Friday, November 10, 2017

Letter From an Unknown Woman

Letter From an Unknown Woman
YouTube viewing

I met Ann Marie when I was seventeen. I was taking an afterschool art class in Greenwich Village. It was also the first time I had explored the Village on my own and I had fallen in love with what I perceived as the Bohemian romance of the neighborhood. I was discovering things about the Village, and New York, for the first time, such as street musicians.

I couldn't tell you what about her in particular made me stop and listen to her play, and talk to her, beyond the sheer novelty of seeing someone, anyone, performing on the street. Maybe that was enough.

Her perch was outside a bank a block from the Christopher Street subway station. Unlike most street musicians, she played original material, just her and her guitar. She wasn't bluesy like Joplin; she wasn't a poet like Patti Smith. The last time I described her here, I said she was more Melissa Etheridge than Suzanne Vega, but I think she was a combination of the two.

These days, I see street musicians and I may stop to listen or I may keep walking, but I almost never talk to them, not without a good reason. Back then, though, I was way too naive to know better. Ann Marie could have been a junkie, a pedophile, a racist, anything; there was no reason for her to indulge the curiosity of some punk kid who had nothing better to do than hang out on street corners talking to strangers... but she did.

For weeks afterward, I'd go see her after my art class. I wasn't in love with her; she was twice my age at least. If I was in love with anything, it was with the musician lifestyle she represented. I met her at a time when I was experimenting musically, and to do what she did seemed like the coolest thing in the world, even if she didn't make much more on a given night than money for a fancy dinner.

When I told her I played keyboard, she asked if I'd be interested in joining her in the studio on a track or two. You can imagine my reaction. She gave me photocopies of the sheet music to some of her tunes; I took them home and scrutinized them, hearing Ann Marie's voice and guitar in my head and doing my best to add my keyboard improvisations. No, I had never done anything like this before; like I said, I was too young and stupid to know better.

I can't imagine what her backing band thought of me: did they think I was some manner of prodigy Ann Marie had discovered out of the blue? I went to the "Fame school," after all; I must have something. Or more likely, did they know the truth: she was humoring this starstruck fan this one time, not expecting anything to come of this session.

From what I remember, I didn't embarrass myself, but I didn't distinguish myself either. Probably too nervous: wanting to do well, too afraid of messing up. I did not expect a return engagement, nor did I get one, but hey, I can say I once recorded with real musicians in a real studio.

So obviously, I thought of all this while watching Letter From an Unknown Woman, a movie about a groupie in passionate, let-me-be-your-dog monkey love with a turn-of-the-century Elton John who's totally clueless as to her true feelings, even when he can remember who the hell she is - which is not often.

Joan Fontaine tries, she really tries to live her own life; she knows Louis Jourdan ain't bringing chicks back to his pad to play Cards Against Humanity and watch 30 Rock reruns, but she simply CAHN'T, I tell you. When she finally does win her dream date with him, though, it leads to unforeseen complications.

It's all so old-fashioned and romantic and bloody tragic, but dammit, it hooked me. I admit it. I certainly know what it's like to love someone who can't or won't match those feelings; it's no fun. Easy to say to Fontaine, "forget about him, move on with your life," but when you got it bad like she had it, nobody can tell you otherwise.


  1. I must have been in one of my cynical phases when I saw this as a teenager because I scoffed. I had to get older to appreciate that feelings should be respected; they are what they are.

  2. It's easy to be cynical about movies like these, but they're so well-made that you can't help but get sucked into them.

  3. I love when you can mix your personal life and stories to a film. Indeed, Joan's character is some kind of "groupie" - I've never thought abvout that until today! And, yes, it is sooo dramatic, but I was also hooked, moved and surprised by the film.

  4. I dunno, the comparison just seemed obvious to me after about the first half hour.


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