Saturday, October 17, 2015

Jazz singer Hailey Tuck - her story of discovering Louise Brooks

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Louise Brooks Society (which went online back in 1995), fans of the actress were asked to submit their story of discovery -- of how they first came across Louise Brooks. This is the first in a series of posts of individual accounts of discovery.

This piece is by Hailey Tuck - a jazz singer, recording artist, and self-described "Modern Vintage Chanteuse" who has an obvious affection for Louise Brooks. Learn more about the artist at her website at or check out this piece in Interview magazine.


When I was 18, I was working in a rare and out of print bookstore in Austin, TX and lazily attending a mess of random liberal arts classes at the community college across the street. I'd graduated from a Baptist military boarding school early, and subsequently 'suffered' two heart wrenching defeats in attempting to gain admittance to Julliard, and though I can look back on that malaise with the same wry smile as reading my self-aggrandizing childhood diaries, I do acutely remember looking at my options and feeling very "none of the above."

The job itself was a total dream, and still my number one back up in case I didn't manage to become wildly successful in jazz. My grandmother was a bookseller and called in an old favor for her bibliophile granddaughter, and voila I became their only employee. The shop opened at noon (ideal) and I was mostly left to my own devices, or occasionally joined by my boss, Luke -- an obviously extreme literate, and general good time -- or one of the eccentric collectors who would come and have a whiskey, or tutor me in French.

Like some sort of adult Montessori school, my browsing led me to a total cultural revolution for a curious 18 year old. After dully expressing my distaste for poetry, Luke pointed me to Pablo Neruda and Rainer Maria Rilke, and like a light-bulb I suddenly understood the art behind the subtlety of expressing something sensuous or painful without the directness or girth of literature. I pawed through sections on occult, anthropology, Swedish furniture. I bought the entire play section. I dated a professor from the university who slept in a soundproof, light proof box and cut off my black hair because I wanted to look like a New York art dealer in the 90's. And luckily, I picked up a book called Lulu in Hollywood because the illustration of the chick on the front had my hair cut. 

Reading, or inhaling rather, doesn't cover it. For once I felt I was reading a real story, and one that closely echoed my own -- sexual abuse, alcoholism, family troubles, and then looking at traditional success and saying, "Fuck that I'm going to make weird ass art house movies in Germany!" Some might view Louise's subsequent eeking descending fall into obscurity as a classic tragedy, however from my current vantage point as a young performer, I see someone who made deliberate u-turns based on a desire to be the most authentic version of themselves, regardless of the viability for commercial success. And most importantly, I saw myself, and felt steeled to seek out my own adventure, regardless of the wobbling uncertainty of ditching college, my father's approval, and the American dream. 

My newfound hubris manifested into a one way ticket to Paris. I should add that I also had the rare luck of a modest trust fund of sorts -- before you start gagging -- it was an insurance settlement. A lonely month or so later on the metro, this American girl complimented my vintage dress, and I asked her how she knew I spoke English, and she said, "I don't, I just speak to everyone in English!" 
For some reason it seemed entirely charming, and I asked her if she wanted to get off and have a glass of champagne together. She told me about her strange marriage to an older wealthy record producer (they have separate houses, and she collects dollhouses) and I told her that I was sort living in this squat and was too scared to tell my Dad, or he'd make me come home. She happened to be house sitting this beautiful apartment in Voltaire and offered for me to sleep on the red velvet fainting couch. One night later we were throwing a party and I was sitting on my bed/fainting couch and this completely decadent red headed American, in head to toe 1920's sat down next to me and I told her I'd been living there on this couch, then asked her the proverbial, "Do you come here often?" She looked at me sardonically, and patiently replied that this was her house. And her couch. After a second/hour or so of complete embarrassment I bumbled and mumbled my way through an explanation about being fresh off the boat, wanting to do acting or singing or something, and a few glasses of Prosecco later she had yanked off the music and had me singing Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You" on her dining room table. 

When I read Lulu in Holywood I had this grand idea of what Europe might be -- cavorting with intellectuals and passing out at orgies at Rothschild mansions. But when I got there everything seemed garishly contemporary, and lonely. I just felt like an American at an overpriced cafe.

But whatever Sorrel saw in me on her dining room table was the catalyst for everything I could have imagined. I got upgraded from fainting couch to painting studio, introduced to a swath of filthy Italian phrases, chess on trains, regency balls, schooled on not offending Venetians at Carnival, posing nude in an Art Deco harem, literally physically force-dressing me for winter time, and above all encouraged and supported to sing at every single event, party, and opportunity possible until, like learning the other side of poetry, or understanding the inevitability of forever, I became the most true, authentic version of myself as a jazz singer trying to evolve and challenge myself in Europe, and of course offending Venetians and passing out at Mansion parties.

I'm still sort of making wobbly guess-choices, but I do know that everything that has led me to where I am now feels right, and nothing about it seems like the beaten path to any real commercial success, and that feels great. And when Marie Claire did an article on me this year, I definitely felt a wry self-aggrandizing smile when reading the title "The Millennial Louise Brooks".

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