On Spalding Gray


Today is the birthday of Spalding Gray (1941-2004). I really wish I had gotten to meet him. I’d seen him perform of course, and even passed him once on the street (not long before he died, in fact). That might have represented an opportunity for an enterprising individual like myself to at least say hello or pass him a postcard, but he was scowling so fiercely, and staring so wildly, and walking so violently that I let him enter the building I was standing in front of (P.S. 122) unimpeded. No sense in getting yer head bit off.

I’ve always felt kinship with him, not just because we’re both from Rhode Island, but because we both had roots there going back to the 17th century. At that early date it’s impossible to imagine our ancestors didn’t know each other. Gray’s Rhode Island accent was a beautiful thing, hearty and strong, unlike mine which has been beat down and strangled and usually only comes out of hiding when I’m drunk.

Gray of course was just as much of a “new vaudevillian” as any juggler or new age magician. His monologues, funny, wise, heart-breaking, angry would play big on any bill of vaudeville, new or old. (I wrote some more about that in my review of the posthumous Gray show Stories Left to Tell here. ) 

At any rate, he took a lot away from us when he jumped off the Staten Island Ferry to his death in 2004. There’s no way you can ever tell that to a depressed person — that their life matters because it matters to us, so…what is, is. But I think it’s a kind of testament to his unique artistry that I had sort of a hard time figuring out what blog categories to tag him with — he didn’t fit in any.

And look, here we have Gray’s Anatomy in its entirety. What a marvelous age:

To find out about  the history of vaudeville (including New Vaudeville)consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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