Mikie Benedict’s Montara: Never Cold at “Johann Sebastian” Scranton’s Cold Comfort Farm…

Story by Mikie Benedict


(Photo: Richard Scranton, courtesy Mikie Benedict)

Richard Scranton, known to some of his music-making acquaintances as Johann Sebastian Scranton, lived in a little green house in Montara with a sign over the door: “Cold Comfort Farm�?.

Richard’s ultimate desire was to hand-copy and arrange all 371 of Johann Sebastian Bach’s harmonized chorales so that they could be played on the keyboard. Before Richard died at the age of 75 in 2004, he managed to complete this enormous effort. He called his handwritten manuscript the Ill-Tempered Clavier, a takeoff on Bach’s encyclopedic work, The Well-Tempered Clavier.


(Image: Richard’s Chorale, courtesy Mikie Benedict)

In the front room of Richard’s house on George Street was an instrument which resembled an 18th-century harpsichord, but which on closer inspection proved to be two modern keyboard synthesizers set into a
harpsichord case so cleverly covered with wood-grain paper that it truly fooled the eye.

Richard made digital recordings of his self-taught keyboard playing on this wonderful machine, sometimes painstakingly inputting the chorales note by note and editing out his mistakes.

The floor of “Cold Comfort Farm” was carpeted wall- to- wall with shag scraps cut and glued in a checkerboard pattern, and the walls were densely hung with Richard’s own skillfully-painted facsimiles of European and Asian masterpieces. He made his own curtains and upholstered his own furniture. It was not cold in Richard’s house: Through an innovation best left unexamined, he kept the temperature at about 78 degrees year round.

Cold Comfort Farm�?, an expression from Shakespeare, was the title of a comic novel by Stella Gibbons published in 1932. The book, set in the fictitious village of Howling, Sussex, was made into a film by the BBC in 1995.

Richard Scranton’s past was mysterious. He had a mother somewhere, but had no contact with her. He had a cat, but she died. At some point he had been a barber and trusted no one else to cut his hair, which finally he shaved off. He had traveled to Europe. He had a library-class record collection and knew everything worth knowing about all kinds of music. He had been a custodian at a local school for a while.

Although he was gentlemanly and courteous to his neighbors, he preferred to be alone most of the time. He cooked for himself in an electric skillet. He
sometimes rode a motorcycle or a bicycle, but did not drive a car.

In late summer of 2004, his neighbors and a handful of acquaintances held a musical memorial service for Richard at Cold Comfort Farm. The building is now used as a studio by the owners, who live next door.