Literary Fiction by Christy Alexander Hallberg
The unraveling of eighteen-year-old Luna Kane’s haunted past begins in the winter of 1988, when her dying great-grandfather claims he hears phantom owls crying in the night. “Them owls, like music. Can you hear the music?” he implores her in his final moments, triggering Luna’s repressed memory of her dead mother’s obsession with Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s legendary guitar wizard. Desperate to learn the truth about her mother’s suicide, Luna embarks on a pilgrimage from her family’s farm in the pines of eastern North Carolina to England, to search for the man whose music her mother held sacred, Jimmy Page.
The first time I saw Jimmy Page in living, pulsing color I was six years old. My mother, Claudia, had taken me to the drive-in to see Led Zeppelin’s concert movie, The Song Remains the Same, filmed largely at Madison Square Garden in 1973, when Jimmy was twenty-nine. In an opening scene, before the concert begins, a man with dark hair and jeans sits on a blanket in an English garden playing a hurdy-gurdy, swans floating in the lake nearby. The camera approaches him from behind. Closer. Closer. The music stops. Closer. He pivots around and stares into the camera, his eyes a bubbling, glowing red.
I hid my face in my hands.
Claudia nestled her head on my shoulder. “It’s just a fantasy, Luna. It’s not real.”
I peeked at the screen through my fingers. “Who is he?”
“The man in the black and white picture in my room. That’s Jimmy.”
“Uh uh,” I said ardently. “It’s the devil.”
She clucked her tongue. “There’s no such thing as the devil.”
I watched Jimmy emerge from a plane with the other three band members, climb into a waiting limo, speed along a highway into New York City, then burst onto the stage like a dark angel with a six-string.
Claudia bolted from the car and began to twirl in the mottled light from the projector, her tie-dye skirt flapping in the breeze. She reminded me of a radiant Julie Andrews spinning on a verdant hillside in the Alps, alive with the sound of music.
“Look, Luna,” she called. “He’s beautiful.”
He was beautiful, ethereal, with wavy dark hair that grazed his shoulders and a pre-Raphaelite face, like the ones I’d seen in Claudia’s art history books. He tore through “Rock and Roll” with a febrile zeal that countered his delicate features. The ambiguity frightened me.
Claudia thrust her arms out, as if she were about to take flight. I closed my eyes, picturing her twirling in a ray of light, her yellow hair — blazing yellow — flowing down her back. She was flying, like those doves at the beginning of the film.
“Look, Luna.” She opened my door and led me to the front of the car. Someone blew a horn. Someone else threw a cup of beer at us. Lascivious snickers. Cat calls and sneers. The air taut with sordidness.
“Claudia, we’re in trouble!” I cried.
She clasped my hand and twirled me around, like those corny dancers with plasticine smiles and shellacked hair on the Lawrence Welk Show, Grandma’s favorite Saturday night program.
Get back in your car, freak!
“We’re in trouble, Claudia!”
I jerked away from her and urged her back inside the car. She watched Jimmy through the dusty windshield, transfixed. I watched with her, a box of half-eaten popcorn on my lap. He was a wizard, manipulating invisible energy around the Theremin in “No Quarter,” beguiling a doubleneck guitar in “The Rain Song,” black shirt open in the front, stars and half moons on black pants, cryptic silver pendant dangling from his neck.
I gazed at him, unsettled, my insides churning.
The scene shifted from Jimmy to Robert Plant, galloping on a steed toward a dreary castle with an eagle perched on his arm like a shield. The band had interspersed fantasy sequences throughout the film. In Robert’s he’s a gallant knight who rescues a beautiful princess in a turret.
“Did you know that guy — like you knew Jimmy?” I asked cautiously, unsure if I wanted to hear the answer.
She smiled, her lean profile spectral in the flickering light. “How do you know I don’t still know him?” A chill ran through me. “There are lots of ways to know someone, Luna. You can be face to face with a person and not know them at all. Or you can hear their voice in your head and know their soul.”
The eerie bass line of “Dazed and Confused” began to thrum.
“I wanna go home,” I said.
She eased back in the seat. “Not yet.”
Halfway through “Dazed and Confused” a roadie hands Jimmy a violin bow from the shadowy wings of the stage. He stands alone under a spotlight and strokes the bow across the strings of his Les Paul. Slow, sensual, like a seduction. The scene shifts from Madison Square Garden to a blustery moonlit night in the Scottish Highlands. An ascot-clad Jimmy climbs a mountain. An old man, the mythical Hermit, like the one from Claudia’s Tarot cards, stands alone at the crest, ominous music droning in the background. Jimmy reaches for the old man, who morphs into Jimmy himself, clad in a hooded gray robe, lantern in one hand, violin bow in the other. He sweeps it overhead like a saber while the scene fades back to Madison Square Garden — Jimmy in a halo of white light, back arched, bow commanding guitar strings. Intense, fast. Robert Plant’s voice, a plaintive wail, in synch with the music. At the climax, Jimmy tosses the shredded bow into the audience like a discarded lover then launches into a blistering guitar solo.
“You see,” Claudia said. “He’s not the devil. He’s just searching for the light.”
“Knowledge. Truth. The things we’re all searching for.”
Her eyes were glassy. She was fading away. By the time we got home she’d be gone, locked in her room with Jimmy’s black and white picture above her bed, “Four Sticks” blasting on her stereo. I would sit by the door and wail, Claudia, let me in. Tell me the story of my name. I’m the moon and you’re a goddess. Tell me. Tell me.
“Why’d he turn into that old guy?” I asked frantically.
She gripped the steering wheel. “Because he found the light.”