Aren't they waitin' for the eternal part of them to come out clear?
March 31, 2010 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Touring the festival circuit is Steven Soderbergh's documentary "And Everything Is Going Fine", about the life of Spalding Gray. So far, the reviews have been positive. Spalding Gray was ...

...a unique performer, a monologist, best known for the film of his piece Swimming To Cambodia. [Available on YouTube: Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10, full playlist]

Subsequent works include Monster In A Box (also adapted for film, parodied by Sesame Street), about attempting to write the book which eventually became his novel, Impossible Vacation. Spalding recorded an interview for Delta Airlines shortly during the Monster period. [YouTube audio interview, parts 1, 2] Also, Gray's Anatomy (also filmed), about his exploration of alternative medicine while trying to cure a vision problem.

His final performed monologue was It's A Slippery Slope, largely about Spalding learning to ski. [3-page print interview from Slope period; Charlie Rose video interview; SFGate print interview]

In 2004, after a brain-injury car crash a few years prior and other life changes left him severely depressed, he apparently stepped off the Staten Island ferry and committed suicide. His body was found a couple of months after his disappearance in the East River. [Fresh Aire audio remembering Spalding Gray -- three separate audio links on page.]

Posthumously, he continues to be explored and celebrated. "The Anniversary", a segment from his unfinished work, was recorded by Sam Shepard. [YouTube audio, parts 1, 2]. A lengthy essay and last interview (from the day before his death) was published. [PDF link] Friends and associates united to create Stories Left To Tell, a theater night of remembrance. His estate maintains an evolving website which evokes his spirit of theater and storytelling. His work-in-progress, incomplete, was released in print in 2005 as Life Interrupted.

Interested in exploring Spalding Gray more deeply? Links for purchasing all his monologue films and books, plus brief guidance on how to explore his works, are all found here.
posted by hippybear (26 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
His Sex and Death to the Age 14 was one of the defining books of my coming-of-age period. He was a genius, hilarious and intense. Great post: I had no idea that Soderbergh had a doc about him, and I'll be clicking through this for the remainder of the day.
posted by Damn That Television at 10:27 AM on March 31, 2010

I will always remember that odd SNL skit of Eric Bogosian and Spalding Gray in a boxing ring, doing competing monologues, and wondering "Precisely how the hell did this get on Saturday Night Live?"
posted by adipocere at 10:30 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

While his final completed monologue was It's a Slippery Slope, I had tickets to see what would be the second to last performance of the then work-in-progress Life Interrupted at Performance Space 122.

I couldn't get to New York for the performance -- a snowstorm caused my flights to be cancelled. It's one of the few lingering disappointments in my life.

I'm looking forward to the documentary.

posted by eschatfische at 10:33 AM on March 31, 2010

Thanks for posting this. I love Spalding Gray -- my introduction to him was me turning on the TV one day when I was about to head to class, seeing a guy behind a desk, and reaching for the remote when something stopped me -- a turn of phrase, I guess -- and then, two hours later, I was still there, watching the end of Swimming to Cambodia, wondering how the hell a man behind a desk could be one of those most riveting theings I'd ever seen.

I had no idea there was a documentary being done, and can't think of anyone better than Soderbergh to be doing one. Great news.
posted by Shepherd at 10:40 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I also loved Spalding Gray's work and often share his "theory of anxiety displacement." It was sad when he left us. Thanks for the post.
posted by Miko at 10:45 AM on March 31, 2010

Thank you for this.
posted by Constant Reader at 10:47 AM on March 31, 2010

Another thank you.
posted by Splunge at 10:56 AM on March 31, 2010

Holy mackeral! You've just completely blown out my Easter weekend. How did you know I loved Spaulding Grey this much?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:58 AM on March 31, 2010

He came to folklife in Seattle a few years ago. We were all lined up in a big snaking line waiting to get in, and he walked down the entire line, saying hello and shaking hands with everyone, even though he looked frightfully frail. Getting to hear him speak for a while after that was just icing on the cake.
posted by nomisxid at 11:00 AM on March 31, 2010

Thanks for this. Gray had a big impact on my writing and my way of thinking about writing. I'd heard about the Sodergergh movie, but didn't know it was out.

I keep hoping for some kind of Criterion collection of his movies, as several of them never came out on DVD.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:02 AM on March 31, 2010

I really fucking hated Soderbergh's take on Gray's Anatomy (far too stylized and Soderbergh-y for what should have been a relatively straightforward document of the monologue), but I'm still looking forward to this.

About a year after Spalding died, I finally got around to seeing TRUE STORIES. I didn't realize he was in it and burst into tears when he suddenly showed up on screen. Such an incredible mind, and such a horrible end.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2010

Spalding Gray was ...

Awesome. Thanks much for this.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2010

Excellent, excellent post. Spalding is one of the very few strangers whose death really upset me. When I read a few weeks ago that Sodenbergh was doing this project, I may have squealed. Can't think of anyone I'd rather see in charge of such a thing.
posted by the bricabrac man at 11:23 AM on March 31, 2010

Another person crushed by his early end. Thanks for this.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:46 AM on March 31, 2010

Thanks for this great collection of links. The only time I saw Gray live, he was doing an Interview-the-Audience show. Especially for someone who made a career out of discussing his own neuroses, he had a real talent for drawing out fascinating stories from strangers who probably didn't consider themselves all that interesting. Now that I think about it, his sense of wonder about how other people lived was more than likely connected to his own depression---his unhappiness about how he himself was living. It's tragic, really.

Nevertheless, I would be thrilled if any recordings of those interview performances are floating around the internet.
posted by Xalf at 11:54 AM on March 31, 2010

I'll be seeing "And Everything Is Going Fine" at Full Frame next weekend. Can't wait.
posted by statolith at 12:38 PM on March 31, 2010

I can't wait to see this. Thanks for posting hippybear. I miss Spaulding.
posted by msali at 1:26 PM on March 31, 2010

Shepherd: my introduction to him was me turning on the TV one day when I was about to head to class, seeing a guy behind a desk, and reaching for the remote when something stopped me -- a turn of phrase, I guess -- and then, two hours later, I was still there

Ha, me too.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:30 PM on March 31, 2010

One of my great regrets is that Spalding came through my university every couple of years to perform, but I never went to see him. While I loved his work, I was always too broke/cheap to buy a ticket. His Sunday show was always set up to where he didn't do the latest monologue, but rather just interviewed random members of the audience, and drew amazing stories out of them. My logic being that he would be back around in another couple of years so I would catch him then, and I would probably have more money at that time. I was not at all surprised when I heard he had disappeared and probably committed suicide, but it was still a sad thing to hear.
posted by Badgermann at 1:34 PM on March 31, 2010

Thanks much for posting this, although for reasons I don't quite understand, it made me tear up. It seems utterly ridiculous that Swimming to Cambodia isn't in print (unless my search engine skills are worse than I'm willing to acknowledge). Given how much crap America produces, one would think we would make sure the really good stuff was readily available to be pushed on people when we tried to make a case for ourselves.
posted by Karmadillo at 2:50 PM on March 31, 2010

Spalding Gray interviewed me once. I remember it very fondly.

I saw him read his monologue "It's a Slippery Slope" at the Walker/Guthrie in Minneapolis in 1997 or 1998. The reading was on a Saturday. On Friday, you could pay a few bucks extra and go to the theater to see Spalding Gray "interview the audience." Not really knowing what this meant, but being big fans of the man, my friend Joely and I bought tickets for the whole shebang.

In the lobby before the show, the crowd milled about, waiting for the doors to open. Gradually, a murmur bounced around the throng, and it slowly dawned on us that Spalding Gray himself was milling about, amongst the hoi polloi, chatting and taking notes. Somehow or other, he wound up in front of me and my starstruck friend. At the time, I was planning a solo trip around the world (never realized, for various reasons), and told him about it. He seemed interested as he jotted down little notes on his notepad.

When the show began, he told us that this was something he didn't do all the time, but he really enjoyed it, and had no particular plan for the evening. He spoke for perhaps 10-15 minutes, and then, looking over his notepad, called my name and asked me to come down to the stage. Joely was astonished.

The interview itself is a bit of a blur, since I was flabbergasted by the whole thing. But he had me right up there on stage, sitting in a chair right next to his, and we just chatted, like friends. He asked me about my upcoming trip, and I discussed the planned itinerary. Mostly, though, was that we talked about smoking pot, and how he didn't like it that much because it made his head fuzzy. I said that it made me hungry and sleepy, and I could get behind that. I was on the stage for maybe 15 minutes. It was terrifically fun. I was even mentioned in the Star-Tribune write-up the next day - I searched cursorily for this just now, but couldn't find anything. Somewhere in this apartment is the clipping.

The best line of the evening came later, when discussion turned mildly theological. Someone asked Spalding if he believed in some sort of force that was greater than all of us. "Of course," he said. "The weather."

I miss him, in a strange way. Not because we became best pals or anything, but because we did share this moment. I was and still am very sad about his death.

Thanks for the post. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.
posted by Dr. Wu at 4:02 PM on March 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

Oh, and I've always thought that a great name for a rock band would be this phrase from Swimming to Cambodia: The Mothers of the Heroes and the Martyrs.

I'm never going to form a rock band, so have at it.
posted by Dr. Wu at 4:03 PM on March 31, 2010

I can't begin to measure how much Impossible Vacation means to me. Ironically, the first time I read it I was on vacation in Amsterdam, ha-ha. I saw him live reading Gray's Anatomy and I've never laughed so hard...the homeopathic eye doctor and the food questionare...ah, still kills me. I didn't know about this documentary, so thanks!
posted by kittyloop at 5:43 PM on March 31, 2010

I hate it when I'm reminded that Spalding Gray is dead, but still, thank you for this post. You've reminded me there are still several of his projects which I haven't read or watched, which is strange considering how much appreciation I have for those I've already experienced. I'll have to do something about that.
posted by des at 9:40 PM on March 31, 2010

I saw Gray perform a few times in London. Saw A Slippery Slope, came out of the performance, bought tickets for the next night. Worth it.

The night he went into the river I was in New York having dinner with monologist Mike Daisey, who the New York Post has described as "the natural heir to Spalding Gray". I seem to recall we discussed Gray and wondered what he was doing. A sad coincidence.

The world is greyer without Spalding Gray.
posted by Hogshead at 7:44 AM on April 1, 2010

This looks great, and I am excited to see that he is being remembered.

I had no idea who Spalding Gray was until I took a Nature Writing Class that was taught by his brother Rockwell. Professor Rockwell Gray remains one of my favorite professors of all time. Not only was he a great person to read Thoreau with, but his voice! was quite possibly my favorite voice of all time. It's the kind of voice that inspires respect and that imbues importance into the subject.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit his home and see his overwhelming library of historical texts. He received his PhD from U Chicago and wrote extensively about Missouri, and Chile (if I remember correctly). I still wish I had gotten to know him better while I was at school (although he only ever taught that one class at night).

While I am sad I never knew his brother or his works (I only took the class in 2007) I feel blessed to have gotten to know his brother.
posted by ghostpony at 4:32 PM on April 1, 2010

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