A viral Books The Journals of Spalding Gray the best work Riveting funny heartbreaking at once raw and lyrical these journals reveal the complexity of the actor writer who invented the autobiograph
A viral Books The Journals of Spalding Gray the best work Riveting, funny, heartbreaking, at once raw and lyrical these journals reveal the complexity of the actor writer who invented the autobiographical monologue and perfected the form in such celebrated works as Swimming to Cambodia.Here is the first intimate portrait we have of the man behind the charismatic performer who ended his life in 2004 evolving artist, conflicted cRiveting, funny, heartbreaking, at once raw and lyrical these journals reveal the complexity of the actor writer who invented the autobiographical monologue and perfected the form in such celebrated works as Swimming to Cambodia.Here is the first intimate portrait we have of the man behind the charismatic performer who ended his life in 2004 evolving artist, conflicted celebrity, a man struggling for years with depression before finally succumbing to its most desperate impulse Begun when he was twenty five, the journals give us Gray s reflections on his childhood his craving for success the downtown New York arts scene of the 1970s his love affairs, marriages and fatherhood his travels in Europe and Asia and throughout, his passion for the theater, where he worked to balance his compulsion to tell all with his terror of having his deepest secrets exposed.Culled from than five thousand pages and including interviews with friends, colleagues, lovers, and family, The Journals of Spalding Gray gives us a haunting portrait of a creative genius who we thought had told us everything about himself until now.. The best Book The Journals of Spalding Gray So just who was Spalding Gray? I think his agent puts it best when she says: "He was somebody who could experience the same boring thing as you and then spin a story from it that made you realize just how interesting it had all been." He did this through one-man shows which were the perfect showcases for his crazy personality. Spalding Gray’s stories were full of dark humor, sarcasm, neurosis, hypochondria and the occasional deep observation. In other words, he was Woody Allen or Jerry Seinfeld, by way of Rhode Island.In this age of special effects, one marvels at how he entertained so simply. He didn't employ fancy costumes or scenery but the audience was fascinated by the way he described his world because he was nothing short of a master storyteller. He knew what to exaggerate, what to downplay, where to put a witty line. His timing was impeccable. He began his career in experimental theater in the late 60s. He cofounded the Wooster Group, a theater company that still survives today, and it was there that he learned how to be himself on stage. Still, he spent some time floundering around, not sure if he wanted to be an actor or a child psychologist or even a porn star.His career path finally became apparent when he created his first solo show in 1979, Sex and Death to the Age 14. From that point on, he was off and running, with Swimming to Cambodia in 1983 shooting him into the stratosphere. Swimming To Cambodia was about his experience being an actor in the political drama The Killing Fields. It was his unique take on Cambodian culture, and even though it was an unlikely subject to garner popular appeal, it worked. The monologue was also made into a somewhat popular film. He soon appeared on Letterman and moved effortlessly from the downtown world to the uptown one, at Lincoln Center. He appeared as a character actor on films (like Beaches) and in TV (like the Nanny). On stage, he occasionally performed other people’s work: such as in the 2000 Broadway revival of the Best Man.In his 50s he discovered the joy of parenthood when he settled down with Kathie Russo, a woman he originally began having an affair with. He had two boys with her, and was quite happy and settled when he got into a car accident. The car accident didn't kill him but it took a hefty physical and emotional toll. Already a depressive person, the son of a mother who committed suicide, Gray suffered extensive brain injuries that pushed him down into a despair so deep he couldn't see his way out. He constantly threatened to kill himself and made several attempts. He was also in a great deal of physical pain, and upset about having sold a beloved house. His wife tried to save him by getting him psychiatric treatment--even ECT--but nothing worked. In January 2004, he jumped from the Staten Island Ferry. His wife thought him missing, but two months later his body turned up in Greenpoint. Here was a man who referenced water in one of his most beloved works and ironically, it’s the same way he died. Almost two years ago, a documentary was made of his life called And Everything Is Going Fine, directed by his friend and onetime boss, Steve Soderbergh. It used his old recorded monologues and interviews to tell the story of his life. And there was an off-Braodway production about his life called Stories Left to Tell, not to mention a memorial book called Life Interrupted. There is also a sort of biography called Spalding Gray’s America, which is worth seeking out. His life affected so many people, and he was such an influence in the theatrical world, that it’s not surprising there are so many tributes to him.And here is another one. Gray was scrupulous about journal keeping, writing from the late 60s to days before he died. The book is broken up chronologicallly, with each decade getting a chapter and an intro. In all the pages Gray writes as though he is speaking to an imaginary psychiatrist. Despite Casey's suggestion that he wanted these published, I doubt the journals were ever intended for that purpose. They are not polished at all. It seems like they were just a way for him to work things out in his head. The most fascinating parts are when he's torn between Russo and girlfriend Renee Shafransky in the 1990s. Shafransky was the woman who helped propel him to stardom. He seemed to gravitate towards women who wanted to be involved in his career. He goes back and forth between the two women until Russo tells him she is pregnant. At first he encourages her to have an abortion but finally he accepts and even loves being a parent. We get a sense of a man who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into fatherhood and commitment, and then realizes these are the two best things to ever happen to him. The slide into decline after the accident is obviously hard to read. He really did not want to be alive by the end, even though he seemed to have so much going for him—friends, family, work. It is a document of madness as Gray obsesses over a house he has let go. Based on these pages, he seems to have had OCD in addition to the depression. The Cambodia section and the parenthood stuff will be familiar to those who have seen his monologues, but there are aspects here that he didn't go into much detail about on stage. His struggle to figure out his sexual orientation is really interesting. Though mostly heterosexual, he has dalliances with men in gay bathhouses. For the most part he doesn’t fret or worry about these experiences, like some men might. Mostly, he opens himself up to the possibility that he may not be 100% straight (although there is one moment when he freaks out about it a little, and he worries about AIDS). The book is punctuated with interviews of people Gray knew in his life, and autobiographical data, to help put it all in perspective. For the most part, I think Nell Casey did a good job. The only thing I would have done different is delete some of the dreams Gray writes about. Reading about someone else's dreams is just really boring, regardless of who it is, and I don’t think these dreams reveal much about his personality or psychiatric state. I also think it’s great that his widow wasn’t emotionally threatened by some of the private things he reveals here, and that she allowed Casey free reign.I'm not sure I would suggest this to someone who didn't know Gray's work. I think for those people, you need to start with his performances, which as I mentioned are all on film. Even for someone who knows his work and life story, I often found the journals a little hard to follow. There’s a real stream-of-consciousness feel sometimes that defies understanding.As much as I enjoyed reading this book, it is a heavy, depressing, haunting experience. It is hard to read about all the successes and good times he had, and about his family, knowing how it is going to end. It's also odd to read private journals when we don't know whether the dead person would have wanted us to be reading it. The journal pages often read like rough drafts of his shows, and there is nothing more embarrassing for a writer than to have someone read an unedited rough draft. Still, I'm happy we have this, since I think we lost an amazing talent when we lost Spalding Gray and this book gives us a more complete picture of the man who had the theater world at his feet, simply by sitting behind a plain wooden desk, drinking a glass of water, and telling us all about his crazy life.
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