The Kids Are Alright; or, Don't Go Shagging My Goat
Sometimes, the big black dog of sadness haunts you. And sometimes it leaps up and licks you on the face.
For example, yesterday - I caught the train into town. In the fine city of Melbourne, when a train approaches the platform, commuters hear the pre-recorded and delicate intonation of a woman wishing us a good morning or afternoon, then telling us which train is arriving and on which platform. Very pleasant. Then, the second her smiling voice has completed its sentence and the final full stop falls on our ears like the perfect landing of an Olympic gymnast, rather than the audible equivalent of a soft puff of resin, we hear the jarring clatter of a telephonic busy signal bleep-bloop-booming across the platform.
And it struck me, for the first time in all my years of public transportation, that it sounds rather like she has hung up on us.
Which made me sad…then swiftly made me smile at the poetry of it.
In The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia, playwright Edward Albee presents a couple whose marriage is, to put it mildly, troubled by the happenstance of the husband falling in love with a goat - and his wife finding out. Yeah, I said falling in love with. Because Albee doesn’t merely hurl the tortoises of taboo against the rocks, he drops the overripe fruits of love, fidelity and betrayal into the ravine as well. So you can’t get away with just offering such edifying critiques as "This play is about a guy who fucks a goat (which is really gross)" - and, yep, it’s the parentheses in that reader’s review which amused me most. No, Albee prompts you to also examine which is the greater sin - the taboo or the personal heartbreaking betrayal.
That’s what I love about the idea - the play starts like a knockabout Neil Simon comedy, then hounds you down into the rabbit hole, to a world of screaming demons, and forces you Room-101-style to look at it and, consequently, yourself. You can find humour in the worst feelings, and beauty. And you can find the pure inky blackness in the lighthearted as well.
That’s the brilliance of being a complex life-form after all.
The internet swears to me that Albee wrote something along the lines of this:
All serious art is being destroyed by commerce. Most people don’t want art to be disturbing. They want it to be escapist. I don’t think art should be escapist. That’s a waste of time.
Being a good little book-learnin’ literature/English grad, I dug around in the cyber hell pit to try to find the source of this quote. I failed - nevertheless it appears enough times, and the sentiment is referred to in enough proper, printed biographical work about Albee that I am prepared to believe something like this was, indeed, said.
As a proud straddler of high and low brow worlds, I have a lot of time for Albee’s opinion on escapism, while defiantly embracing the escapism of a lot of popular culture. It’s a complicated relationship, further complicated by the sweet and sticky net of camp which falls over a lot of my work. In my view, camp is a quality which, while revelling in its vulgarity, also embraces some implied sadness by extracting a kind of success from well-meaning attempts which end in crushing failure. Camp is ridiculous. And the ridiculous can be sublime. It can also be cruel, and hilarious, and moving, and beautiful, and pathetic, and awesome (in the true sense of the word, don’t worry I won’t go all ‘amazeballs’ on ‘yo ass’ - and we’re discussing goats, not donkeys, thangyooferrymush). But it should challenge you. It should make you think. Don’t be scared of work that makes you think. Thinking rocks. If anything, I am addicted to it. Rumination is my crack pipe (get that on a t-shirt NOW). If only it had been Whitney’s…
After the train announcement lady reminded me how sad I felt, I saw a young woman in a pea green coat engage an elderly man in conversation about his dog (who was 11 years old with Shaun Micallef-grizzled hair and sounded like deflating bagpipes when anxious), and later I saw a chap running about, pulling on a piece of string attached to the skeletal remains of a wheelie office chair, on top of which was his joyfully squealing son. And I put down my smartphone, stopped killing tiny 2D zombies, and I let myself be warmed and outwardly smile.
I look forward to the songs a busted heart produces, and them being hilarious, catchy, dark and thought-provoking. And, in the end, I suppose it’s a blessing that I wasn’t betrayed for a domestic ruminant.
…well…to my knowledge…
Goats are nice. Don’t lead them on. And in case I’ve poisoned your hitherto platonic feelings about goats, here is a palate cleanser. Nyaw…cute kids…
I’m…RUNNING A GINGER RINSE THROUGH MY GINGER HAIR.
It’s like a betrayal, I know - perhaps clinging to a shinier shade of red, from earlier in my life - like Mae West's attempt to look 25 in her 1960s films…an attempt which, in the end, took on its own courageous beauty due to the sheer cosmetic and whalebone engineering which went into the feat.
Nah, really, it’s because of next Friday night’s gig (8 days away) at which I will be singing a number of Florence + the Machine songs.
It’s both an excuse to run an auburn rinse through my already orange hair to see what happens, and to look slightly more like Florence Welch. After all, I am about 12 years older than her and 20 kg heavier.
If you are in Melbourne you should come. It’s to raise money for The Song Room (www.songroom.org.au).
Gwan. Because unless I find someone to help me out with the rinse application, my bathroom tiles will certainly be suffering for the cause.