There are people who, if asked about musicals, will tell you:
“I don’t get it. They’re standing around one minute and then they break into a song. Who does that? It’s unrealistic.”
And I don’t know how to respond to that.
Has music never teased you with a glimpse of spiritual infinity?
Have you never felt yourself disappear, your soul soaring and unleashed?
Have you never, without warning, found yourself burning in a strange and miraculous way?
Having decided that we would “put the show on in the barn!”, so to speak, the sensible thing to do would have been to make some scenery and paint it, like Mickey and Judy did. Why this didn’t occur to me, I don’t know. That the thing that did occur to me was to paint our title in the middle of the street is something I can’t explain, especially from the vantage point of 2007.
It seems like such a reckless and inconsiderate thing to do, sitting here thinking about it. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission and the neighbors would have to live with it for, literally, years.
And yet, I took my two cans of bright pink and green (practically day-glo) paint and went to work, designing the words Chickies Galore!
so that they stretched in an elegant way from one side of the street to the other. Of course, I’d have to step aside from time to time to let the cars drive through.
Having gathered together those willing souls who would agree to dance in the middle of the street, I filmed them as they danced in line above my curling and circuitous logo, Gold Diggers
style. On the sides of the street, some curious kids gathered who would try to run into the middle of the shot.
Partway through, however, something in that sturdy Sears Roebuck mechanism began to jam.
Remarkably, like some old victrola, the camera didn’t run on batteries or electricity but had to be cranked regularly with a handle that sat on the side of it. At some point I realized that it simply refused to be turned any more.
This was a very bad sign.
Disappearing into the living room, whose darkness would (I hoped) keep the film safe should any accident occur, I attempted to get at the root of the problem. Had the film finished, awaiting removal? Carefully keeping myself shaded, I slowly opened the side of the camera.
A dark ribbon shot into the air, spinning cartwheels until it landed on the rug.
I prayed that it had only been exposed to minimal light and that the film would still develop but, in the end, what I got back from the drug store developer was a completely see-through, clear roll of film. It had all been lost, the dancing, the day-glo logo that sat mocking me in the middle of the street, everything.
In the end, I got everyone together and handed out magic markers. We slowly made our way through the blank movie, drawing on it with different colors (not unlike my defacing of the street), sometimes going for animated effects by drawing frame-by-frame, until it was filled with color and movement.
It may have been the world’s first conceptual musical.
Like some ancient hieroglyph, my painted logo remained on that street much longer than anyone had anticipated. It was still there when Neil’s sister came to visit us soon afterwards with the news that he had died. We were shocked, having no idea that his condition had ever been anywhere near that serious.
It was still there when my family moved out of the neighborhood and into an even more suburban location, where the neighbors would probably frown upon sudden bursts of creativity in the middle of their street.
And years later, when I would detour through the old neighborhood just to have a look, bits of pink and green could still be seen in the asphalt, like the remains of some spent fireworks.
What confuses me still is the fact that I not only seemed to feel that what I had done was permissible, but that there were no complaints about it afterwards. It almost became a point of local interest. Was the social contract so different then? Was the atmosphere we breathed so dissimilar? What world was this?
How is it we go day-to-day and never see it changing?
For, although the avenues for expression have increased a thousand fold, my sense is that the ambition of the canvas has grown smaller.
So I stand in amazement in front of this strange still life, its innocents painting the world, this quiet universe with its new and undiscovered wavebands awaiting their inevitable corruption, before the so-called sports card stores and comic book stores and any other institution that mortgaged childhood fun for money moved in, before it all got bled dry by carneys and hucksters who were only too happy to watch us as we traded in the moon for the narcotic haze of carnival lights and the sad contentment of cheap prizes.
I don’t understand any of it now. It lands on my ear like the sound of a brick falling from a great height.
None of it seems to breathe
anymore. No one breaks into song anymore, or seems to want to.
That’s all right, though.
Because there are still times, even at this late date so close to expiration and despite the unrelenting madness and unceasing noise –
I burn like bloody murder.
And besides, every canvas is eventually washed away. That’s why they keep so many of the good ones indoors.