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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.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 14

Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

I presented myself to the New York Public Theater for my meeting with Joe Papp. I was to perform my five-song cycle “Songs of Puberty” in its entirety. I could sing and accompany myself on piano for the first four songs, but because the fifth involved two keyboards and a four-member chorus I home-recorded everything but the lead vocal and brought the tape along on my portable audio-cassette player.

Thus I sat with the tape recorder on my lap and sang 25 minutes of music non-stop. Joe listened with an air of puckish amusement, which could be read any number of ways. I’d seen that expression before in auditions for club owners, prospective managers, music publishers: it meant I was cute, but bizarre (one music reviewer called me “weird and willowy.”) It also meant: without a future. I drew more encouragement from Joe’s wife Gail Merrifield who grinned openly during the first four songs.

It was the finale, “Creature From the Last Offramp,” that terrified me. This was the phantasmagoria channeled to me in a semi-dream state by my deceased grandfather’s spirit – a wild melange of church and horror movie music with a torrent of lyrics (to believe me, click here). And I’d never played it for anyone before.

When I finished, I was sheathed in flop sweat.

Joe and Gail looked stunned. They glanced at each other wordlessly.

Joe inquired if I could write more material in “that vein.” I stammered yes, self-programmed to hide self-doubt. He then asked me to come up with enough new stuff to convince him there was a whole show, and to present the result in a workshop performance. Since I’d directed a documentary film, he assumed I could direct the workshop.

I left the meeting in a stupor. This was my first contact with non-profit theater. I was not a theatergoer. Apparently this was a world where bizarre was celebrated, and nobody expected to make any money from your art. As Dot sings in “Sunday in the Park With George”: “All it has to be is good.”

Of course! I realized. I totally belonged in the theater. By now I was on my fourth career (after filmmaker, recording artist, and novelist) and still looking for a home. Theater used everything I could do: write words, compose music, and direct. So that’s why Grandpa had me write those songs: to create a wonderful show that would achieve a greater success than he had in his lifetime. It was worth all the craziness I’d endured to receive the material. What a great guy.

I didn’t want his help now. No more purloining music from the spirit plane. I could see my way clear to what the show would be. The five characters who narrated the five songs were already distinct. The title of the show would be “Sleeparound Town” (the name of the first song). Five different children would go to sleep and meet in a place called Sleeparound Town, and go through the changes of puberty together.

Here is the demo I made of the title song:

Sleeparound Town by profrabbit

...In my dream I sing and windows open wide

Pillowcases breathe up and down

Warming to my song the blankets curl away
From the shores of Sleeparound Town…

A month ago, as I was gathering material to write this story, I unearthed my grandfather’s sheet music, which was among my father’s effects after he died in 2007. I was astounded to find that Grandpa wrote a song called “City of Sleep.” The lyrics were from a Kipling verse, describing the “town” where we go when we dream:

…Know ye the way to the Merciful Town

That is hard by the Sea of Dreams

Where the poor may lay their wrongs away,

And the sick may forget to weep?

But we – pity us! Oh, pity us! –

We wakeful – ah, pity us! –

We must go back with Policeman Day –

Back from the City of Sleep!

(To be continued.)


  1. Sarah, that song & the way you sing it does not sound like anything of your time. It sounds like something that would be played on a gramophone. It's haunting too in that the feeling of it stays in your head.

  2. A gramophone with a trumpet speaker?? But I know what you mean, it has a quaint music-box quality and a feeling of nostalgia. It's my husband's favorite of all my songs and I still love singing it, or I should say croaking it. Thanks so much for listening.

  3. I liked it too. And it's still in my head.

  4. Brilliant and breathtaking. I, too, hear it played over a mental gramophone; definitely a song out of time.

  5. Thanks Charles! Out of time, for sure...I think all writers etc wonder where their stuff comes from. I guess for me it's a place called Sleeparound Town.