Thursday, October 27, 2011

Everybody's Talkin' About Fantasy Fest

Once upon a time this was writer James Leo Herlihy's house on Baker's Lane
I was 19 years old the first time I saw the film Midnight Cowboy and decided I had to get out of New York City. The film’s opening musical theme, “Everybody’s Talkin’” suggested a magical place “where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain” and “where the weather suits my clothes.” Ah, yes, I wanted to escape to that place. And when handsome, sweet-natured, generous, blue-eyed blond Joe Buck headed to New York, the greatest city on earth, only to find delusion and relentless loneliness, I related to that too. So I came to Key West. And never looked back.
   Since then, we’ve watched Midnight Cowboy many times. It is a family favorite. The first time my husband Michael heard the song “Everybody’s Talkin'” in 1969 he was a businessman, in a city on the mainland, yearning for the freedom he heard described in those freewheeling phrases. He immediately went out and bought the record. Thirty years later, when he heard it for the first time, our son Miguel downloaded the song onto his iPod.  I’ve noticed that songwriters (my husband and now, too, my son) will listen a hundred and ten times to a song they find particularly intriguing, analyzing it, examining it, deconstructing every line in search of the magic button.
    Key West is like that. We come here for something magical, something we cannot name, something we are oftentimes in too big a hurry to find until it’s too late and we rush back to the safety of the tried and true of our hometowns. But what remains, the broth of humanity reduced again and again, is a rich soup indeed.
Fred Neil in New York City, where he wrote "Everybody's Talkin.'"  He died in July 2001, one month before Jack Maple.
    Singer/Songwriter Fred Neil, who wrote “Everybody’s Talkin,’” traveled to the end of the road to spend the '90s in comfortable seclusion on Summerland Key, where he died of cancer in 2001. After "Everybody's Talkin’” Neil's best-known song is "The Dolphin." In 1970 Neil and marine biologist Rick O’Barry founded The Dolphin Research Project, an organization dedicated (according to Neil himself) to stopping the capture, trafficking and exploitation of dolphins worldwide. After that Neil progressively disappeared from the recording studio and live performance. I have heard that Neil was such a recluse that he hired taxi drivers to pick up his prescription drugs from the pharmacy and deliver them to his house. He lived alone. He died alone. But he’d made it to where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain. He died having written songs that will live as long as time.
The flap over the peep hole at the front door
    I wonder if he knew that James Leo Herlihy, the guy who wrote the novel Midnight Cowboy had lived on Baker’s Lane in Key West? I wonder if he ever visited the house with the peace sign gingerbread and the peep flap over the window on the door that you lifted so see who was knocking. On it, Herlihy had written: “God is at the door. Let us see what face He is wearing today.” We walked over to Baker's Lane this morning and met the new owners: the Antonis, from Freeport, in the Bahamas.  The Antonis graciously allowed us to see the door and peep hole. My friend, writer Stacy Rodriguez and her famous crime fighter boyfriend Jack Maple, rented the historic place for a while in the ‘90s. Herlihy spent the '60s in Key West, but later returned to Los Angeles, where he took his own life in 1993.  He was 66 years old. I wish he’d stayed longer.
Turn the flap and read: "God is at the door. Let us see what face He is wearing today."

    Jack Maple, a New York City native, loved exploring the streets of Key West, and when someone on a bike or in a car got in his way, he quoted the famously improvised line by Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy,  “I’m walkin’ here,” he’d say.
Jack Maple, always dapper. He died in NYC, one month after Fred Neil died here in the Keys.
     It’s Fantasy Fest week, and outside my door the streets are teeming with tourists, in mass pursuit of  that magic button they have only heard about, the mystical thing that quiets that yearning to belong, to live true to your dreams, to feel alive. It resides here, that magic, I’m sure, but I think it leaves town for Fantasy Fest.

Scenes from Midnight Cowboy. Oscar winner for Best Picture 1969.

1 comment:

  1. Fantasy Fest is the commercialized sale of Key West. It used to be real and homegrown but it is now sponsored by huge corporations. The island slowly sinks as we try to figure out more and more ways we can suck money out of it. Awesome article!