Tuesday, December 15, 2009


HOT: Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald - Summertime.mp3

It was college and they thought they were so smart, but also they were scared. So they played at being hip and put on sophisticated records in the little apartment in the top of a garage. It was getting towards graduation and they would go different directions. The afternoon sun pounded on the roof of the space, now furnished with whiskey boxes of things to be taken back home. They'd had to open a box to get the records out.

Home. A foreign place now. It was a temptation to run.

But no. They hold each other. They cry. They play the record over and over. They fall asleep in each other's arms. The cornet continues to glitter around the room.

HOTTER: Sarah Vaughn - Summertime.mp3

He was black -- she was not. it was a beach town and he picked her up, so easy, sooooo easy. She just wanted it. He didn't care one way or the other, but it was interesting.

Then she was so . . . different, that he began to heat up. But as he began to spread and grow, she began to shrink. Her pink cheeks became a red face and her fluffy curls began to soak and stick. Her eyes flew open and wide.

Then he knew what to do. He sat up and took her onto his lap like a little child, to be rocked and kissed until she relaxed. Then he laid her down with her head on the pillow and slipped into her so easy, soooooo easy.

HOTTEST: Nina Simone - Summertime.mp3

The bar is smoky, which is a little mysterious since tobacco is forbidden these days. There's almost no light, just what reflects from the glass shelves of bottles against the bar mirror. The two of them are getting a little old now, it was a long time ago that they . . . well. They smile and sip old Scotch, knowing that's as far as it will go. They have obligations now. Loyalties. Vows to keep.


But their knees seek each other under the little table and they smile. It's almost Christmas. It was nearer the Fourth of July last time. They were sweaty, even smelly, and loved it because it was the beloved's skin and smell. A little fishy. A little grassy.

They inhale.


I was complaining about the cold and Tim thought he’d help me out by sending me three mp3s of “Summertime,” that lovely warm song. I DO love it. I don’t have a reliable voice, but once at Summer UU Leadership School when three of us were washing dishes together with the windows open and the sun sluicing through on a sea breeze, we began to sing Broadway songs together, launched into “Summertime,” and from nowhere came my voice so that I could really sing it. A sort of visitation. Once in a while when I was happy in the pulpit it would happen. Out in the congregation people would look up from their hymnals to see what had happened.

Tim was the one who put the labels on the versions: hot for Armstrong and Fitzgerald, the familiar version. Hotter for Sarah Vaughn. Hottest for Nina Simone, whom I do not know and had not heard before. I agree with the rankings.

So in a little writer’s game, I thought I’d write a “quickie” (pun maybe) for each song, a little sexy scene for each of the three to match the labels: hot, hotter and hottest. How does a person do that? I had some principles about what I think makes this sort of thing “hot.”

1. There is some kind of obstacle. This love cannot be continued to the point of growing old and “normal.”

2. Some people think that sex is hottest for the young, but my own prejudice is that it’s much hotter for people with history, even if their shared history is not all that long. It’s richly layered with memories, which means the reality can’t possibly be as a intense as the recollection.

3. There’s a certain amount of transgression involved: inter-racial, extra-marital.

4. It’s a good thing if there’s a surprise, what happens is not quite expected.

5. The season doesn’t have to be relevant, but it’s nice if it is. But it could be a remembered season rather than present.

6. I made these all heterosexual, but I think the same principles would apply for same sex encounters.

7. Most important, I made these three nano-fictions more than just ticker-tape tweets by implying a kind of shift of consciousness either in the characters or in the reader’s thought about them. I never know what the shift will be until I start writing -- they seem to be “found” by visualizing and beginning to describe the scene.

In the first one, the shift -- which is amusing -- is that these two people, who are supposed to be hoarding every last minute together, go to sleep so they are unconscious together. In the last one, the shift is that though the minds of these two former lovers are behaving properly above the table, their bodies under the table are nudging and remembering. Memory is as physical as mental.

The middle scene has the most actual event in it and is consciously “Sadeian,” according to the theories Thomas Moore lays out in “Dark Eros.” I probably was overachieving to make the bigger, more powerful, more experienced person also African-American and the vulnerable classic puella a young blonde female. But the point is that she wants to be initiated and her initiator, rather than hurting her cruelly which Sade would do and often happens, eases her ordeal by being “maternal.” Or at least parental. Since the song has already put the character of Porgy into our heads, the little scene uses that persona.

All of this demonstrates (I hope) that psychology (esp. archetypal) is helpful to a writer, but that another art form, like music -- esp. when it’s familiar and well-loved -- can kindle a story. It wouldn’t be hard to take any of these three nano-fictions and expand them into a short story or even a novel. And the best thing about this post is that it shows how writers can playfully pitch each other ideas, catch and return them. Thanks, Tim.

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