something breathless and soulful — Lennon’s voice without words. It struck me that he was crying — and my unencumbered ear heard it — crying aloud about something you can never stop crying about. And as I listened — the violins, the wordless tune, the voice in the dark, all wrapped in moon shadows — I felt a shiver up my back and a sudden hole in my gut. For a moment all I knew and all I had ever known were those sounds. They reached inside and plucked a chord that was to resonate within me again and again for years to come.
…and somebody spoke, and I went into a dream…
There, alone in the dark, I realized that no matter how many times I heard “A Day in the Life” afterwards — and it would be thousands of times — it would never be the same. That moment was gone. I couldn’t give the song back, couldn’t un-hear the music.
When the music ended, the DJ come on to say he would be playing the Beatles throughout the night in memory of John Lennon, who’d been killed just a few hours earlier.