Despite being a lifelong fan of The Twilight Zone, I had somehow missed Come Wander With Me – the third to last episode of the show’s fifth and final season. Perhaps that’s because Come Wander With Me doesn’t exactly top lists of the show’s most memorable moments. Unlike Nightmare At 20,000 Feet or Time Enough At Last, Come Wander With Me doesn’t posses an iconic image burned into American pop culture. There’s no ironic twist in the final act; no creature or alien or ghoul. Yet thanks to a haunting and ethereal folk song at the center of it – repeated over and over again like an incantation – Come Wander With Me is every bit as evocative and uncanny as the show’s more celebrated installments. When I finally stumbled across it late one night on Netflix, I knew instantly that it was something I would never forget.
The plot concerns Floyd Burney, a smarmy, second-rate rock n roll singer who arrives in a small Appalachian town looking to cop local folk songs. One gets the impression that Burney has made a career out of this sort of musical theft; traveling town to town, pillaging blues numbers and turning them into top 40 fodder. However, this time Burney gets more than he bargained for when he follows a fragile, affecting melody being sung from within the woods at the outskirts of town. Eventually, he finds the songstress responsible – the beautiful and mysterious Mary Rachel, played by Bonnie Beecher. From there, as Twilight Zone episodes are wont to do, things get bizarre.
Written by Jeff Alexander and sung by Bonnie Beecher Come Wander With Me is the kind of song that feels instantly, eerily familiar. Like a lullaby you heard often as a child and then disappeared forever into some deep, inaccessible crevice in your brain. Both timeless and out of time, Come Wander With Me is impossible to place. It feels like something Billie Holiday could have sang in 1939, or Joan Baez in 1965 or a witch in Salem prior to her execution in the sixteen-hundreds.
Jeff Alexander, the song’s composer, was an industry veteran by the time he wrote Come Wander With Me in 1964. He had composed music for radio programs along with Benny Goodman in the early forties and throughout the fifties, wrote scores for films in Hollywood. Jailhouse Rock and Kid Galahad, two Elvis Presley pictures, were among his many credits. Unfortunately, there is nothing remotely similar to Come Wander With Me in Alexander’s vast catalogue of work. It’s an anomaly.
Bonnie Beecher, the episode’s lead actress and the song’s vocalist, appeared in a handful of forgotten television shows following her debut in The Twilight Zone. In 1965, she married the hippy-activist, Wavy Gravy, changed her name to Jahanara Romney, and quietly disappeared into obscurity.
Perhaps the most curious fact about Beecher is that she dated a young Bob Dylan at the University of Minnesota in 1961 – making her the first in a long line of famous Bobby D brunettes. If you scour the Internet long enough, you can find a bootleg recording of an early Dylan gig held in Beecher’s campus apartment. It’s also said that Girl From the North Country was written about her. Based on the spell she casts during her brief stint in The Twilight Zone, it’s not too difficult to imagine why. Girl From The North Country’s gentle, achy melody and the longing expressed in its words compliment Beecher’s demure, doleful nature in a way that feels designed.
Bonnie Beecher’s voice cannot be heard on any other known recording. She was not a professional singer and – given that she retired from acting while still in her twenties – it’s easy to speculate that she wasn’t too keen on show business in general. However, listening to Come Wander With Me, as I’ve done hundreds of times since discovering it, you can’t help but wonder what might have been had Beecher’s passions been more in line with that of her college fling’s. There’s something primal and redolent in her voice; something terminal.
Maybe in some other dimension – a dimension not only of sight or sound but of mind – there’s a whole albums worth of Bonnie Beecher ghost dirges waiting to be dug up. words / e o’keefe
*full episode after the jump…