Thursday, 31 December 2009

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 40

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)


I want to add a memory of a novel that seems integral to an understanding of Gloria and, through that archetypal song, the genre as a whole. (Mighty big claims, Stranger...)

The book is The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary, which I read and reread as a teenager. An artist painting a mural of Adam and Eve is trying to explain the concept of imagination to his protege; he links it to Humanity's need to pick up the pieces and get on with things after the Fall, that all we need is just that - imagination. The boy doesn't get it, so the artist takes an example from his own life: he went out with a girl and everything was fine; then they had an argument and suddenly they're two devils hissing smoke at each other, making all kinds of allegations about personal hygiene and other stuff - which, the artist tells his listener, was all true.
But he eventually decides to make it up, gives her some flowers, and suddenly she's calling him an angel again. Nothing has changed, but that newfound ability to see through, or beyond, what's there in some way ennobles (or "embiggens," as they say in The Simpsons) both sides and allows the possibility of the relationship growing.
As a teacher I frequently have to do King Lear - not the most fun Shakespeare text. But I'm always moved by the moment he remeets the daughter whose life he's practically ruined. He tells her she has cause to hate him; she replies, "no cause, no cause."
Like the artist bit, it's not true, and yet saying it, and trying to believe it, seems a whole lot better than letting Daddy have it good, crown or no crown.

Now, I'm not saying Gloria is precisely like that, and obviously there are dangers in dreams not attached (however insecurely) to at least some semblance of reality, but the wish to believe in a better world, in the possibility of a love untainted by all the complex selfishnesses that dog us - think of that strangely chaste-seeming embrace of Fred Parris's in In the Still of the Night, a "precious" love he has to "pray" to keep [I typed in "pay" on first go!] - all that seems a good thing, even if those thoughts in undiluted form are invariably dashed on the rocks of adulthood.

This is getting too complicated, even for me, so I'll try to sum up what I think I'm saying, though I have a sneaking suspicion I've expressed this before - a sign this dialogue is finally drawing to its natural end? Anyway, here goes:

Gloria, like so many doowop songs, is ridiculous and touching at the same time. Ridiculous, because the singer, to judge from the sound of his voice (and GRR888888! performance, as Brian would say) is loading so much in the way of hopes and dreams onto this girl there's bound to be some industrial-strength disappointment somewhere along the way, even in the unlikely event of their getting together.

But it's touching, of course it's touching, because it's also about that profound need we all have to reach out to another living being and to feel that we might be – to quote View from the Bridge out of context again - wholly known. With the doowop singer, it's as though he's taken those cringe-making love letters the rest of us hide away and scattered them in the street for the world to gawp at. It might be ill-advised, but it's also an act of courage, risking public mockery at such self-exposure (it's no accident that so many songs, including the one I take my handle from, are couched as letters), but trusting that people will understand and feel the same. Wholly known.

A final thought, and this has the feeling (subject to your response) of a larger ending. I chose “pismotality" because there was already a 'Tony" on Yahoo. The word is Vernon Green's own coining in that parallel adolescent universe where the tenderest emotions are exposed to the light. You won't find it in any dictionary – not that I've looked.

But, damn it, shouldn't that word exist?

Tony

aka "pismotality"


Here is the relevant clip from a 1997 National Theatre production of King Lear with Ian Holm and Victoria Hamilton as Cordelia; the image above shows her at the moment of uttering those words.

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