Saturday, January 21, 2017

Death is a party, life is a bitch

I've always had a thing for Anthony Perkins, and I come back around to it every few years. This is the song I usually come back to. There was something curiously affecting about his voice. He wasn't a natural singer and did not have a big or resonant set of pipes. But he had something else. Along with his innate musicality, he had sincerity. His singing was like speaking in some ways - not speak-singing like those actors who can't sing, but communicating so much intensity with the song that it is like a conversation. 

Yes, he got typecast as Norman Bates, and the only sad thing about that was the dreadful set of sequels. Other than that, he got along well and performed, sometimes brilliantly, in just about every acting genre. People noticed he looked rather strange in the latter part of his life, that his face was somehow less mobile on one side. What people didn't know was that he had Bell's palsy, and in getting treatment for it he found out he had AIDS.

People don't die from AIDS any more, so we've lost touch with the horror of it. They can live a long time, though the disease must be a constant presence on some level. It does not "go away". Being bipolar does not "go away" either, it is a constant presence, and it is not pleasant to have to take six drugs to control it. Just thought I'd throw that in.

I've read a couple of Perkins bios. One was kind of raggy, sensational, as if that was the only part of his life that mattered. It recounted every escapade and foible, but second-hand, through the accounts of people who had known him. The other one was a little too reserved, respectful, but devoid of detail. I think he was both of those people, and neither - an enigma. When he died, closely attended by his wife Berry and their two sons, his friends decided to have a be-in in the sickroom, bringing sleeping bags and food and singing to him while he passed in and out of consciousness. At one point he sat up suddenly and said, "What is this, a death watch?" - provoking much hilarity.

To die like that - I've only ever heard of one other person who died like that, with a party going on around him. Alan Ginsberg. It says something about a person, if people show up for your death, sit at your bedside, listen to stories they've heard a dozen times, hug the wife and take the kids out for hamburgers so she can have a break. 

People constantly talk about giving, but it's also blessed to receive, to stop fighting the gift. I know something about this, and I am going to know a lot more about it. If people can't "take" (and they often won't or can't, thinking it's somehow selfish or "bad"), they block the goodwill. It can no longer flow. They keep their loved ones from helping them, refuse them. In essence, they hang up the phone on love.

I don't know what got me started on all this. "Summertime Love". The title makes you think of Beach Blanket Bingo or something like that. But it's not like that at all. The song is from a strange, mystical stage musical called Greenwillow. It only ran for a couple of months.

"That actor who turned out to be gay". I don't much care about that any more, and he doesn't, where he is now. Such things really don't matter. The LGBTQ movement exists to prove it doesn't matter - doesn't nail you to a cross or suck the joy out of your life, because it can't.

How you die reflects how you have lived. Absolutely. I pray someone will be there, I do. Just one will be OK with me.

(A postscript. This needs to be said because it is part of the story. Less than ten years after AIDS claimed Tony, Berry Berenson was killed. She was on one of those planes that hit the World Trade Centre. I don't want to think about what those final minutes were like. But she, too, was not alone. I hope there was some shred of comfort in that.)

Women's March on Washington

Don't tell