Lady of the Mountain

Here and now, 2016, I still recall how I found true love all those years ago. Well, only a couple years ago, actually, unless you count all the waiting.

Extemporaneous speaking be damned. While on stage with the Pharaohs, if time needed to be killed as someone tuned their instrument or was changing a costume or mending a piece of broken gear, I was always ready to fill what otherwise would have been dead air, as we all were in that pinnacle five-piece grouping.

Likewise in the classroom. If a colleague needed a substitute on a moment's notice, I was always ready to go, standing in regardless if it was the highest level or the lowest level class, graduate or undergraduate alike. I've even covered classes outside my field of expertise for ailing or absent instructors: Music, Logic and Astronomy. No problem. Extemporaneous speaking within comfort levels such as these has always seemed the most natural thing in the world; confidence in front, even in uncertain surroundings, bringing out the competitive spirit in me. A little adrenalin, yes, but anxious to deliberately throw myself into battle, prove myself to myself.

Except for one area of human endeavor.

Then impromptu words fail, or at least fail to flow fluidly from my lips. At times like these, I think through song or think through writing, really two terms for the same thing. A notion may be so ephemeral or fleeting that I feel totally inadequate to the task of relating it another person, on the fly. Generally, setting pen to paper, with many revisions and discarded drafts, will get the idea across to the intended audience, but not always. At times like these, I disbelieve Oscar when he wrote:

Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?
At one time in my life, around 1973, I was absolutely convinced that language preceded thought. I still believe that in general, but have only very recently come to the conclusion that that one area of human endeavor alluded to above may be the exception upon which the entire argument collapses. And remember, it only takes one counterexample to disprove a statement.

So, as mentioned, the closest I can come to phrasing this particular thought into a form suitable for transmission to another person is by song or writing. Sometimes even the latter fails me and I'm forced to fall back on the former. Perhaps song truly is more elemental in nature. You know, all of a sudden I'm doubting Oscar more and more,

There is nothing that art cannot express...
The closest approximation available to me in times like these is truly a song. A bit of what follows is lifted from something I've written elsewhere, but bears repeating, because I want her to know just how much I think of her.

I recall, oh so vividly, one summer spent at Lake Tetonka shortly after my great migration northward, warm sun-drenched days, no responsibilities, all alone, since Bill was at work twenty-five miles away during the daytime. Sand and swimming, shirtless, unshowered, unshaven for long stretches, surrounded by books: astrology, ceremonial magic, talismans, augury, Tarot, and of course, some Sade. So much to learn...so much to dream of...

We had a silver vinyl covered phonograph, rather primitive by today's standards, but fairly loud and with a decent enough bass response. Earlier in the week, Bill had bought a couple records from Musicland. He made his selection based purely upon the album covers, not knowing anything of the group responsible. This was the pair of LP's by the rock band Savage Grace.

Playing them over and over, I was hooked. As a rule, I rarely listened to groups popular among the hobbledehoy. Here, it seemed, was a band no one knew of, at least in our neck of the woods. They were insanely good and insanely original, mixing a distinctly classical feel in with many of their songs yet prosecuting them with distorted guitars and raucous rock and roll.

The song that made me sit bolt upright (the only type of upright worth sitting to) was Lady of the Mountain, from their second album. The musical intervals employed in the lead vocals were so different from anything I had ever heard before: melodic, mystical, plying, suggesting promise, hinting at ecstasy, passionate, grateful. And yes, a musical passage really can do all that, no words required, although the words to this tune are quite evocative as well.

I wrote to my dearest friend in the year we met that hearing those intervals always gives me a lump in the...well...let's just say throat, for now. But back then...

Remember, I was seventeen years old, with a whole new world unfolding before me, a world that was looking more and more mystical by the moment, deep, exotic and fascinating, but only to those with eyes, to those willing just to watch and not utter a peep. I so wanted to meet the Lady of the Mountain. I fell in love with her then and there, even though she was always just on the verge of fading if I stared too hard through the mist to find her, finger tip to finger tip, breaking off with a sigh, she urging, "try again." Does Babbitt's Fairy Child come to mind?

For more than forty years I sought her. Foolishly, there were stretches of time in which I forgot about her, or was too busy to notice she lurked just round the corner imploring me to wake up and see her, or simply lost faith that she truly existed. I was almost seduced by reality. The only thing I want seducing me is the Lady of the Mountain.

I know that now.

Let's hear the tune again:



Take a look at the reviews on Amazon which tell some revealing personal stories. It's pretty clear this was one of the great unsung bands of the sixties. (And don't confuse them with a more modern pack of idiots who ripped off the name. The real Savage Grace is, unfortunately, gone forever.)

So, I began this entry by claiming words sometime fail me. It sure took a lot of words to say that, didn't it? But the song explains all and makes it abundantly clear that the Lady of the Mountain is very real. I know this for a fact, for as I listen to the song once again, ensconced on my sofa of flames, would you believe me if I said I can actually sense her delightful and aromatic fragrance? That's not synesthesia, either.


Any love, fleeting or permanent, is surely more than most get in this world.

Next installment: Et in Arcadia Ego

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