Mercury Records and Beck-John Productions put out a series of children’s records in the ’60s called Storyteller which were “Dramatically enacted, accompanied by a 40 piece orchestra”. Each record had “2 Complete Stories”. The pairings were “Robinson Crusoe” and “Davy Crockett”; “Cinderella” and “Jack and the Beanstalk”; “Robin Hood” and “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves”; “Hansel and Gretel” and “Sleeping Beauty”; “David and Goliath” and “Noah’s Ark”; “Rip Van Winkle and “Three Musketeers”; “St George and the Dragon” and “William Tell”; and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and “Tortoise and the Hare”.
We had the last one, whose catalog number was SLP 107. I listened to it so many times as a kid that certain lines of the narratives, and certain passages of the scores, and certain images that were painted in my little brain at each repeated hearing have remained with me all my life. The word “columbines” held a magic for me long before I knew what columbines were or what the flower looked like. The phrase “I’m scot nared — I mean…I’m not scared” gave rise to that knock-kneed spoonerism’s use in our family throughout my life. Somewhere among my parents’ photo albums is a black and white photo of me sitting on the floor — with legs bent back on either side in that impossible way four-year-olds sit — in front of the huge cabinet phonograph that we had in the living room under the copper-colored clock. I think I am listening to “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” or “Tortoise and the Hare”.
The narrator in these recordings talked a lot and said funny-sounding things I didn’t understand before each story and at various points in the tale. He said, “But I’ll just tell you the story and let you draw your own conclusion. Have you ever drawn a conclusion? Or would you rather draw a house with a chimney? Oh, now that’s a silly question isn’t it…now where were we?” At that age, I did not yet register puns.
As such things tend to do, this vinyl recording and its sleeve and tattered jacket fell into disuse after a time and languished in a box of other recordings — Johnny Appleseed, Pinnochio, The Chipmunks. Considering the untold numbers of things that I once owned, or my sister or brother once owned, that we in any case collectively cherished, that “went away” over the course of our first three decades, it is a miracle that this recording managed to remain in the house in south Bellevue where I grew up until sometime in my late thirties or early forties, when I found it and brought it with me to join the collection of albums, already a museum, that I had chosen as a self-differentiating youth — Al Stewart, Alan Parsons, Supertramp, Genesis, Renaissance, Triumvirat — and those that represented my later, expanding musical taste — John Williams (the guitarist), the Pretenders, the Boys o’ the Loch, Joni Mitchell, Rod Patterson and the Easy Club, the Stranglers.
I’m looking at SLP 107 now. The jacket is now two separate pieces of cardboard, though matching pairs of yellowed strips of celophane tape on both halves still show where some effort was made to keep it together. The back has ink drawings around the edge of various scenes from the stories. I dug it out this morning after the three of us got up. Saturdays Mara gets up and comes into our bed, and the cats join us, and we all loll around and tickle each other and sometimes Mara asks one of us to tell a story. It’s a weekend treat, since I don’t have to get up in a rush. Today I told the story of Goldilocks as I recalled it from this recording from my childhood.
It went over big, so I went down into the garage and brought up a turntable that belonged (still technically belongs) to an old roommate of mine and hooked it up to our stereo. It was a moment of strange beauty for me when I lowered the needle on this venerable vinyl platter and the old familiar music started. It was a moment of even stranger beauty when I stood looking down at Mara, who, after a few minutes of rapt attention to the spinning label and the odd machinery of the needle arm, curled up on the floor and entered for the first time a world that I remember but can no longer reach.