Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"B" is for Brandy -- the fine girl, not the drink

Laura Ingalls Wilder, not Brandy

The summer I was 9, the song “Brandy” by Looking Glass was all over the radio.  It was a strange summer for popular music; it was 1972, and if this tells you anything, the year’s top singles were “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, “Alone Again, Naturally” by Gilbert O’Sullivan, and the dreaded “American Pie” by Don McLean.  (Unlike almost everyone else on the planet, I hate “American Pie” – always have, and always will. Yes, I know the story behind it, and I still hate it. It’s just too danged long.)

But, “Brandy” – now, that was a song.  According to Wikipedia, here’s the story:

“The (song’s) lyrics tell of Brandy, a barmaid in a port town. She wins the admiration of many of the sailors, but she cannot return their feelings – the love of her life was unwilling to abandon his true love, the sea.

"In spite of this, Brandy continues to love the sailor and wears a braided silver chain with a locket that bears his name. It has been suggested that the song was inspired by the real life story of Mary Ellis, whose grave resides in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where the band was formed.”

At 9, I was in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books – which I now firmly believe were written by Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, but that’s fodder for another nerd-girl blog post. I mooned over the courtship of Laura and Almanzo, becoming almost apoplectic when one Friday afternoon, a petulant Laura refused Almanzo’s offer of a ride back to town, thus forcing herself to stay the weekend in the home of the crazy lady with the knife. 

In my little head in 1972, Laura Ingalls and Brandy the Barmaid combined and blurred in some kind of old-time romantic soup. I had read the story of the Mary Ellis grave in a magazine article about the song, each time I heard “Brandy,” I thought of the ghost of Mary – looking like Laura in 1800s garb – haunting her own gravestone, mooning for her absent sailor even after her death. 

“Brandy” is on my iPod, and I still think of the ghost story when I listen to it.  But I also think of the summer of 1986, when I was about to marry my kids’ dad and visited his small Indiana hometown for the first time.

The town was so small you could walk from one end to the other, and I fell in love with it. Each time I hear the lyric, “At night, when the bars close down/Brandy walks through a silent town…” I think of Redkey, Indiana, and how amazed I was that a person could literally walk through a town, all of it, without even stopping.

If you’re interested in doing a little ghost-conjuring of your own, here’s Brandy.

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