The Intimate Miss Christy by June Christy
Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon. Total nonsense of course. There was music too. But the suggestion was that I was missing out. Total nonsense too. Products have so much to teach us. So many stories to tell …
Thanks for coming in. Sorry to be so mysterious about it all. But I thought okay, let’s do this in a different sort of way. No precis. No plot outline. No succinct summary. Just this photo. Well, actually it’s an LP sleeve. And it’s our new film.
Look at the picture. What does it say to you? It’s perfect isn’t it? I think it is anyway. So, you’re the one that’s good with words. I want you to capture this shot. Use it to conjure me up a film.
Okay, I’ll give you some clues. And they are only clues. But this is what the picture says to me. It’s the early ‘60s. The world is about to change. A singer stands alone and vulnerable at a microphone. Very alone. Scared. She is not quite as young as she was. She is not quite as sure as she used to be. She’s not quite as thin. But we love her more. We the viewers.
I’ll tell you what. Take the CD as well. Take it home and listen to it. Think yourself into the mind of one of the session men in the studio where it was recorded. The intimacy of a small, stellar jazz combo. Very stark. The musicians are incredibly protective of the singer. The singer is doubting her technical ability. A sense of paranoia pervades the session. The singer is being pushed. Coaxed. But she just wants to disappear.
And this is where it gets interesting. I want that scenario to connect into a wider sense of time passing. The smoky, smouldering sadness of the way the songs are sung. What’s left unsaid? The ciphers. It’s an awful cliché, but we could capture the desolation of the guy, a classy guy but slightly frayed, alone at a bar or in a diner, staring into his drink. Slowly turning the glass. Occasionally staring at his reflection. Like he’s lost something. Real David Goodis stuff. Good stuff.
And the memories. The ones we’re suggesting. They’re about the optimism before it was lost. And the singer is our symbol. The sugar pie honey bunch strawberry blonde. What the American dream was made of. An imaginary American innocence. But one simultaneously immersed in the endless night of the bohemian jazz cool where daylight is never seen and people sink into the underworld. There’s that fantastic contradiction at the heart of all this.
What I don’t want is for this to be a biopic. We need to keep the singer cloaked in anonymity. But there are some great stories around and about her we can use. I read one where, and it was some guy reminiscing, and he must be around 70 now, and he was recalling how as a teenager he tried to do the Kerouac On The Road thing, hitchhiking across America, but he fails spectacularly for some reason, and is too scared to go home and admit to his college friends that he didn’t make it, so he arranges for the one guy he trusts to come and meet him somewhere and pick him up.
So there they are at some desolate out-of-the-way small town in the mid-west I guess. They go into a bar, or a small dancehall. It’s early evening, and there’s no one there except a few musicians goofing around, having a drink, and this tiny blonde wrapped in furs. They recognise her of course. But are too amazed to do anything other than stare. She comes over, smiles, knows what they are thinking seemingly, so she says hi, and explains she’s got a terrible cold and probably won’t sing tonight. And they’re so awestruck, all they can do is nod. Anyway, after a while some of the musicians warm up, and play around. Swinging gently. And of course she gets up and sings. Still swathed in her furs. And there’s still no one else there but these two kids. She’s not singing for them though. She’s just singing. It’s what she does. But those two kids are there purely by chance, and they can’t believe it. Fate. Can you imagine how that memory lingered on?
There we are again. A sense of being alone. Doubly ironic. She’s always sung with big bands. Expensive outfits. And we’re talking the top bands. So this session with just guitar, bass and the occasional flute really is a contrast. She could see it as a comedown. She could feel very exposed. But it’s such a great opportunity. The guys in the studio know that. They know they’re part of something that should be very special. And the other irony is about the beat generation characters. The way they’d sit up all night together, gabbing and yakking away, total nonsense of course, but serious sociable stuff, always people around them, and suddenly they are all split up all over the place, some finding it hard to adapt to new times. Some don’t adapt.
And the new times. You know what I’m going to say. The Beatles and all that. Brash new upstarts. Confident. Modern. Electric. Suddenly cool singing, sophisticated torch ballads, they’re not needed. It’s rhythm and blues. It’s for kids. Schoolkids. It’s a long way from our lady singing for the night people, the restless neon light people, the darkness hides us from your sight people. Listen to this song I’m going to play for you. It’s from a Broadway show everybody’s forgotten about but our singer made this amazing recording of this song from the show. Cry Like The Wind. This is what I imagine torch songs are meant to be like. Just listen to this. If it doesn’t make you come out in goosebumps you’re already dead. It’s just perfectly understated. Minimalist. Ssshhh …
So our guy at the bar or in the diner. That’s one of the songs he hears in his head. There’s another. “A thousand violins begin to play”. I used to just think that was a line from an Orange Juice song. Yeah Misty that’s right. “You can say that you’re leading me on but it’s just what I want you to do …” But we can’t go for that because of the old Clint Eastwood film. Anyway our guy with his glass or his cup. It’s empty. And another drink gives him courage. For what? And another drink gives our singer a little more courage. The confidence to whisper another line into the microphone as the guitar cloaks her from the cold. Like the fur coat in that deserted dancehall. And we need to give a sense of time too. All the spare time. Time to kill. How time kills. Time crawls. Time spells trouble.
Oh no is that the time? I will be in trouble. I shouldn’t be here. Look, does any of this make sense? Can you have a play with some of this stuff? We’ll talk soon. Don’t lose these ideas.
© 2007 John Carney