(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)
My grandfather was a composer and music publisher. He was also, according to the New York Times, one of the wealthiest young bachelors in New York, and very social, belonging to a host of exclusive clubs plus the Freemasons. Thus his output as a composer (mostly songs and choral music) was relatively small. It reduced to a trickle after he served in World War I, married my grandmother in Paris, and returned to a life of hobnobbing and carousing, dividing his time among his three homes. Soon after they were married, my grandparents got the son-and-heir thing over with by begetting my father and then turning him over to the household staff and a string of governesses.
My father, too, wanted to be a composer when he was in his twenties. Like his father, he too retreated from composing after serving in World War II. Instead he became a professor of law at Columbia and raised a family. I became the next generation of composer in the family in my mid-twenties, when I landed a recording deal with RCA as a singer-songwriter. My first album, House of Pain, came out in 1974. I had composed most of the songs for my second (Beat Around the Bush) when I had my first encounter with Grandpa’s ghost.
I mention my musical provenance because, not long after I opened myself to communicating with him, I began to receive fragments of music in my dreams. I would be on my way to waking, in that twilight between states of consciousness, when a phrase or snatch of melody would come, along with an urgency: memorize this so you can recreate it when you wake up. The figure would repeat and repeat until I had it down. Upon waking, I would go directly to the piano and pick out the notes, transferring all to music notation paper and then building a song on them. It was a bit like taking dictation, except that once I started fashioning the song it became my own.
Sometimes instead of music I would be shown a story for the basis of a song. For example, right before waking I witnessed a scene unfolding between a pre-adolescent girl and her new stepfather in his study. I even got his name; she called him Mr. Sloane. (The resulting song can be downloaded from my website sarahkernochan.com.) It was a feverish time, as if I was on speed. Sleep became work from which I would awake to more work, the borders dissolving between conscious and unconscious. I knew where these directives were coming from. I had opened the door, after all. But the increasing force of creative imperative started to frighten me. I felt like I was being blown around in a gale.
I was also feeling more than a little crazy. There was no one to talk to. My shrink admitted she didn’t believe in ghosts and kept trying to link these episodes to my early life, especially to my relationship with my father. And I was totally reluctant to talk to my dad, because my dream-time interlocutor was his deceased father, or so I believed. Dad was also an avowed atheist who often said that death was the end, period, and nothing followed.
I called the psychic, Frank Andrews. “You told me I have a spirit around me, a man whom I knew when he was alive. I’ve figured out he’s my grandfather, and I need some advice now.” Frank said, “Don’t tell me any more. Come back to see me, and bring a picture of him.”
Great. The only way to get a picture of Grandpa was to ask my father for one.
(To be continued.)
- I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.