When I was in high school, I had a tremendous crush on a goth girl named Michelle. This was back in the days before Marilyn Manson when goths dressed like mourning Victorians and there were only like 2 of them at each school and we had to listen to third generation tapes of Alien Sex Fiend three miles in the snow and we liked it. They weren't the type to play Doom and go on a shooting rampage. They were the type to be all gloomy about the inevitability of death. They were the type to have copies of Lord Byron in their backpack and write poems with words like "ponder" and "ethereal." It was a different time.
Anyway, so I was into jazz, David Lynch films, the Beat Generation, you know, so we had some common ground. But as is common with that age group, I soon began affecting things here and there to try to impress her. Nothing ever came of it, but I would sort of try to seek out things to impress her with. At that point in my life, I had the habit of making places I was in very loud. I would have music and the television on at the same time. I remember one day specifically looking for some background noise and flipping through cable movie channels I came upon a movie that was just starting called "Monster in a Box." It sounded right up my alley.
The next hour and a half I sat transfixed watching Spalding Gray give a monologue about writing his book Impossible Vacation (the manuscript of which was the "monster.") Almost immediately I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to perform one man shows.
If you've never seen Spalding Gray, you should check his work out. Here's a clip of him giving a history of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia:
So, I ran out and bought Impossible Vacation and, ironically, took it with me on vacation to New Orleans. It is a wonderful books about a young man who can never take a vacation and, in fact, can't really enjoy anything because early in his young adult life he took a vacation and while he was away his mother killed herself. It is an intense and brilliant work. It changed the way I look at the world forever. I would recommend it to anyone. It's also, in spite of what that description may suggest, uproariously funny. It is an excellent book.
In fact, I did recommend it to my step-daughter's boyfriend Stefan. I even gave him a copy of it. He said he loved it. I was a little worried after I gave it to him because I remembered it does get a bit wild at parts, but then I remembered that those kids are into Brett Easton Ellis. They can certainly handle Spalding Gray.
In college I did do a one-man show and it was very well received. In fact, it's something I would still like to do but, as so many dreams, there's not much of a buck in it, is there?
I met Mr. Gray once. He was very nice, but very distracted. He signed my copy of this book and a few others.
Unfortunately he was also a very troubled man and a few years ago he killed himself.
The beauty of his work, in my mind, is the assumption intrinsic in the telling of his stories that story telling can and does change lives. It's a basic human need and our brains feed on it. If it weren't for Spalding Gray, I would be a very different person. I'm not even sure how much of a writer I would be without his work.