Discover more from The Epistolary
Dear Little Girl Who Sang Desperado on that Weird Record from the 70s,
I can't quite pinpoint the first time I heard your rendition of "Desperado," but the way it made me feel has never left me.
Remember that song you sang decades ago? It wasn’t just any song. This was a cover of Desperado, arguably the very best cover of the Eagles classic and one most people have never heard.
I wonder how you felt as you sang it back in the mid-1970s, when you were about ten or eleven (so was I) and a student in the Langley School District up in British Columbia, Canada. It must have been such a thrill when the edgy new music teacher stepped into the room. His name was Hans Fenger, and back then he was a twentysomething with a shaggy mop of hair, a guitar, and a unique vision.
"It never occurred to me that I was going to teach anybody how to read notes or that I was going to teach anybody how to pass a test. The only thing I ever tried to teach children is really just to fall in love with making music," said Fenger in 2010. "That was always my goal."
It's hard to write about art and even harder to write about music, but plenty of people tried to write about you and the rest of the Langley kids.
"The music is similar in effect to that of Chusid's unintentional renegades," wrote George Pendle in 2002 for frieze, "displaying not only the naif's lack of self-consciousness but also an enthusiasm that transcends ineptitude."
Um … what?
George Pendle probably never laid on his back under a starry sky with his fingers laced behind his head. Or blew bubbles in his chocolate milk. Or let abandon wash over him as a tinny transistor radio played love songs. He just doesn't get it, Sheila (of course I know your name is Sheila Behman). Maybe he ought to stop trying.
I certainly won't try to capture the magic you and your classmates conjured all those years ago, but the story of how this album came to be is one for the ages.
If I have it right, it began in the mid-70s, when Fenger gathered all of you students to sing for a vinyl record he had pressed and subsequently sold to parents and friends. More than 20 years later, music aficionado Brian Linds plucked a copy of that amateur record from a thrift store bin. The rest is history and now everyone can own a copy of you and your classmates singing on Innocence and Despair.
In a world where so few things age well, Sheila, this collection descends upon me like a miracle. Many have tried to achieve what you and the rest of the kids aced that day in a school gym, but precious few succeed. Sadness and hope and longing and joy are woven throughout this collection, and it all feels so authentic. Innocence and Despair makes me wax nostalgic for things I've lost as well as things I never had.
But when I listen to you perform "Desperado," it shimmers with such pure humanity that the specific words don't even matter, yet I hang onto each one as if it's the rarest jewel. I suppose I owe a nod to Glenn Frey and Don Henley for writing the 1973 ballad, which was rife with lonely cowboy schlock—until you sang it.
You created something beautiful that is completely without guile or manipulation or greed or any of the things that fill me with nameless dread, yet there's something simmering just below the surface of your “Desperado.” It's as if the spirit of the song knows it can never outrun all of the things that endeavor to vanquish you and me and everything we ever loved.
We enter this world as a clean slate and then life chews us up, taking out a chunk here and there before throwing us asunder. Through it all, we fight and weep as ol’ Father Time watches on with maddening indifference. And then we fade away. Somehow you conveyed all of this nearly 50 years ago inside three and a half minutes.
I know you're not a little girl anymore, but I don't know where you are. Maybe you're hiding away from the curious and all their pesky questions. Maybe you're gone.
Maybe you’re right here with me as I listen to you sing.
You have undoubtedly changed over the years. I know I have. The world has changed too, but the song has not. Its impact, however, has only grown more profound as the softness of your voice rings clear and gentle against these hard times. Make no mistake, whenever those humble piano notes dissolve into your first utterance of “Desperado,” tears stream down my cheeks.
I can never tell if they're from the 10-year-old little girl inside of me or the time worn woman I am today. Maybe it’s both. Dunno.
But I keep going, Sheila. I just keep going. I hope you’re doing the same.
ps: As of this writing, the wiki page for “Desperado” does not mention Sheila Behman or Hans Fenger. That, my unseen friend, is a travesty.
Thanks for reading The Epistolary. Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.