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

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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