Last month, 1959 Playboy Playmate (July if you're curious) and B-movie actress Yvette Vickers was found dead in her house by a neighbor. Now, don't get the wrong idea, there was no scandal per se, she died of heart failure at the age of 82 or so. The thing is, she's been dead for nearly a year the medical examiner said, as her body was actually mummified.
Which, in a startling segue, leads me to my inamorato (the man self-styled Trav S.D.) and his performance of The Ballad of Jasper Jaxon at Dixon Place. The performance was lovely, if I do say so. Jasper Jaxon is based on real life bank robber Elmer McCurdy, who upon his death in 1911 was over-embalmed and was displayed in various traveling side-shows and theater lobbies with various purposes until it was forgotten who this fellow had been or even that he was an actual mummified person and not just a prop. Like all great true American stories it is both tragic and hilarious.
Along with her Playmate of the Month fame, Miss Vickers had a pretty impressive monster movie career. She has the typical career of small roles in big pictures (her debut was in Sunset Boulevard!) and big roles in small pictures. Most well known for her role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, she worked in television through the 1970s and appeared in other B horror movies, including Attack of the Giant Leeches, whose wonderful poster you can see below.
The Ballad of Jasper Jaxon is a long, rambling and extremely catchy song in the style of Woody Guthrie with definite shades of Bob Dylan. There's a certain species of Americana that seems to have fallen out of favor recently in our glittery techno present, and it's an awful shame mostly. In general, a sense of history is slowly being eroded. The internet in some ways both helps and hinders. There's such wonderful access to nearly everything, but the ease of finding whatever piece of whatever what puzzle one comes across, also serves to flatten it somewhat. The screen with which we view everything can decontextualize nearly everything until it's all just floating in a digital present.
Yvette Vickers cheerfully attended film festivals around the country in her old age. The fact that she could have disappeared for so long without anyone noticing breaks one's heart a little. The world is a lonely place for so many people, and one of my biggest fears, as it is for so many childless people, is that an end like that of Miss Vickers awaits us in the future. Both Yvette Vickers and the hapless crook Jasper Jaxon lived strange, picaresque and particularly American lives, only to wind up mummified, stuck in the parts of the newspapers designated for the weird and the uncanny, ready made to be turned, as all good American stories should be, into folk songs and B movies.
The Ballad of Jasper Jaxon will go on, no doubt and I will be sure to let you know of an recordings or return engagements.