The Mystery of La Verda Stel'
Updated: Tue 22 Nov 2022
Firstly I must apologise for the nearly two-month hiatus in posts. Since about mid-August I’ve been alternately too busy and too ill to do any writing or research. I have a couple of half-finished artist profiles on my to-do list, which I hope to get to soon - but I have been slightly sidetracked by a very mysterious puzzle, which I had somehow overlooked until it was brought to my attention last week by my friend Joop Kiefte.
In early 2018, a new YouTube account by the name of Julian Gastalou posted two videos of music taken from a “weird record that [he] found at a garage sale”, noting that the lyrics could be in Esperanto or Ido. As the record was credited to a group called “La Verda Stel'”, it should be fairly obvious which of these two languages was intended - and indeed, the record is sung in Esperanto.
Mia Amo Restis For
Vi Min Ne Credas [sic]
Any further details than this, however, are something of a mystery: it seems that nobody in the online Esperanto movement has heard of this group. The record does not appear in the comprehensive Laŭjara Katalogo de Muzikaj Diskoj en Esperanto, and none of the appeals for information that have been put out on a popular Esperanto blog or on social media or StackExchange have met with any success. If anyone from the Esperanto community knew anything about this record, we would almost certainly have heard from them by now - so let’s take a different approach, and treat it as a puzzle to be solved by research and detective work.
Unfortunately, Gastalou hasn’t responded to any of the requests for further information posted in the comments of his videos, so we only have the contents of the videos and his original notes to go on. As the expression “garage sale” is distinctly North American, we can guess that Gastalou is probably from that continent. The style of the music strongly suggests late 60s or possibly early 70s, and the record sounds professionally produced: it is nicely mixed and mastered, and has the high-quality sound expected of a pressed record, as opposed to a home-cut acetate.
Some commenters suggested that the quality of the vocal performance suggests that the singer was a fluent Esperanto speaker. I don’t believe that this is a particularly safe conclusion, as many trained singers are able to give convincing performances in languages of which they don’t speak a single word - consider the album by Duo Espera, which dates from a similar era. The elementary spelling error in the title of one of the songs, “Vi Min Ne Credas” (for “Kredas”) particularly stands out in the context of a record that is otherwise practically linguistically flawless; I suspect this was most likely a deliberate change to make the word more recognisable to a non-Esperanto-speaking audience.
One possibility that has been raised is the idea that the record may be a modern forgery - ie, that Gastalou and his friends, or possibly other persons unknown, made the recording in 2018 and deliberately packaged it in a way to appear old. I don’t think any of these suggestions were made particularly seriously, and I don’t think they are a very likely explanation myself - the record sounds old in ways that would be quite difficult to fake with modern equipment. If you wanted to produce a convincing fake of an “old” recording, there would be much easier styles and eras to recreate than this.
The only other clue that I could spot from the videos is the record label’s logo in the lower right-hand corner of the cover: Meric Records. A label by that name did exist, and has a very brief listing on Discogs, which knows of five LPs issued by the label, all jazz, four of which are performed by Norm Ladd and his Orchestra. A Google search for “Norm Ladd” brings up this eBay listing for another of his records, this time a single, but again issued by Meric Records.
Clearly Ladd was one of Meric’s star performers, and other Google results for his name bring up the suggestion that he was from the Chicago area - as was Meric Records. While the Discogs entry gives a mailing address for the label at a multi-tenanted office building in Chicago (307 North Michigan Avenue), the scanned album covers all give a different address: a residential property in Palatine, a suburb of Chicago. Although it’s very easy for researchers to find this address on Discogs, it only appears in pictures and not in indexable text, and so I won’t repeat it here: the current residents likely have nothing to do with the label and don’t need obscure Esperanto records showing up in search results for their home address.
I noted previously that the term “garage sale” strongly suggests America, and we have now narrowed our search down to the Chicago area. The small number of documented releases, coupled with the use of a residential address (the house was apparently built in 1962, according to online property records), suggests a small label making small-scale releases - it’s therefore not surprising that much of their output would be lost to history.
Incidentally, the fact that the logo on the La Verda Stel' record doesn’t match any of the ones on other Meric Records releases does not necessarily mean anything - it has always been common for record labels to change their logos, often to completely different styles that bear no resemblance to what they were using only a few years previously. It seems much more probable to me that the company used different logos at different times than that there were two different obscure record labels both named Meric Records.
I’ve seen some comments about this record suggesting that it would be strange for an artist to make such an excellent recording in Esperanto and then disappear without a trace. Again I am sceptical about this idea; again look at the Duo Espera album, about which it seems completely impossible to find out any information about the artists beyond that given on the album cover. Or consider Margaret Hill, who was very active in the British Esperanto scene for a number of years, and then was never heard from again; if it wasn’t for the fact that the owner of Krea-Sono Records is still selling his old discs through his current unrelated business, they too would be lost to time. In this case we have a recording issued by a very small record label, probably in small quantities and probably only for a local market in Chicago - so it’s not at all surprising that such a record wouldn’t make it into the collective memory of the Esperanto music community.
Indeed, there are other Esperanto recordings that are known to have existed but are completely lost to time. In 1987, the Polish group Anda released a cassette Kantu kun Anda, which is described in its own liner notes as their second album; whatever their first album was called and whenever it was released, it doesn’t appear in the above-mentioned Laŭjara katalogo (which was compiled by a Polish organisation - so if anyone would know about it, they certainly should), and no amount of searching has brought anything useful up for me.
This issue of old records lost to time, or appearing mysteriously with no information about how they were produced, is by no means unique to Esperanto. Perhaps the most famous example is Ready ‘n’ Steady, a song which appeared on a Billboard chart for one week and disappeared again without a trace. For a long time, the song was assumed not to exist, and to possibly have been inserted into the chart as a deliberate trap to catch anybody re-publishing unauthorised copies, and the problem was only solved in 2006 when a copy of the recording surfaced.
Back to La Verda Stel' - I’m afraid I don’t have any answers as of yet, but I can at least document the following lines of enquiry that have failed to produce any useful results:
- I sent a request to the librarians at the USA’s national library, the Library of Congress, to see whether they have anything that references La Verda Stel' or Meric Records. The LoC also oversees the America copyright office, so if Meric had registered copyrights on any of their recordings, the LoC would have a record of it. Unfortunately it seems that they did not, and the response to my query was that there were no relevant entries in the catalogues of either the Library or the copyright office.
- I read through the archives of periodicals by ELNA and JEN (the American Esperanto association and youth association respectively), looking at all issues from the 1960s and 1970s. They carried occasional news about records (mostly about Duo Espera and Ni Kantu en Esperanto), and latterly included regular updates on new stock at their mail-order service. I wasn’t able to find any mention of La Verda Stel' at any point during this period.
- I wrote to every Chicago-area record shop that I could find on Google, my thought being that as Meric Records was based in the Chicago area, record dealers from that city would be the most likely to know about it. Of the replies I have received so far, none have been able to help.
A possible next step could be to write to the two addresses that we know were at one point associated with Meric Records. It’s very unlikely that the current occupiers would know anything about Meric Records (it is over half a century later, after all), but it is by no means impossible that they might be able to put me in touch with people who do.
It probably goes without saying that I would very much like to acquire a copy of this record, whether by buying or by borrowing, so I can ensure that it is catalogued properly on Discogs and other services for posterity. And with any luck, some day someone who knows about either La Verda Stel' or Meric Records will come across this article and will be able to provide some answers - and if I find anything, I will be sure to provide an update!
Update - Wed 26 Oct 2022: Robin has pointed out that the French label America Records has a very similar logo. Indeed, it looks like the Meric Records logo could well have been created by taking America’s logo and removing the first and last letter, and then printing it in a different colour.
According to its Discogs page, America Records was founded in 1959 and issued material licensed from American labels, most notably the catalogue of Fantasy Records, including many releases by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Apparently it also issued original material produced by Pierre Jaubert, although Discogs only lists one such release.
America’s logo seems to have been consistent throughout its existence, at least according to the sample of scanned labels I looked at on Discogs - not just in its design, but in its use of its particular shade of blue. I wasn’t able to find any releases that showed the text “Meric Records”, nor any that used the shade of pinkish purple shown on the La Verda Stel' cover - although this doesn’t necessarily mean anything in itself, as it looks like that shade was chosen to match the design of the cover.
One possibility is that the record was indeed issued by America Records, and that the two As have rubbed off on the scanned copy. Considering that the rest of the printing on the cover is in pretty decent condition, it seems unlikely to me that exactly these two letters, but nothing else, could have been rubbed off.
We might wonder whether there is a connection of Meric Records in Chicago and America Records in France. I haven’t been able to find anything that would connect them, and it seems unlikely to me, but certainly not impossible.
The explanation that seems most likely to me is that this Meric Records is intended to ape the logo of America Records. If we consider the forgery hypothesis again, it could be that the creator took the logo for a familiar but not huge label and edited it just enough to be different.
Perhaps it would be worth contacting the French national library, national archive or copyright agency to see if they have anything that might be of use. America Records' catalogue seems to be owned by Universal, but the corporate structures of major labels are so complicated that the chance of getting through to anyone with the right information is probably very low.
One further thought I had today was to do a reverse-image search on the full cover, the logo, and the photograph - but I didn’t get any matches. I wasn’t really expecting to, but it seemed worth trying.
Of course, what would really be helpful is a scan of the record’s labels. This would probably give us a larger version of the company logo, along with a catalogue number and, if we are really lucky, a credit for a producer or other named individual. Perhaps we will just have to wait and see if another copy of this record happens to turn up someday.
Update - Mon 31 Oct 2022: Reddit user PerodicticusPotto argues rather convincingly for the modern hoax theory:
"The logo is a slightly altered version of a real-but-slightly-obscure record company's (I suspect the existence of an actual Meric Records is a red herring), the record sleeve could very easily be a mock-up, and the music sounds like a modern (if slightly lo-fi) recording that has had static dubbed onto it at suspiciously regular intervals. And apologies if I missed something, but isn't there a keyboard player on the "record cover" who can't be heard in the recordings?
The videos only show a static photo of the alleged cover - old-vinyl fans will typically show the label in the centre of the record too (it has a lot more info), and sometimes actual video of the record on the turntable.
if this is a genuine garage-sale find, I wouldn't date it any earlier than the mid-1980s. It sounds more like '60s-inspired jangle pop than actual '60s music; it would have been unusual for an obscure band's single to get a picture sleeve in the '60s or early '70s; and is it meant to be a double A-side? The Beatles had to fight their record company for one of those in 1965."
The use of a picture sleeve and the record being a double A-side is perhaps less surprising for an Esperanto record than it would be ordinarily. Throughout the analogue era, Esperanto records mostly consisted of singles and EPs dressed up in fancy sleeves, in many cases to look like a miniature album; LPs were rare, as due to the small market they were uneconomical. So if this is a genuine Esperanto record, the use of nicer packaging than an equivalent English record is not necessarily surprising. But this is a minor point compared to the several objections raised to the idea that the record is real.
In the end we are left with two possibilities:
1. That the record is a modern hoax - which is undoubtedly an interesting story of its own, but not one that we will ever find out about unless the original uploader decides to tell us about it.
2. That the record is real, but our searches haven’t found anything - in which case we can reasonably hope that one day someone will come across another copy and google the title, and they will come across any of the various posts requesting information and will hopefully respond to one of them.
It does seem at this point that the modern hoax theory is the more likely, and I have to agree with PerodicticusPotto’s conclusion: “I’d be delighted to be proved wrong, but I don’t think this search merits further time”.
Update - Tue 22 Nov 2022: Sebastian Schulman points out that there is only one Julian Gastalou on Facebook, and that his profile and cover photos are very generic and were uploaded on the very same date as the YouTube videos. I’d already spotted the Facebook profile, and had sent a message on the off-chance of getting a response - but I hadn’t noticed the detail about the dates. With every new piece of evidence, the hoax theory looks all the more correct. Hopefully one day the creators will come clean and tell us about it!
Comments are welcome in any language, especially Esperanto.
Komentoj estas bonvenoj en ĉiuj lingvoj, aparte en Esperanto.