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It’s California, September 1969…

Natalie Wood’s shoulders were rubbed raw and heels ached although now shoeless. The night’s earlier premiere and its bare-legged exploration of monogamy opened with success. In truth Wood felt a sting of emptiness as perspiration gathered like friendly moss upon the car window. Her mindless finger lowered from the frosted glass as initials ‘J. S.’ disappeared as quick as breath.

She gathered herself enough to notice the driver asked for her hand a second time and that in dark they had arrived home. Her mind a divided train, trying to steer away from a certain man’s absent touch while gentle music penetrated her senses. She poured herself a glass and hummed and drank through a sticky photo album and her childhood. Sweet Santa Rosa was stage left of her open thoughts while gazing deep through a golden image of lips her own against a Robert Wagner head shot.

And meanwhile further south, Jim Sullivan had recently returned home, drunk, after celebrating a party in light of the debut of his first recorded album. Hipflask in his trousers, he mock-played a game of football while defeating imaginary enemies until collapsing into his favourite chair. He swigged the finest whiskey he could afford and imagined if now his life might change.

Her telephone had been ringing for some time but Natalie scarcely noticed.

Steering her liquid mind to the phone’s incessant howl she lifted the receiver.

“Hello?…” “Is anybody there..?”

A long silence followed, then, ever so quietly, music started to play… as if a tiny gramophone had called specifically with a message to deliver. A message that Natalie would not understand for another thirteen years and even so. A melody that would find its way through the craters of her mind and tingle her bones like a seventh glass of wine. The music she would hear the night aboard Splendour in the Isthmus of Catalina. The song she would hear the night of her death.

As Natalie placed the telephone down, the automated arm of Sullivan’s hi-fi system clicked and reset. He crawled over to an ash-clad pile of freshly played records, wax illuminating. Unimpressed, he made for the front door remembering his recent trip to town and a new purchase. Removing the plastic ‘Malibu Music’ bag, he placed the vinyl down and hit play and soon John Lennon’s cries of “come together” soothed Jim into a blissful sleep.

Jim wakes with a start and it’s 1975 and he’s late. The hi-fi broke two years earlier and the run out groove is about to turn the tail end of Lennon’s cover of ‘Just Because’ into looping static. He rushes into a badly parked VW bug and haphazardly begins a journey to Nashville, a place his comrades from the road promote as ‘blowing the Cali scene out of its own ass’. After crossing into New Mexico Jim felt a stirring in his stomach as it had been too far gone between meals and decides to rest in a small motel in Santa Rosa.

After checking in Jim takes a drive around town, passed the railroad and down Main street, wishing all he could see were smoky trees and dismal wilderness rising to the skies.

Natalie is at a dinner party being shown a Wurlitzer piano by a man named Dickinson.

Much to the agitation of her husband, Dickinson takes her fingers in his, showing her the first three notes of a scale. Flashes of her childhood running down to see her father off at Santa Rosa train station mix and meld together forming complex coloured constellations and soon a melody forms in her head she can’t express but hum. Her self-proclaimed teacher questions the tune and asks where it came from.

“I don’t know… perhaps nowhere?” she replies.

Humming a suspiciously similar tune, Jim Sullivan drives further that night than expected, if anyone expected anything about Jim. He parks just outside Santa Rosa, bends down and with his hand, feels the cold dirt of the road. He rubs his face with his hands, closes his eyes and opens his mind.

He begins a long walk away from this earth and into oblivion, never to be seen again.

Jim Sullivan’s – ‘U.F.O’ (1969) album


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