The boards beneath mean more than the eyes behind the lights

You reach a certain age and you start to realise what’s important and what isn’t.

And you try to hold on to the first one.

It’s an odd approach. To mature, to grow up, though my mother will say we never really grow up as people. Yes we have homes and children and careers if we’re lucky, but none of that really makes us a grown up.

Someone in school declared that you can call someone a grown up when they don’t need their family or parents for support and can solve problems on their own. I remember him saying that in an economics class and I immediately wondered what caused him to say it. Poor relationship with his own parents maybe? Or a drive to succeed that was absolute it wouldn’t give him time for personal attachments, such as family?

But the point is we can’t do everything forever. I thought for a long time that such a mind-set only applied to the physical, athletic things in life; my knees are not what they were when I was 22 and attending a karate dojo three times a week in college. My neck’s iffy and my back a time bomb as I’ve blogged about on a few occasions prior.

Yet recently I’ve realised it’s also the personal things that are taken from us before we want to give them up. Andrew Lloyd Webber recently spoke how he’s had to give up his favourite musical instrument on account of hand and wrist problems. To someone so appreciative of music, to be unable to do what they loved the most must be devastating. The very instrument now a mocking reminder of what was, how the past is now truly out of reach yet life continues on regardless.  Stephen King has failing eyesight, and the most heartbreaking of all is the fate of Terry Pratchett, enduring early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the cruellest joke played on someone with a mind so elaborate and magical.

The arts are like that. It’s part of their allure.

Very few people I know forge a career in writing, photography, music, dance or acting because they see it as a route to fame and fortune. Or those that do are quickly shocked into reality when they discover the graft, rejection and heartbreak that go with these crafts.

No, they do it – we do it – because it’s something we feel passion for. Something deep inside we feel we were born to do. You stand ‘on the line’ for anything creative, existing in that terrible anxiety of acceptance and rejection, often for no other reason than you aren’t the current flavour of the month; heart bared and ready for others to fondle, caress or brutally rend apart. And you do this because a voice inside tells you to.

And that’s cosy. But no one ever says what happens afterwards.

I’ve always felt a kinship to the old stage musicals: from Fiddler on the Roof to West Side Story. Immigrant tales, everyone coming from somewhere else, the constant clash of cultures and opinions in a new land, free of class but burdened with just as many problems as ‘the old country’. I watched ‘A Chorus Line’ when I was little, recorded it off the TV and loved every minute, even if some of the more controversial bits did fly over my innocent little head. Things like Bobby’s admission about his emotional barren childhood (“Committing suicide in Buffalo is redundant”), Val’s reliance on plastic surgery to get anywhere on Broadway or Paul’s admission of molestation in the theatres on 42nd street?  Yeah… I was more into the song and dance numbers.

Which is a pity because I have no vocal or dance skills whatsoever.

The film is horribly dated now, the pinnacle of 80’s fashion in all its neon horror. Michael Douglas, fresh off his back-to-back hits as Jack T Colton plays the manager who wants 8 dancers for his new show. Following a tragic miscue in routine, in which Paul blows his knee out, he asks the remaining prospects what they plan to do if or when they’re no longer able to dance?

“Real life, I guess” muses Connie, in the most frank answer offered. To which Diana counters saying that the fact that they’re all here, right now, doing this, doing what they love, surely that has to mean something. Doesn’t it?

I listened to the soundtrack of the musical only recently. I couldn’t give you a reason why I did, guess it was just one of those things. But what I learned, thanks to the marvellous 21st century creation that is Wikipedia, was how one song, ‘What I Did for Love’, was altered for the movie when the story was adapted from stage to screen.

In the movie, which I saw first it was displayed as a simple love ballad between the two romantic leads, Douglas’s Zach and the pestering last minute addition, leading lady and ex-flame Cassie. Cassie, alone and away from the others as they drill their routine, stands high up on a catwalk singing out to the empty auditorium. And although you can see some slight acknowledgment to the craft she and the others all work at, it pretty much comes across as what it appears to be; she loved Zach so she left him so he could be great, and so could she… away from him, apparently.

For someone who hasn’t seen the musical it makes sense. But it is also yet another example of Hollywood messing with something that doesn’t need to be messed with.

The stage version is a lot more tragic. Paul’s knee lies shredded and Zach asks them all again what they see themselves doing when dancing is no longer possible.

And Diana replies with this song:

“..look my eyes are dry, the gift was ours to borrow, it’s as if we always knew, and I won’t forget what I did for love, what I did for love.

Kiss today goodbye, and point me to tomorrow. We did what we had to do… won’t forget, can’t regret what I did for love….”

The love is their love of their dancing. Their love, like their ‘gift’, is only borrowed, and when it comes time to give it back they do so with no regrets because they know they gave all they could.

It reminds me of an interview with Houston D-End JJ Watt, who explained that football greatness is rented rather than permanently achieved, and the rent is due every day. This is an extreme perspective (but, as those of you who know, Watt is a rather ‘extreme’ person) but it is accurate.

The original creators of the musical hated the switch of perspective from the general to the specific. What was seen as a paean to artistic ability, both heralded and lamented was instead a love ballad, with just enough awareness flung at the original to stop the diehard fans rioting.

It didn’t stop them really in the long run, the movie bombed with both critics and public offering similar views that the soul of the story had been torn out for the sake of conservative propriety and set-in-stone tropes of the Hollywood marketing machine.

The point of all this is that Diana and the rest of them have no regrets at what they do, what they might (or might not) achieve because they know, in their heart, they did the best they could with what they had. That the love of their dancing is both what pulled them to start in the first place as well as what will sustain them after the spotlight is finally switched off.

Desire and reflection. Not siblings per se but family close enough.

I write. Not well admittedly but I try. I know that this ability is temporary. That the day will come when I can’t write anymore, either that or I feel little to nothing about anything and just stop. A famous New York writer said last year, just before she passed away at age 94, that inspiration is a tap, a tap that is constantly flowing. But the amount of water is not infinite. Her tap stopped running late, only five years prior to her death, and she admitted she was fine with that, she was aware that nothing lasts forever, not even what she perceived to be her greatest pleasure.

I think my own writing started over 20 years ago. Re-runs of Thundercats and Ulysses 31 on TV prior to school perked my imagination into writing my own heroic tales and ensemble pieces. I’ve already mentioned the vampire interest here but that was interesting too. Before Buffy showed up with her bangs and annoying pout.

I don’t know when it’s going to stop. And I don’t know when I’m going to stop having ideas that I must write down. Characters that are flawed and yearning for understanding. Or numb and wanting something more than life has given them, be it good or bad.

I don’t do sitcoms. It just feels a little weak. Either that or so vanilla in order to appeal to the broadest audience possible it ends up being the storyline equivalent of wet mulch.

Whatever mulch is.


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