31 December 2009

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 36

(42/M/London, England)


The girl in the play, who becomes the woman the singer marries, is only referred to as Gloria," a fact which regally pisses her (. ..off, as we say in UK) - decades on, he still can't see the reality of her, just as he can't accept he's on the skids in his career.

As you know from earlier postings, I'm fascinated by the collision of past and present, and I kept thinking: what is it like to be singing those songs, especially the Gloria-type yearning ones, forty years on? Assuming you're not just the musical equivalent of a cab for hire, presumably part of you buys into the myth: the audience's need for the comfort of illusion is no greater than your own. And there is, as I've said re Dion and the Spaniels live, a dignity and a grace about sharing those needs, those vulnerabilities, with an audience, if you can see them for what they are. Brit playwright Dennis Potter (Pennies from Heaven) said you should look back at your past with "tender contempt," but stressed the importance of both parts.

But what if you're too caught up in those dreams - the grown man, as it were, still singing Gloria without that sense of distance? So I decided to make my lead character a fantasist who desperately needs those songs as a retreat from understanding life in the here and now, not a way of integrating the man and the boy.

Some details I took from the chapter on Ben E King in [Gerri Hirshey’s] Nowhere to Run, but King seems to me a very grounded individual: I saw him, reunited with the Drifters in the early 80s (pre the moderate resurgence of fame with the reissue of Stand by Me), and while the late Johnny Moore and the others were comporting themselves like so many manic starfish, projecting like crazy throughout, King sort of hugged himself as he quietly, naturally, sang his hits: "Hey, I can't be that person anymore," he seemed to be saying, "but this is as much as I remember. I'm not gonna embroider or patch it up, but what I tell you will be true for me now. If I made it any bigger, I couldn't feel it, so what would be the point?" And it worked; I remember the sense of him giving himself as a real person that night.

But that play was also a variant on my attempt to do the impossible earlier on this board, ie to pin down in words the experience of listening to Golden Teardrops and the mystery (to me) of its coming into being. Without any attempt to reflect the little I knew of the Flamingos as people (ie virtually zilch) I imagined the guy hurting his wife by some thoughtless remark, seeing her tears welling up, and being torn at that moment between the wish to comfort her - and the idea that is suddenly welling up, insistent, inside him. The idea wins; he assembles the guys - the stairwell they used to practise as kids - and Golden Teardrops bubbles joyfully into being: "We got together on a key and just - floated." They rush on to the prearranged session, he comes back late that night with an acetate of the song, exuberant, thinking she'll understand, be dazzled by the sheer beauty of this guilt-framed apology ... and she's gone.

There's not much else to say, except that the enormity of what he's done to her hits him at the end, as he hears GT properly for the first time. It’s about selfishness as well as love, two sides of him. A lifetime away from that first fine "Gloria" ...


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