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


Happy Nightmare Baby–Opal

By Lara Shelton

First in an October series of “spooky” songs*

*actual “spooky” content may vary

It’s been said, sung, and written that Los Angeles is a driving town, but it’s difficult to express to those who’ve never lived there that Angelenos are also a driving people. We move in our sleep, and we dream street signs and strip malls. At the extreme edge of the country, the urge to go west has turned in on itself: there’s nowhere else to go. So everyone drives around in circles.

But it’s hard to hit a moving target. It’s hard to know who you are when you’re caught in traffic, and the guy next to you is honking, and the guy on the other side of you just cut you off.

My family and I had moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1984. It was the summer of the Night Stalker, a man who entered open windows during the oppressive heat of August nights to murder people in cold blood. The palpable fear of the city was unlike anything I had ever encountered. I was fourteen; this fear was my first true impression. Not the flatness, not the strip malls, not the freeways. Los Angeles was a nightmare, but also oddly compelling. Death to a certain species of teenage girl is romantic. Violent death even more so. But it also made a certain sense to never be still. To not sleep. To be ever watchful. To keep moving.

I spent a lot of time during my early twenties driving in circles. Driving in circles became a kind of release, like flight. Sometimes when I didn’t know what else to do I got in my car and drove—often to the beach in the middle of the night. I needed to know that there was something large—something beyond the Industry, something beyond the Night Stalker—waiting out there in the world.


And I listened to a lot of music while I drove. Happy Nightmare Baby was one of those albums I listened to. Opal was a embryonic version of what later evolved into Mazzy Star. I like Mazzy Star, but I heard Opal first, and I like them better.

Part of the reason was the singer, Kendra Smith.

She was not the greatest singer in the world, if you judge singing by technical ability. She needed to be judged by a different rubric: one which valued atmosphere over ability. One which valued the cerebral over the emotional.

She was in the tradition of the chanteuse, and even more specifically, she was in Nico’s version of the chanteuse: aloof, cold, asexual, and yet oddly compelling. Was the nightmare good or bad?

As a young woman living in Los Angeles, it’s hard to keep it cerebral. That’s not what young women do in Los Angeles. It’s hard to know who you are when you must choose between being either a sex pot or a neurotic. Smart women were rare. Smart women who let on they were smart were even rarer. Which is why Smith was such a beacon of hope for me. In fifteen years she had been in nine bands, leaving her mark on each one. Then, when she was tired of the whole scene, she just disappeared.

Where had she gone? Sometimes I imagined her driving, up the coast to a little ashram or down into Mexico to a seaside town. I imagined her driving a straight line. Escaping the circle.

It’s no coincidence that the video for this song features driving at night, or that the Smith sings about pulling the listener to the bottom of the sea. I want to drown in something big, if it’s Smith doing the drowning. I want to dissolve into the happy nightmare.

Happy Nightmare Baby–Opal