Friday, 1 January 2010

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 70

(42/M/London, England)

Around 1990 I was discussing, with a colleague at school, my interest in doowop, and some of the matters we’ve been raising here. I spoke of my frustration: all that knowledge and love and wonder, and nowhere for it to go: what could I do with it?

His reply, by opening up a hitherto unthought possibility, changed my life: "It's a monologue," he said; and that set me on my first play, exploring matters which have been discussed at length in other posts, so there's no need to go through them again here.

The key point is that from the moment of putting pen to paper and very slowly feeling my way towards some semblance of a coherent tale I surrendered to the process, the excitements of the exploration. I felt in touch once again with the creative teenager and knew that even if I was only chipping away at some microscopic part of the very bottom of the cliff face of creativity it was infinitely better to be doing that than anything else: there were other happinesses in my life at the time, but nothing felt the same as that continually refreshed sense of discovery.

That play took two years while teaching full time and was, as I've said earlier, rejected. Part of the trouble was it was indeed a monologue, as my colleague said; although tricked up to look like a real play with genuinely interacting characters, all the interest is really in what the protagonist says. But with that character drawing on Ben E King, and with those early stirrings of the impulses I've been able to explore in a different form here, it still seems a worthwhile thing to have done, and all down to the decision of that colleague (now a close friend) to answer as he did.

Believe it or not, there's even a Fred Parris (!) connection at the very root of this. (Oh, will you never set me free?) The art school ran a film club - this was 77/78 – one film was a rock'n'roll concert which included Fred Parris in a bright pink or red frilly shirt with a rounded collar. Clarke (and others), I regret to say this was not a transcendent moment for me, with radio waves and nebulous connections adance in my head: nohow and contrariwise, as those original warring Everly Brothers used to say. I thought he looked faintly ridiculous, like those corny Stylistics or other acts I'd seen on TOTP with the dance routines we instinctively knew to be old hat. My memory is ITSOTN was thrown away as part of a medley; at any rate, the unfamiliar song made little impact on me.

And yet ... twelve years later, the suggestion about a play in my mind, relaxed and centred after a swim on a return visit to Scotland, I saw Fred - or someone like him. Making up, getting ready to perform - yes, in that ridiculous shirt. Now, not in his 50s heyday, and half aware of the figure he's cutting, beginning to doubt whether he can go on that night, even dare attempt to hit those notes.

But he goes on. And he opens his mouth to sing. The voice is cracked. But ... something like. Better, far better (as I can see now) to be some kind of artist than not.

That movie, friends, viewed more than thirty years ago in the lecture theatre designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was Let the Good Times Roll - and watching the Five Satins' spot on youtube now, freighted with all that we have been discussing, Fred Parris doesn't seem quite so ridiculous.

At the end, he tells the audience: "I don'know if people believe this, but honest to God it feels like 1956."

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