Monsters, marvels, lore, and legend: Jill Tracy on the persistence of mystery

Jill Tracy’s Diabolical Streak has been a favorite album of mine for the past decade — see the video above for one of the many reasons why — and in this 2009 interview for Tor.com, the always-mesmerizing Ms. Tracy explains some of the philosophical-aesthetic worldview that informs her lush world of musical darkness:

We all want to believe in magic. It keeps hope alive. Sometimes I feel that magic and the suspension of disbelief is the only thing that matters. I think that’s why my music resonates with people on such a deep level.

I was given the book The Mysterious World when I was a child and when I first opened it, there was a picture of spontaneous human combustion. I had never heard of such a thing in my life. There’s that wonderful old photograph of Dr. John Irving Bentley who suddenly burst into flame. There’s a bit of his leg, with his foot still in a slipper, his walker, and cinders everywhere. And I’d read about toads and frogs and blood raining from the sky. Or Count Saint Germain, who was recorded to have lived for hundreds of years. He said his secret to immortality was to eat oatmeal and wear velvet encrusted with gemstones. To this day, no one knows exactly who he was, where he came from and if indeed he was immortal.

Unfortunately, these days of internet and technology have murdered “the legend.” That breaks my heart. Monsters, marvels, lore, and legend — these are the things that make us feel most alive. The most wonderful questions of all are the ones for which there are no answers. One of my favorite quotes is, “In the end, it is the mystery that prevails, never the explanation.” Sadly, the world has gotten to a point where everybody’s demanding an explanation. But after the info, they’re still bored and unfulfilled.

I think it’s my purpose to perpetuate the long-lost magic, allow people to slip into the cracks, to pry up the floorboards and search deeply. Believe. Imagine. It’s so important to hold on to that childlike sense of marvel.

More: “I’ll hold your hand while they drag the river: An Interview with Jill Tracy

In line with these sentiments, also see Ms. Tracy’s appearance as an interviewee in a recent, and excellent, in-depth article about Ouija boards and other spirit-communication devices, where she offers some perceptive observations about Victorian Spiritualism:

Jill Tracy — a San Francisco singer and composer who, with violinist Paul Mercer, performs a touring improvisational-music show called “The Musical Séance” — says that Victorians were more open about loss of life and honoring the dead than we are now. At The Musical Séance, she and Mercer will spontaneously compose pieces based on sentimental objects the audience brings in — from antlers and dentures to haunted paintings and cremated cats to swords and a lock of hair from a drowned boy — not to call in spirits so much as memorialize the audience’s loved ones.

Tracy says even as a parlor pastime, Victorians had a sweet, romantic side to them. “A séance brought people together,” she says. “It enabled them to face their fears because it was being pitched to them as a form of group amusement, instead of a frightening experience where one sits in their house alone and tries to talk to a spirit. A séance was also sensually charged, the true definition of arousing the senses. Men and women would sit in the dark in close contact, often holding hands or touching, and they would have no idea what was going to happen. For Victorians, it was almost an acceptable moment of abandon.”

More: “Ghosts in the Machines: The Devices and Daring Mediums That Spoke for the Dead

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD and GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES.

Posted on December 20, 2014, in Arts & Entertainment, Paranormal and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. That book was a childhood favourite of mine too. What an odd coincidence. But I remember it as ‘The World Atlas of Mysteries’, by Francis Hitching. The foot in the slipper, remaining in the ashes, sticks in the mind even decades later. My brother & I first got the book on a visit to Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Petrifying Well, in Knaresborough, so it was a suitably uncanny occasion. There was a bookshop, not far away, and the book “called out”, metaphorically speaking.

  2. This is the first time I’ve heard Jill Tracy, and her music is almost like the soundtrack to the opening of a non existent TV series; the video was killer but I think this kind of music would be better enjoyed with eyes closed, its so cinematic. The decadent old timey feel and sinister melodies ALMOST reminds me of Coil, of all things. Not what I was expecting at all.

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