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.
By Zero Feeney
During my second sophomore year in college I had a show on the school radio station. (I actually had three sophomore years. It’s a long story.) But during my second, I was on KLC, Lewis and Clark radio. We had the same radio frequency as Reed College. Their station could be received over most of the Portland metropolitan area. Ours could be received from inside some of the closer dorms on campus. Then just from inside the student union building. Then just from the closed speakers to the booth. Then one of the speakers broke.
However, nobody seemed to know this at the time or perhaps they didn’t care, or at least didn’t care to tell me. So I showed up on the day in question, nervous, excited, and ten minutes early like the passionate student DJ I was. I got my spiral notebook out of my bag and opened it to look over my song list but found it difficult to concentrate because the best punk song ever recorded was coming out of the speaker from the booth. (I am tempted to qualify this part and call it my favorite punk song, or one of the best punk songs, or an important punk song, but I owe it to you and to the song itself not to soft pedal it for once. It’s just the best.) That was the first time I heard it and it was rapture. I stared at the steel speaker in the wall, simultaneously frozen and on fire.
When it was over I just stood there, paralyzed for a long time. Then I turned and looked into the booth while the DJ played her last two songs. After this it would be time for me to go in and set up. I was excited but I was also scared. I had to ask her what the song was but I was intimidated. You see, the other DJ was really cool. She, like, did stuff. She was Macrobiotic before anybody even knew what that was. But on the other hand I couldn’t not do it; I couldn’t not ask her. So when she was wrapped up and her sign–off song was playing I asked her what that song third from last had been. Her face lit up like a bright light.
“It’s called Carnival by Bikini Kill. Isn’t it incredible?”
“Yeah, It’s unbelievable. Who are they? Where are they, like… from?”
“They’re students! From this art school up in Washington. They just played downtown on Saturday at the X-ray Cafe!”
“Oh… well too bad. I guess I missed it.”
“No! They’ll be back at the end of their tour in a few weeks. You could totally see them.”
I know she told me more but I can’t remember any of it. In my memory her voice fades away.
This is the part of the story were I would love to tell you that I went to the show. That when the room was howling and they brought the girls to the front it gave me that magical feeling of seeing justice be done and maybe feeling like I was part of it. That it helped me become a more vocal feminist and not a semi-closeted one.
But none of that happened. I played the song on my show every week; I looked at the cover of the EP; I played the other songs. But I didn’t do anything else. I never went to a show. And then the band was gone. Forever.
I never saw Bikini Kill because in that moment, talking the cool DJ in the doorway of the booth, I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t believe her. I couldn’t believe that anything that good, that sharp, that pure could come from people that you could actually go and see. Who you could talk to. Who were just across town or down the hall. Things like that song—incredible things—were from far away. From big cities on the far side of a screen where someone like me would never be on the list. I felt that she must have wanted to deceive me somehow or had made some mistake. She must have gotten it wrong.
So I didn’t go and I have always regretted it. I hope that someday I will somehow rectify that mistake and stand up and cheer for the music I love so much.
Now you may think that this is a sad story but actually it’s not. Because that song taught me a lesson and taught that lesson deep. Since then, whenever I see a show or a play, listen to music being played in front of me or hear a demo tape that an accountant made over the weekend, I can hear it. I can really hear it. I can listen with everything I have. Because the best things, the perfect things can happen, are bound to happen just down the street or right here, right now, in front of someone, in front of you, in your real life.
Art is for, and comes from, and belongs to, everyone.
Especially when the transmitter is broken.
Like I said, it’s a really good song.
Yes, I know it’s a Bowie song. But our dear departed Man Who Fell to Earth, Thin White Duke, Supermodel husband and Space Oddity is unfortunately not dancing on the tinfoil surface of my brain right now. There are some people who have so much inside them that they outgrow each persona like last year’s lace-up bodysuit. Bowie contained universes. Our dear departed Kurt, God bless him, never gave himself the chance to explore much beyond the feedback squeal of his acid-gargling grunge laments. The 90’s must have been hard for him, because damn, they were hard for me.
Think back to the 90’s. Has there been another recent decade more drenched in hairy upper-lip, sweaty armpit, semen-stained testosterone? Bruce Willis was big, Horn-dog Clinton was in office, and unshaven Grunge was on the radio.
But I have no problem with Kurt. It was his flannel-frocked fans who were the problem. It was his flannel-frocked fans who moshed in the mosh pit and who banged their heads and who locked me in my locker when they realized I was petite enough to fit in there.
My brother was one of these fans.
I won’t go into it, but I don’t talk to my brother anymore. But my brother is the focus of this memory, my brother who somehow got the hairy upper-lip, sweaty armpit, semen-stained genes in the family. My brother who was a member of the Field Hockey team. My brother who left pubes in the soap and skid marked chonies on the bedroom floor. My brother liked Nirvana. And one day I walked in on him strutting around our shared bedroom to this song, wearing our sister’s dress just like Kurt on the cover of The Face.
In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m trans.
First thing for all you straight girls and boys who may not be familiar, I have to clarify that drag and trans are not the same thing. Girls in drag are always at their best. Because drag is about putting on a show. Drag is about the false eyelashes, the sequins, the MAC Cosmetics. Drag is tucking and pushing-up and hairspray and neon. Drag is about a night out.
Trans is the opposite. Trans is about living every day. Trans is about running out into the street in the piss-yellow light of six a.m. in flip-flops and three-day-old leg stubble when you realize you forgot to park the car out of the street sweeper zone because your desk shift at the clinic ran long when someone ransacked the supply closet and the manager thought it must be you. (Hint: it wasn’t me.) Trans is wearing dirty sweat pants to the emergency room when you cut your arm open on a jagged can of three-bean salad.
So whether I’m talking about my brother strutting around in our sister’s dress to the strains of Nirvana or Miss Thang in a hot-pink bouffant at Ray-Ray’s on a Friday night lip-syncing to the strains of Gloria Gaynor, I know they’re as different from what I am as a pancake from a prostitute. And there have been times when this has really pissed me off.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my caramel-colored skin and my size nine feet. But there have been times when I’ve boiled over watching straight boys putting on eyeliner to go to the Smashing Pumpkins concert, or bachelorette parties going to the drag club lining up outside the drag club. These things have pissed me off exactly as much as the white boy who used to drive down my street every evening in his Subaru Outback blasting Public Enemy. These kids get to play at being black or being trans, but without the downside. And the downsides are many.
When trans people (I prefer the term “Fantabulistix”) talk about gender, or when people of color (I prefer the term “Exquisitudinians”) talk about race, straight white people think that’s all we can think about. That’s because it’s always there on the surface, like that delicious froth which rises to the top of all those straight white people’s Americanos. And that can be a burden, even if you like Americanos.
But what I now know, at the wise old age of 26, is this: it’s culture as much as legislation that legitimizes the Fantabulistic Exquisitudinians. It’s the Bowies and the Kurts, God bless ’em.
When I was a kid I always wondered why there were no blue M&Ms. My mom said it was because the blue dye was cancerous. Well, it turns out the blue dye is not cancerous, it’s just that people think it’s unnatural. But you know what? These days kids eat the blue M&Ms without thinking twice about it.
I could never hate Bowie or Kurt as much as I hated my brother that day. But what I’ve learned, I guess, is that by enacting these fantasies, the straight white dudes who might otherwise shove me in a locker are getting to experience just a little bit of what I’ve experienced. And tasting a blue M&M can never be a bad thing.
Excerpt from The Emerald Ballroom
by Andrew Fort
The air was dense with smoke. A mask of moisture appeared on her face almost immediately. Anna clutched her bowling ball bag and pushed through the crowd. She considered finding a table and going through the articles in the bag, but the music was too numbing. Instead she wandered through the crowd. She lost track of time. She had a dozen or more listless, bored conversations with listless, bored people who swayed rhythmlessly to the music and whose eyes wandered around the room as if they’d rather be talking to anyone else. The band played one miasma of a song after another. Anna’s senses were dulled. Occasionally the colored lights shifted; red became blue or blue became dirty yellow. At some point in the evening, while talking to a man in a leather jacket who claimed to be an “Assassin of the Establishment,” she momentarily forgot where she was and what she was doing there. She slipped through the crowd into the bathroom and looked at her face in the mirror. It was a face she had long since studied into meaninglessness. She squeezed an emergent pimple.
The woman in the stall directly behind her began to cough violently and Anna caught sight of something red. There was a sound of water splashing. Eventually the woman emerged from the bathroom stall and stuffed something that looked like a length of surgical tubing into the garbage can. She had the face of a junkie. Anna watched her go. The bass from the band made the latch on the bathroom stall buzz like a dying beetle. She suddenly despaired for everything she had left behind. Numb and unsure of where else to go, she left the bathroom.
She wove her way through the complicated screen of clubbers to the other end of the room. When she reached the door, she stood for a moment with her hand on the handle. The lights went from blue to yellow and the pianist pounded a sickening, unresolved chord and let it resound. It sounded premonitory. Anna saw her own shadow change color on the door. She turned on instinct to see the stage illuminated by a single spotlight, under which Ferrian was standing.
“O,” Anna said. She did an unintentional double-take, looking back at her colored shadow on the exit door and then at Ferrian as the piano introduction continued, pulsing and dissonant. Ferrian swayed along. She was dressed in a kinky ensemble of black fishnet stockings and a white poet’s shirt which stopped in a ruffle high on the thigh. Anna felt as if she had been tricked; she had come to the club looking for M. and meaning had stepped in sideways.
The piano introduction continued, jazzy and a little perverse, with a bass line that descended stubbornly until it had reached the bottom keys. There was an effect of deepening, of widening. When the bass ran out of places to go, it began descent on a new note. Ferrian’s face was transported. Her eyes were closed. There was a flush of fever on her cheeks. She began to sing, her voice surprisingly deep and resonant and drawn out of her slowly, so that every note verged on expiring before it became the next.
My funny valentine…
Sweet comic valentine…
You make me smile with my heart.
Her eyes were closed, her voice deep and regretful, and so deadly serious it could only have been ironic, or so ironic it could only have been deadly serious. The little parenthesis appeared at the side of her mouth. The bass line continued to descend, hinting at richness, at profundity.
Your looks are laughable
Yet you’re my favorite work
Anna felt betrayed by coincidence. Were she following a different trail, Ferrian’s performance might have meant something. As it was, she couldn’t connect it to anything she was looking for. But there was still a sense in which the performance conjured some of the richness which had been missing from the club itself.
She moved back through the crowd towards the stage. At that moment Ferrian opened her eyes in a sideways glance to the pianist and caught sight of something which shook her. It might have been Anna. She gave a self-conscious wink, but something had shaken her. She cocked her head slightly as if trying to forget—she sang “weak” for “Greek.” The pianist continued but Ferrian had fallen behind and couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up. Anna stopped where she was. Suddenly it seemed an impossible weight, the complex construction of self and a world where self could function. Meaning kept creeping in the side door, revising itself.
There was something fake about the club. The yellow light became red. Anna watched as Ferrian attempted to laugh her mistake off but the laughter shattered the spell of the music and it was impossible to find the thread of melody amidst the pianist’s cacophonous playing. Ferrian glanced behind her, panicked. She clutched the microphone stand. Anna could feel her face growing hot. People pushed up against her. Everything in the club felt fake and it seemed impossible that Ferrian would be able to recapture the richness of before. Her face convulsed, tightened. It looked drawn, like the face of the junkie in the bathroom. The bass began to descend again. Miraculously, Ferrian found her footing, almost stumbling on the correct phrase. The solemnity was even deeper for having survived that near-death. Anna watched, drawn in as Ferrian regained confidence and began to eerily sway, to cock her wrists and, Kewpie-like, swing in tiny arcs first the left then the right, even as the music reached a fearful clamorous pitch, the pianist pounding with both hands.
Halfway through the next phrase Ferrian looked behind her and an expression of paranoia, panic, came to her face. The song became unbearably tense. Anna saw a desperation in Ferrian’s face that mirrored her own. How could she construct a self when coincidence kept creeping in, skewing things? She felt herself going hot and shaky. She felt as if everyone were watching her. She self-consciously scanned the room. Ferrian sang the final phrase, her eyes wide in terror, as the pianist brought the song to a shockingly tonal close. Her expression faded from terror to acceptance. The pianist played a few final strains and the blood which had seemed to make Ferrian’s complexion so ruddy suddenly drained, leaking in a blackish trickle out one side of her mouth. It was an over-the-top touch, but utterly convincing and in keeping with the inherent camp value of the song.
There was a smattering of applause. Anna didn’t want to look at the Inferno; she knew that Ferrian’s performance had communicated the essence of the place more eloquently than the colored lights or the velvet curtain. It had communicated a complete world, a world somehow richer than her own. Perhaps it was only a world of the junkie on taking her first hit. She bumped into a listlessly swaying man in her haste to get out. Already the world was fading. She tried to hold a picture in her mind of Ferrian singing. She zigzagged through the meandering black shapes of the clubbers, trying to hold on to at least a scrap of melody. By the time she made it to the door and out into the cold, salt air, the only thing she heard with any certainty was the persistent clanking of the buoys.