In the middle of NO HOTEL, the Claudettes’ new album full of playfully raucous songs and instrumentals, comes a song born of personal tragedy but bathed in beauty and light
The majority of the Claudettes’ new album NO HOTEL balances Bizarro World blues-powered instrumentals with smoky, sultry vocal songs sung by Yana, who joined pianist Johnny Iguana and drummer Michael Caskey in the band in 2014. But the set of vocal songs in the middle of the album begins in breathtaking fashion with the English-language original She’s So Imaginary, a vibrant throwback to ’60s pop-soul.
Behind the classic sound of the music, though, lies a story that takes the listener to the first days of the band. The writer and composer of the song, Johnny Iguana, explains, “My four-year-old son Roman was trying to express the idea that his mother has a vivid imagination. What he said was, ‘she’s so imaginary.’ It got me to thinking that, if she had died when he was very young, she would be ‘imaginary’ to him…a mythical figure.”
Johnny’s wife (Roman’s mother) Alexa was diagnosed with thyroid cancer soon after Roman was born. Alexa’s thyroid was removed and she endured two bouts of radiation. Around the same time, Claudettes drummer Michael Caskey suffered a terrible loss. His wife Tijana was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and died in February 2010 at age 33.
All of this took place soon after Johnny’s previous band, Oh My God, was hit by a drunk driver while on tour in their van. Two fingers fractured and his right wrist badly broken and displaced by the impact, Johnny was told by his hand surgeon that playing piano again was not guaranteed, and that arthritis in that hand in the future was virtually guaranteed. Forming in the wake of these events, the Claudettes gave Johnny and Michael something joyful to pour their hearts and minds into, yielding dozens of high-octane, off-kilter original instrumentals, the majority of which have come out on the Yellow Dog Records releases Infernal Piano Plot…HATCHED! (2013) and NO HOTEL (2015).
Young Roman’s memorable misstep in speech, though, gave birth to the one vocal song penned by Iguana on NO HOTEL. “I was looking for words to rhyme with ‘imaginary’ and thought of ‘ferry,’ which got me to thinking about the 2014 Korean ferry disaster that just devastated me…all those lives lost so needlessly and horrifically. Within a few minutes, on an airplane in France, I had the lyrics and melody arriving in my head like they were on a ticker tape.”
The song, sung in beautiful Diana Ross fashion by Yana, takes place on a sun-splashed vacation day. The narrator asks her friends, “Have you gone down to the water? Have you been down to the old town?” As she sips Champagne on the terrace, the narrator thinks how much her friend would have adored this setting. This friend drowned in the 2014 Korean ferry sinking, and the narrator is now taking care of her friend’s young son. She looks to comfort the boy, telling him that his mother, who loved to swim, is still swimming in the ferry, that she’s happy down there. He, who doesn’t fully remember his mother, just echoes Roman’s words: “She’s so imaginary.”
Director Joe Martinez worked with Iguana on the concept for the She’s So Imaginary music video, and the decision was made that neither Iguana or Caskey would be seen playing their instruments in the video. “We felt that going with the standard, ‘and now, here are the musicians, pouring their hearts into the music you’re currently hearing,’ would diminish or even destroy the impact of the story told in the song.” Instead, the video only features Yana as The Friend and Roman himself (now seven years old) as The Son.
Though the pain of loss lingers in She’s So Imaginary, the song is sung on an idyllic day and the narrator and young boy are now a happy family. Claudettes drummer Michael Caskey met Chicago dancer Meghann Wilkinson in April 2011 and married her in 2014. They enjoyed a splendorous honeymoon in Hawaii that June.
She’s So Imaginary lyrics:
Has everybody seen this? Nobody should miss this.
Have you walked down to the water? Everybody ought to.
Girl, I’m blown away, Girl I’m blown away
Nobody should miss this. Have you gone down to the Old Town?
Everyone should come down.
Girl, I’m blown away, Girl I’m blown away
Man, she would’ve loved this. Champagne on the terrace.
She loved to swim, just like him, she loved the sea…and so does he.
Her eyes were blue, so so blue, deep ocean blue…looked just like you.
Your boy can swim/swims like a fish/and every night/he makes a wish
(post-bridge): Your little boy say–he put it a funny way
When he’s talking about you…when we’re walking without you
I say: She’s swimming in the ferry. He say: She’s so imaginary
You would have loved this day. Your beautiful boy’s OK.
I say: She’s sleeping on the ferry. He say: She’s so imaginary.
I say: she’s happy on the ferry. He say: She’s so imaginary.