I’m thinking about writer, actor, memoirist and monologuist Spalding Rockwell Gray this evening. Today would have been his 69th birthday. I miss his insight and humor, and his remarkably unique view of the world around him.
I remember seeing Swimming to Cambodia at the Harvard Square Cinema upon its release in 1987. I was so struck by this man and his power to communicate story that I returned the following evening and watched it again (I’m the guy who took a cassette recorder and three blank tapes into the theatre the night after seeing Citizen Kane in college, just so I could re-listen to the dialogue at will later, so this fact shouldn’t surprise you). Ever since then, I have been a devotee. For an hilarious example of his story-telling, check out this audio-clip from his work Terrors of Pleasure, which I posted some time ago on this here website.
For many months now, I have been following and communicating with a group of writers who share creative nonfiction microessays on Twitter. I hadn’t thought of Spalding Gray in terms of creative nonfiction before; his work seems more like memoir, and there is a debate among some about the legitimacy of placing personal memoir within the context of CNF (my view: if it’s true, it’s not fiction, and it’s creative, then…). But, tonight, I went over to youtube and watched a few clips from Spalding Gray’s monologues and the one I present to you below seemed to really make the case for him as a creative nonfiction artist (not just a creative nonfiction memoirist).
In the clip, taken from Swimming to Cambodia, Gray explains the genesis of the Khmer Rouge, as if he were that self-righteous, slightly demented history teacher we had sophomore year in college, yet with all the facts presented in such a way that the story leaves you feeling a punch to the gut. I hope you enjoy it, and hope you’re encouraged to seek out his other works, too.
The quote in this post’s title can be heard at about 2’20 in the video clip.