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Jeffty is Five

1982

Ellison's elegiac paean to the joys of his childhood receives a properly low-key reading from its author. His passion for a lost time and the artifacts of his youth come through clearly, though much of the effect may be lost on a younger generation that has never heard the radio dramas, seen the old flicks, or tasted the original Clark bar.

Production tricks are nil. With his mouth alone, Ellison recreates the sound effects from classic radio shows -- a machine gun, the engine of a prop airplane, the opening lines of the Tom Mix theme song. He does radio drama voices, a uvular Jeffty who sounds like Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann, and a brief, pathetic appearance by the parents.

Brad Kay's solo piano accompaniment is ubiquitous but unobtrusive (quiet and distant, as if heard through an open door from another room), and marvelously apt. There's a jaunty western hero theme; lovely ragtime that recalls the standard "Nola"; driving boogie-woogie for Donny's daytime routine; an absent-minded, wandering, single-note melody for Jeffty, and a more ominous version for the strained evenings with the Kinzers. It's almost a pity Kay put in so much effort to such slight, sidelines effect.

A lovely Ellison performance that may not have a great impact on listeners who do not relate to the nostalgic territory of the story. This is the author at his most vulnerable, however.

Note: This version of “Jeffty is Five” is not the same as the one that appears on the 2001 collection, “The Voice From the Edge: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral,” which is a later recording.

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