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cap: Spalding Gray

ph credit: Paula Court

Gray MattersSpalding Gray discusses sex, death, existentialism and cocktail hour By Christopher Denny

You may recognize Spalding Gray from his appearances in such films as True Stories, Clara's Heart, King of the Hill and Beaches, but Gray is first and foremost a storyteller. (It was his role as the ambassador's aide in The Killing Fields that inspired his most famous monologue, Swimming to Cambodia.) Gray's distinctive stories are characterized by his confessional style, his neurotic sense of humor, and his angst-ridden New England accent. Gray says his latest (and 16th) monologue, entitled Morning, Noon, and Night (which he will perform this week in Charlotte) is his Ulysses -- it's about a day-in-the-life with his family in Sag Harbor, New York. With the recreation of his family structure of two adults and three children, Gray feels he's come full circle from his first monologue, Sex and Death to the Age 14. He underscores this by prefacing his monologue with a quote from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

We spoke to Gray while he was performing in the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man. Following are excerpts from that interview.

Creative Loafing: Did you get a chance to do your yoga this morning?

Spalding Gray: Oh, yeah -- never miss a morning.

I've always thought of yoga as a kind of meditation exercise that is supposed to empty out your mind.

Yeah. Mine doesn't. I have the radio on.

In your latest monologue, when you're doing yoga, it's almost like you go different places.

Yeah. I'm doing a bad version of it. Listening to the news in the background.

Do you find that relaxing?

Um. Yeah. In a funny way. It's a kind of negative way, but it's kind of going, Oh my God! Look how lucky you are to be alive.(Laughs). You know, you hear the news of the world. Today, our local station here, an NPR affiliate, is fundraising so there was a lot of interruptions. But it also got me to pledge. But this morning's report of Chernobyl was just -- ah, my god -- I'd just forgotten what a disaster that was.

Is that anxiety displacement?

I suppose it is. Yeah. I'm just, I'm kind of an anti-nuclear kind of guy and I'm trying to help shut down a power plant in Connecticut that is very close to our home. So when I heard this report about 4,000 clean-up workers that died from cleaning this thing up -- that kind of story, to say that it's relaxing (laughs), it's funny, it's almost like putting the negative energy outside of you. But this affects us all.

Your novel Impossible Vacation seems to fit in that category of thinly veiled autobiography: books like On the Road, The Catcher in the Rye, the writings of Henry Miller or Truman Capote. . .

I'm honored. Oh, that's how I work, and I was most influenced by those writers: Thomas Wolfe, well when I was in boarding school I read all of his huge novels and then Kerouac was next, and certainly Robert Lowell as a poet because all of his poetry was a kind of diary form in poetry, and Allen Ginsberg as well. They were chronicling their lives through their artform, and so, yeah, I've always been attracted to that and also influenced by it.

Do you plan to write another novel?

No, I don't. That cured me. You know, it's just like being on Broadway in The Best Man right now has cured me of ever doing another Broadway show. . .What I would like to do, I would like to write another book and I would like to work on that next instead of a new monologue. But they're shorter outtakes, and they're much more like autobiographical essays or little vignettes of, well, the potential title is Left Over Life to Live, but it's like stuff that's on the cutting room floor that I never used in a monologue but I wanted to write out in a more compressed way. I find that like trying to write fiction, and I know that my editor encouraged me to try to make a fictional through-line, which I did somewhat do in Impossible Vacation. I find it's a struggle, and it doesn't come naturally to me and it's also not satisfying.

What have you read lately or listened to on tape? I know you listen to a lot of books on tape.

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