Jo Stafford

Haunted Heart

By Kedrick Rue

Laurel.Canyon.Blvd_.sign_.9900N-600x397I am driving up Laurel Canyon from a day in the city. There is little nature in Los Angeles, but what is there seems to be concentrated in the canyons that separate Los Angeles from the Valley. Between the two locations is a deep, winding rift in the plastic-and-concrete reality of Hollywood. It is as if all of the dreams out of which these fictions originate well up out of this rift.

When I was a child, we lived in these hills. My father worked at Lookout Mountain Studios, and I still own the house, whose location I shall not disclose, and which I call the Rectory. There were folkies, and hippies, and Satanists running through the woods at the time, along with children. Joni Mitchell sang songs from her terrace not that far from my house, in preference to having to make conversation, while David Crosby chased groupies through the caves hollowed out in the bedrock below his bedroom.

One morning I came outside to find a number of tiny people with flowers gathered in the garden. At the time, this didn’t seem strange, as I would regularly come upon one of Frank Zappa’s G.T.O.’s dressed as a butterfly, or a wandering itinerant who appeared to be There Were Folkieshomeless but who nevertheless had numerous expensive silk scarves draped around his neck. But these people were different. They were fairies, or pixies, or whatever you want to call them. They were tiny, and seemingly made of light, and they were all gathered around a tiny puddle where a toad presided, staring solemnly at the two who appeared to be their King and Queen, draped as they were in flower petals and cobwebs.

Then someone in the canyon began to play electric guitar and everything vanished.

Did my parents put something in my breakfast orange juice? Impossible. Did I inhale the leftover pot smoke from a party nearby? Unlikely. Did I dream this fairy wedding? I’m still not sure.

What I am sure of is that in my youth, my parents were friendly with people who worked in and around the film and music industry, and my imagination at this time was fertile. The canyons seemed like an enchanted place, where anything could happen. There was no sense of danger. At least before the Manson murders.

Sometimes my parents would sometimes bring home keepsakes from their parties or their time at the studio. One of these keepsakes which I cannot shake, and which is constantly on my turntable at the Rectory, is a record from Jo Stafford which contains the song “Haunted Heart.”
Jo Stafford
Haunted Heart, my haunted heart.
There’s a ghost of you within my haunted heart.
Ghost of you, my lost romance.
Lips that laugh, eyes that dance.

My father may have played the record that day, or maybe I did. All I know is that it’s inextricably tied to that image of the fairy wedding. The hippies, for the most part, are gone, priced out of the canyon. The folkies are gone. Even the Satanists are gone. My parents are gone, but I am not, and the image is not. And when the magic of the canyons seems to have faded, taken over by the plastic or the concrete or the gentrification or the business end of things, I remember that fairy wedding, and I remember that song. It haunts me in the very best possible way.

Haunted heart won’t let me be.
Dreams repeat a sweet but lonely song to me.
Dreams are dust, it’s you who must belong to me
And thrill my haunted heart.
Be still, my haunted heart.

Haunted Heart on YouTube

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Jo Stafford

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.

June Christy

A Piece for an Organ Inside a Clock–Mozart

By Kedrick Rue

Third in a series of “spooky” songs for October*

*actual “spooky” content may vary

mozart-death-mask
Mozart’s Death Mask

When I was a child, I thought that everything in the house came to life the moment I left. That stuffed animal? Of course it did. But that broom, as well. That plate ran off with the spoon. The mice held parties. The rugs inched across the floor, slug-style. How could it be proven that it didn’t happen? It didn’t matter that it was unlikely; what mattered is that it was possible.

As I got a little older, these borders between the animate and the inanimate became even more ill-defined. When was the “moment of death?” Was it when the last spark of consciousness ceased or with the shutting down of the last bodily process? And what was consciousness? Were slime molds conscious? Viruses? Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

In late 1790 Mozart was secretly commissioned to compose a piece of music for the funeral of Field Marshal Gideon von Laudon, an Austrian Generalisimo who had died that summer. 

Later, the piece was rededicated to Count Joseph Deym’s Müllersche Kunstgalerie in Vienna. The piece was played by a mechanical organ inside a small mausoleum, which was a part of the general display of the museum. A wax effigy of the Field Marshal lay encased in a glass coffin, like a sleeping beauty waiting for his kiss, surrounded by statues of mourners.

von-loudon-mausoleum
Von Laudon Mausoleum

The museum contained other mechanical wonders: a canary automaton, two flute-playing boys made out of wax, and even a “Bedroom of the Graces,” a semi-erotic tableau of a nubile young girl sleeping on a bed, lit by alabaster lamps and watched over by a statue of Venus. The sculptures were not alive, but the people who visited them were. How many of them played the flute? How many of them had live canaries at home?

I can’t help but think about how this mausoleum is now gone, along with the people who visited. The Field Marshal is gone. The Count is gone. Mozart is gone. I can’t help but think about how the reconstruction has vanished, but the music lives on. I imagine the people drifting through, come to see the Baron’s waxen effigy, or the young girl’s nubile form. They are gone now. Memories, ghosts. Imaginings which I call them into being, using the spell of Mozart’s music.

What I think of most, in that liminal space between wakefulness and sleep, is the empty room, and the clockwork mechanism, spouting immortal music. Music playing into eternity, for no-one–not even me. I want to eavesdrop on nothing, as nothing creeps across the floor, and nothing caresses the body of the girl in the bed, and nothing peers at the waxen effigy in the mausoleum. I want to listen to it creep, when I am alone in my bed at night, and the clock-chimes of yesteryear drift up the stairs, with the creak of no-one’s step. With the sigh of no-one’s breath. The vacuum inside that mechanism, spouting music for no-one to listen to, until the last star dies.

 

 

A Piece for an Organ Inside a Clock–Mozart

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