Memories of NYC & Spalding Gray
I'm slowly settling in to my new life on Mull, and appreciating the simple pleasures of having a clean kitchen, the art of hoovering (with my vacuum "Henry") and the secrets of starting a good fire.
A few weeks ago I ordered Morning, Noon & Night by Spalding Gray off of Amazon, and was delighted when it turned up at the Mull Theatre office.
Spalding Gray has long been a hero of mine. He was an American monologuist based, for the most part, in New York.
He wrote with such sincerity about his life, growing up and trying to fit in to the world as a sort of adult. Far from confessional, his work was comic and reflective.
Swimming to Cambodia is probably his best known work, concerning his experiences whilst filming The Killing Fields. This monolgue was turned in to a film with Jonathon Demme.
Another monologue, Gray's Anatomy, was filmed by Steven Soderbergh. This was my first introduction to his work, I think I recorded it off the telly when I was a student.
There was just something about him, so simple, honest and sincere in his presentation, that compelled you to watch him.
Well, as with all things that you read and come to love, I have a very personal attachment to the work of Spalding Gray. So much so, that if ever I own a cat I want to call it Spud, in honour of him. (His family nick name for him.)
Mind you if ever I have a dog, it's going to have to be called Django.
Spalding had always talked about suicide in his work, as various relatives of his had passed away in such a way. He seemed to muse on whether or not it was a gene that ran in the family.
Spalding was injured in a car crash during a family holiday in Ireland, receiving serious head wounds. This caused him immense pain and problems, and as time went by, after his return to the US it just got worse.
In the end he decided to jump off of a ferry in New York, in to the Hudson.
A tragic end to such a brilliant man.
Well. A year or so ago, I found myself in New York, after having visited my girlfriend of the time in Syracuse.
I was staying with my mate Courtney, who is the finest clown you could wish to see, and we were looking through an events guide for things to do.
It so happened that there was an evening tribute to Spalding and his work on at the Bowery Poetry Club. We leapt at the chance.
Courtney also invited two friends, Maia and H.R, who's also a monologuist of great skill.
It was a night I'll never forget.
A panel of readers sat on the stage, a mixture of men & women.
The format of the evening was simple, but brilliant. They each read small excerpts from Gray's work, all roughly tying in with each other.
Here were all of my favourite moments from his work being shared on stage.
All those moments that I'd privately laughed at, reading alone in bed in Dunoon, were now being celebrated by a theatre full of New Yorkers.
The excerpts came from work throughout his career, even from a monologue that was, at that time unpublished.
It didn't shy away from Spalding's musings on suicide from early in his life or indeed towards the end of his life, but found a perfect balance between all of the periods of his work.
The final moment of the presentation was from Morning, Noon and Night, where Spalding describes a moment with his family.
His wife and he are sitting in their kitchen talking, when suddenly they hear their children through in the other room listening to the radio loudly.
"Tub Thumping" by Chumbawumba blasts through the stereo.
Surprised, he and Cathy, his wife, head through to the other room.
The children are dancing around to the music, and so Spalding and Cathy join them.
The whole family are dancing to Chumbawumba.
And with that theatre was filled with the sound of "I get knocked down, but I get up again!" and the panel all got up and started to dance.
The whole panel were dancing to Chumbawumba.
It was such a simple, yet powerful moment.
So when I was lying in bed in Tobermory the other night, reading Morning, Noon and Night all on my own, I was suddenly transported back to a crowded New York theatre celebrating the life of a great man.
Here's to Spalding Gray.