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Apparently Spalding Gray jumped off the
Gray was a true genius. He virtually invented a new art-form in the 1970s, which combined autobiography with stage performance. Sitting at a table on a bare stage with nothing in front of him but a couple of sheets of paper, he spoke for an hour or two without interruption about important events in his life. As a story-teller, Gray was unmatched. With a flair for the telling detail and a dry self-mocking wit, he could hold an audience in the palm of his hands.
The last time I saw him perform was back in 1993 in something called "Gray's Anatomy". It had to do with his search for a cure for macular degeneration in his left eye, which can lead to blindness. Before opting for surgery, he tries a Filipino psychic surgeon and other "alternative" therapies. This was as much a function of fear of the knife as it was of a Christian Science upbringing that was reinforced by experiments with Eastern mysticism throughout the sixties. Stephen Soderbergh, who also directed "Sex, Lies and Videotape" and other films, made a movie of "Gray's Anatomy" in 1996 and it is well worth tracking down. This year, when I developed a "floater" in my left eye (and then in my right) because of retinal deterioration, I thought about "Gray's Anatomy" a lot. Fortunately, my problems were mild by comparison.
Before that, I saw "Monster in a Box" in performance, which is
about his often futile efforts to turn an enormous sprawling manuscript into a
novel. It too was turned into a film (directed by Nick Broomfield) that is
available in video/DVD. It is a meandering but hilarious account of his various
procrastinations to avoid completing the novel, which mostly takes the form of
vacations to far-off spots like the
I love to tell one of Gray's stories to friends who are as addicted to coffee as me. Since he knows that you can't get real coffee in a Russian hotel, he brings his own with him that he brews in his room in the morning. The hotel's ersatz chicory brew not only doesn't taste right. It can't help you get that first bowel movement going in the morning. When desperate members of his tour group discover that he has the real thing, they come to his room to get a "fix" that he charges a premium for.
Another bit from this performance sticks out. In attempting
to explain in his own off-kilter manner why the
The only other Gray performance I attended is not only his
best known and highly-regarded but a highly acclaimed film as well (also
available in video/DVD). Directed by Jonathan Demme,
Gray spawned a number of imitators, including an
ex-girlfriend who was an aspiring director before she launched a career as a
performance artist. One morning I was up at my mother's house in the country
when she came on the air on Mike Feder's show on
WBAI, the local
Feder, I should add, did the same
sort of thing as Gray, but not nearly as successfully in professional terms.
Gray's persona is
As most comrades know, I have agreed to review fiction for swans.com. As anxious as I am to read a good novel, the pickings are rather slim. Over the past couple of months, I have begun reading one or another recent work, but have put them aside because they lacked one basic element, namely interesting characters. What made Gray's work memorable was his ability to convert his own confused and futile search for a meaningful life into something that engaged your mind and your heart. He was the ultimate character. Even though I never met him or spoke to him, I really feel like I have lost a friend.