Wednesday, April 18, 2007

THE PAINTED WORD IV - On the Screen Behind

In the opening segment I am writing about a dark, small-window, low-ceiling old farm house living room in still unzoned suburban Connecticut, the wide floor boards at an angle, the small fireplace looking formal compared to the bigger fireplace in our more casual living room. I am writing about this warm but drafty room with its heavy, cold antique-store paintings, dark flowers on glass backed by what looks like blackened crumbled tinfoil. And rickety tables containing ashtrays and golf tees and dirty pipe cleaners and my father's cheap drugstore pipes, cigarette butts with lipstick on them, the furniture stuffed with horsehair, hard and unwelcoming - in this room where, always alone, I played the few records they had over and over again, dreaming that these records were signs of something out beyond this place that I might have one day. And that I did have one night down in the city. But here in Connecticut it was only a promise of the real music that might one day be for me.

On a stage I will read what I have written about this room and other past matters tied to songs I now sing. And on the stage behind me there is a screen on which is projected a family portrait done by a professional photographer - our fine Old English Sheepdog Nevil, and my mother looking game but distant, my father in flannel shirt smiling gamely, my brother Peter in flannel shirt, his jaw set with great firmness - my brother clearly the one who has the strength to keep up the front when the others fail. In the picture, too, our Southern grandmother, who has a satisfied if distant look. And then me off to the side and a little out of focus.

I played these limited records - the Beer Barrel Polka, Songs of the Veldt, and Bing Crosby Christmas songs - knowing that though not much in themselves they were avatars of something far beyond where I found myself stuck in Connecticut, me the dumb twin, the bad twin, the unhappy family in a place of rolling green hills, which beyond this house, I knew, could be a place of adventure.

On the screen behind me now is a quite abstract watercolor of Connecticut - vibrant greens but black tree limbs or ape arms or iron works boundaries seeming decorative but also seeming elements of a cage. And with the green is also the color of blood.

Standing in front of the screen, I talk of how mysterious images appeared forty years later when I began to draw - and an oil version of these images is projected the screen - the floppy-eared dog, the child so wispy it was a ghost, the woman with important breasts, and another figure in the sky that, though wispy like the child, is strong and benevolent.

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