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Archive for the ‘Stories of Grizzly Rose’ Category

Grizzly Rose, Grizlly Rose, who did you kill?
How about Gil?
No, he was ill.
How about Phil?
No that was an accident at the mill.
How about Cecile?
No, she rolled off the hill.
How about Jill?
No, she drank a gallon of oil.
How about Basil?
No, he was lost in a mountain trail.
How about Will?
Alas, I stabbed him in his heart and now he’s lying still!

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After losing her aunt and her best friend in New Orleans, Grizzly Rose joins a circus.
This story is the beginning of the transformation from “Little Rose” to “Grizzly Rose.”
Please enjoy with a little swing of trapeze act and a thrill of knife throwing!

Between the Seasons

Impaled Heart
Recounted by Zoe the circus elephant

The knife throwing is sometimes called an art of impalement. Actually, “impalement” is something you really want to avoid as an impalement artist. Of course it’s bound to happen sometimes, no matter how skilled you are.

My name is Zoe, and I’m a circus elephant. I suppose I’d be happier roaming about in the plains like my mother used to tell me, but I was born in a circus tent. You can’t miss what you never had, and I’m happy here as long as those silly circus folks leave me alone. I don’t mind the audience, especially children. I just don’t like most of the people in the circus, especially the ones that walk around swollen with their own importance. There are some that I like though. I like Scarlet; she’s a trapeze artist. And I don’t mind Sweet Mel either. She trains and takes care of the poodles. Those poodles are too chatty for my liking. Mel dyes their hair with beet juice so I try not to look at them too much. If I do, I just start laughing—they do look funny in beet red curly hair. But they think they look great, so who am I to contradict them? These days, I try to hold my tongue. I also like William Bell and Rose, the impalement artists.

When Rose showed up at the circus, Mr. Charlie, who runs the show, wanted her to train as a trick pony rider and a sharp shooter. I don’t know where she learned how to shoot but she was good at it. She is good at everything, though—she rides horses beautifully, walks tightrope better than most of people in the business and she’s a first-rate acrobat. On the other hand, William is not a very good impalement artist. He couldn’t impale anything, target or otherwise. William is the son of Franz Dagger, famous German knife thrower known for his rapidity. Franz assists Mr. Charlie now—he retired after losing William’s mother to an accident during their routine practice. Franz doesn’t throw knives anymore, but he trains his son. Unfortunately, William is horrible at it, but not for want of practice. As a matter of fact he practices a lot. I watch him practice late at night, throwing knives over and over again to the target board. Stray cats would come and tease him walking back and force in front of him as if to say “Strike me if you can but I know you can’t!”
God, he’s awful. He doesn’t impale things that he’s supposed to and impale things that he isn’t supposed to. Rose would join me once in a while. There were a few nights she and I sat together and watched William practice. She winced and grimaced watching him but also smiled.

One night as we were watching yet another stray cat taunting William, Rose got up and walked over to him.
“Those cats aren’t a very good target,” she shooed the cats away.
William was a little taken back at first but said,
“Well, I’m not good enough to have a target girl.”
“Sure you are,” Rose said.
“I’ll be your target. Come on.”
William didn’t say anything.
“Come on, throw the knife at me. I’m quick, I promise you won’t hit me.”
William raised his hand then lowered it, shaking his head.
“You know I’m no good. I might hit you.”
“Stop being a coward,” Rose chided. “I told you I’m quick.”
“I will probably hit you.”
“No, you won’t.”
“I will!”
“You won’t.”
“I will!”
With that last shout William let go of the knife. The knife went straight for Rose but she dodged it so nimbly that not one hair was out of place. William was speechless, staring at his knife stuck right
next to a smiling Rose’s head.
“That was fun, come throw another one and make sure it hits me this time!” she said.

It was a shock to everyone—except me—when Rose asked Mr. Charlie if she could train to be a target girl for William. There were some mean comments made in hushed voices, but Rose ignored them. I was rather surprised that Mr. Charlie said yes, but in a way, Rose probably was the only target girl for William and being a smart manager, he probably realized that. So it was that they became “William Bell and Rose” and they were a hit, much to everyone’s surprise, including William.
Of course it was Rose’s amazing escapes that kept the audience going, but William seemed very happy. I even saw Frank pat him on his shoulder once or twice. They still practice at night and when they take break, they would sit with me.

It wasn’t anybody’s fault what happened later. One night during a show, a knife thrown by William struck my back leg. Nobody saw it so I kept quiet, but it hurt pretty badly and I fell down immediately after their act. Rose and Scarlet hurried off to town to look for a doctor while William and Sweet Mel stayed with me. Sweet Mel is used to tending injuries because of her poodles. She tended my leg while William paced back and forth, repeating, “It’s all my fault. I know I’m no good at throwing knife.”
Sweet Mel is a good listener. She must be, dealing with those poodles. William told her how he never wanted to be an impalement artist but kept on trying, first to make his father proud then to make Rose happy. I was only half conscious as I listened to William’s low murmur.

By dawn, Rose and Scarlet came back with a doctor. Much to the relief of everyone, including me, my injury was nowhere near as bad as it looked. I was to be back on my feet in a few days time. However William’s guilt lingered on.

Rose was all excited hearing about “Wheel of Death”—it’s a trick invented by a legendary impalement artist in Germany, but nobody here in America has done it. The target girl is fastened to a spinning wheel while the knife thrower works blindfolded. Rose really wanted to try it, but William wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“Seems so dangerous and I’m not sure I will be able to aim well blindfolded.”
“Don’t worry. I’m thinking I will do somersault instead. Besides it won’t make any difference to you if you are blindfolded or not.”
It was meant to be a joke but William didn’t laugh. Noticing his seriousness, Rose corrected herself hastily.
“It will be ok! Come on!”
“Rose, I’m thinking about quitting knife throwing,” William said.
“Don’t be ridiculous! We are doing great and we can even do better. Now stop whining and throw a knife at me!”
Do you ever get that sinking feeling like your heart is falling into your stomach and your whole body is falling through endless pit? I had that as I watched William put on a blindfold. I wanted to stop him but I’m an elephant, I don’t speak people’s tongue. William stood still for a minute or two and threw a knife at Rose as she somersaulted. I watched the knife hit the heel of Rose’s left boot and ricocheted straight back to William.

The whole thing probably took only a moment, although it felt like days. By the time Rose finished the somersault, William lay dead on the ground, a knife through his heart. Rose stood by William’s body just dazed when miss Scarlet and Mel noticed what happened. They called for help but they knew it was too late.

There’s not a thing you can do for an impaled heart!

Death keeps following Grizzly Rose. Where will she go next? To the desert is my bet. We’ll see…

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Matchbox House Blues

Here’s the story about Grizzly Rose’s life in New Orleans like I promised.  It’s got cherry brandy, étouffée, storyville, trombone player and of course flea circus.  It’s accompanied by one of my favorite songs off the new album called Matchbox House Blues.  Enjoy!

Matchbox House Blues

To cure a grouchy man
Recounted by Julian Bernard, a trombone player and a handyman for the Orillon family

To Cure a Grouchy Man

Recounted by Julian Bernard, a trombone player and a handyman for the Orillon family

Little Rose’s ticket to independence all started with an old mason jar and fleas. Things were never easy for little Rose; her mother and father were both dead by the time she could read and write. She took the long journey all by herself from the swamp of Indiana to the swamp of Louisiana only to find her aunt Louise Orillon, or her “first cousin many times removed,” wasn’t even at the dock to pick her up. Little Rose had to be brought by the greengrocer who was making his deliveries. I have to say she wasn’t a cuddly kind of kid, but still I felt sorry for the way everyone in the house treated her—something between a perpetual annoyance and someone insignificant enough just to ignore. I used to save her cookies the cook gave me for tea whenever I was there fixing that perpetually broken third stair of the main staircase or replanting trampled primroses—Mme Louise partied a lot and there were always a fixing or two to do around the house. Anyway I was telling you about a mason jar and fleas…

The cook was throwing away an old mason jar when Little Rose asked her if she could have it. I was sharing cookies with Little Rose in the kitchen. It was just an old mason jar, nothing special, so I asked her what she was going to do with it.

“How would I know, Julian? I just got it.” You could tell she was thinking hard. ”I could catch something. Maybe like moths. I used to collect them back in Limberlost.” Her eyes lit up as she said, “Then I can sell them and make some money!” I smiled and told her there wasn’t any moth worth catching around here. “If you want to make some money, might as well catch fleas. You can start a flea circus.”

“That’s a great idea, Julian!” she beamed. “I did see a flea circus once. It was wonderful! I can make them draw carriages, walk tight ropes and dance!”

To train fleas, first you trap them in a jar and keep them there for three days. After that, the poor suckers can’t jump higher than the jar anymore. I don’t know how Little Rose put together her flea circus but a few month later, there she was in front of Mme. Emma’s, entertaining men in top hats and the ladies of Storyville. I was rather vexed with her when I first saw her in Storyville; it’s not the kind of place children should be hanging about, but there she was stubborn as she could be. “But Julian, it’s a good place for circus. Lots of people around and besides, I know how to handle drunken people.”

This was true enough—Mme. Louise was always drunk and Little Rose was always able to avoid her stormy temper and destructive gait. She used to come by my cottage, too. She liked it whenever I played the trombone. She said it reminded of her old Glover, a horse she had back home in Indiana. “Your aunt won’t like you being here,” I’d to say to her but she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “She won’t care. Remember she’s not my real aunt, she’s just my first cousin many times removed,” she laughed, although Little Rose called Mme. Louise “Auntie” when the green grocer finally dropped her. Mme. Louise’ response was very short: “I am not your aunt. The correct term will be ‘first cousin once removed,’ but you may call me Louise.” Like I said things weren’t exactly easy for Little Rose.

Anyhow, Little Rose’s flea circus was a great success and she seemed to be happy for once. She also made a friend, besides me that is: Mme. Emma’s cook Viv. She’s a quiet girl and doesn’t talk to anybody. Mme. Emma didn’t put her to work like she did with the other girls because she fell in love with Viv’s étouffée, or so the rumor goes, but there they were, Viv and Little Rose, inseparable. Viv gave Little Rose a red velveteen ribbon. Little Rose has a flaming red hair and a red ribbon is probably a last thing she should put in her hair but she did and she was very happy about it, too.

Christmas of 1902 I caught what I thought was a bad bout of the flu. It turned out just to be a nasty cold in the end but I didn’t know it when Little Rose came to see me all hazy in my bed feeling absolutely miserable. “What’s wrong Julian? Are you alright?” I just grumbled something like “go away” to her and fell back asleep. Later that night I woke up shivering. The fire was out but I hadn’t been able to pick up coal for days. I was just cursing myself when I noticed a brown medicine bottle standing on my windowsill. I opened and smelled it. Cherry brandy! I had no idea where it came from or who brought it but I didn’t care. I down the bottle at once and fell sleep comfortably. Next day I awake to somebody tapping my windowpane. It was Little Rose! “Good morning, Julian. How are you feeling?” She looked really pleased with herself. “So it worked!”

“What worked?”

“The cure. The cherry brandy.”

The memory from the night before came right back to me then and I said to her.

“Where in the world did you get that? You didn’t steal, did you?”

Little Rose smiled and told me.

“Well after you told me to go away, I went back to Mme Emma’s and was talking to Viv. I told her all about how you weren’t feeling well. She asked me what was wrong with you but I told her I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that you were very grouchy. Then she said she heard Mme. Emma talking about a cure for just that. Viv said Mme. Emma was talking to some other ladies about her cherry brandy how it was a wonderful cure for any grouchy men.”

“You didn’t go talk to Mme. Emma!”

“Of course I did.” Little Rose replied calmly. Mme. Emma was a known “countess” in Storyville and known particularly for her nasty temper.

“I just went up to her and told her I have a favor to ask her. She looked a little surprised you know. Then she asked me what I wanted so I asked her that I wanted some of her cherry brandy.”

“She looked very surprised then. ‘What do you want cherry brand for,’ she asked me, so I said to her my very good friend came down with a very bad case of grouchiness and I heard her cherry brandy was a great cure for that.”

I was holding my breath by then—I knew she has shot one of her customers in his foot for trying to swindle a dram of her whiskey.

“I told her that I would be happy to pay for the brandy,” continued little Rose placidly.

“I told her I’d be happy to give her a dime but not a penny more. She asked me then what if she refused. So I told her I would take my business elsewhere. She said, ‘What business?” so I said, ‘Why, my flea circus, of course!’“ I started to feeling sick again by then. I couldn’t believe this girl talking to Mme. Emma that way when the Mayor of New Orleans tiptoed around her!

“I don’t know why you all seem to think she’s so scary. She wasn’t scary. She laughed and said, ‘You telling me that you are going to take your business elsewhere, huh? Well we can’t have that!’ Then she turned and called for Henry and told him to give me the small bottle of the cherry brandy and to make sure to get a dime for it. That was all really, except she asked me who was suffering from grouchiness so I told her it was you.”

I can only expect what I would going to hear when I go back to work on New Year’s Eve at Mme. Emma’s. The band was going to be playing there, but I couldn’t help it, I laughed. I laughed and laughed and Little Rose laughed, too.

Unfortunately the dawn 1903 brought big changes to Little Rose. On New Year’s Eve, her friend Viv died and soon after that, her “first cousin many times removed” fell over that third step of the main staircase one last time. Little Rose came to see me before she left the town. She had with her a bag, a jewelry box and her old mason jar, now filled with confetti She opened the jewelry box and showed me the contents. It was filled with stones—rubies, diamonds, emeralds, you name it, they were there, just like a miniature pirate’s booty.

“Louise gave me that before she broke her neck. Do you think she knew?”

Mme. Louise never made any will so the town of New Orleans was taking over all of her possessions. Rose’s relation to her was too vague to stand any chance in a court and the mayor knew it. I didn’t know what to say so instead I asked her what she did with her fleas.

“I let them go. I needed a jar to keep Viv’s confetti,” she said, adding, “It was a great show, by the way.”

I guess she was watching us play a set at Mme. Emma when Viv dropped dead, but that’s another story for another time.

And that’s it, really. She left New Orleans that morning, with a boxful of jewels and a jarful of confetti.

Where is Grizzly Rose now? Next up her brief career as an impaled artist recounted by Zoe the circus elephant. Stay tuned!

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Here’s miss Grizzly Rose and her companions depicted gloriously by a French artist Clémence Josseau plus a short introduction as to how I made her acquaintance.

Grizzly Rose and her guitar-gun

Monsieur le grand chat bleu & Sophie, the merry-go-round pony

“June, 3, 1907 –  Met Grizzly Rose while fixing yet another puncture in the middle of the desert, which turned out to be her property. (The Penny-farthing is very tiresome!)   Sung at a local gathering. Was told those crooked trees are called Joshua trees.  Grizzly Rose let me stay at her cottage.  She’s got some good whiskey and even better tales.”

So it was how we began our long and strange friendship.  I’m constantly traveling and she’s of the wandering spirit, so our meetings happen at random.  But we can always pick up where we left off.  She’s fascinating, unpredictable, extremely trying at times but always a good friend and can spin a good yarns.  Her bell-like voice is mesmerizing and makes everything sound believable.  I wish you could hear her tell you how she survived her childhood running a flea circus in French Quarter or the long train ride she took alone from Indiana to Louisiana when she was only seven.  Or about her mother who was a famous French opera singer who died of a broken heart or how a man who carried thunderstorms around almost stole her heart.

Perhaps it’s all tall tales.  Perhaps not. Only  lucky ones get to meet her, so she told me.  I guess I must be lucky.

Maybe you will get to meet her one of these days, if you are lucky that is.  If you do, don’t bother asking her how she got her nick name though.  That’s a one tale she never tells.


Clémence is a photographer/illustrator currently resides in Paris.  She and I met while she was here in NYC and bonded over Kate Bush and our love for whimsical drawings.  I usually do my own drawings for album covers but as soon as I saw Clémence’s work, I knew I wanted her to illustrate Grizzly Rose.  She also co-wrote “Chanson” off my new album with me and appeared in the recording of the song.  Although she was very self conscious about her voice, the end result sounds really lovely.  She and I went back and forth writing and recording the song over internet.  I’m not a big fan of technology but I think for things like that it is quite amazing.

Next up – Matchbox House Blues and a story about Grizzly Rose’s flea circus in French Quarter.  My favorite doll-maker, Christy Kane will be the guest artist.  I can proudly say that I’m one of aunts of her dolls, so needless to say I’m excited to meet my new niece!

Stay tuned!

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