Of Thee I Sing: Laurie Colwin, Geraldine Coleshares, and 20 Feet from Stardom

Forgive me, dear readers, for returning once again to Laurie Colwin. But it's unavoidable right now. A couple of weeks ago I became aware of a movie, a documentary, about rock and roll backup singers. It's titled "20 Feet from Stardom," and there was a review of it in the New York Times that knocked my socks off. I read the review almost without breathing and kept waiting for the article to refer to Laurie Colwin's Goodbye Without Leaving, which is probably the best novel ever written about rock and roll backup singers (not that I can name another one). But no such reference ever appeared. I thought, "Well, that is an oversight."

The movie focuses on singers like Merry Clayton and Darlene Love -- voices you know, even if you don't know that you know them -- and it does seem to be the case, as Colwin's character Geraldine says, that not everybody in rock and roll wants to be a star. One of the stars of the movie, Lisa Fischer, was interviewed and the Times quotes her as saying:

“I reject the notion that the job you excel at is somehow not enough to aspire to, that there has to be something more,” Ms. Fischer explained, speaking with her eyes closed, as she tends to do. “I love supporting other artists.”

She continued: “I guess it came down to not letting other people decide what was right for me. Everyone’s needs are unique. My happy is different from your happy.”

The upshot: Ms. Fischer has paradoxically emerged as a star partly because of her decision not to seek stardom." http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/movies/the-voice-behind-mick-and-others.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Colwin's reluctant heroine, Geraldine Coleshares, seems to be cut from the same cloth. In a scene where an old rock and roll scenester, Spider Joe, interviews Geraldine, seeking awesome stories about the good old days, and how climbing the ladder to stardom was the best thing ever, Geraldine disappoints Spider Joe:

"...The fact was, I loved to sing, but it was my heart's desire to be a backup, not a singer. I said this to Spider Joe.

"You lie, babe. Everybody wanted to be a star." "Actually, everybody did not want to be a star." " (Goodbye Without Leaving, p. 137.)

Spider Joe tells Geraldine she's a drag and leaves, off to find someone more fun to interview.

20 Feet from Stardom is playing at the Criterion downtown right now. I know it's unlikely that there will be an act of God to allow me to go see it in a theater, but I wish I could. I will settle for watching it at home some day, some day soon. I wish that Laurie Colwin were around to see it, though; I bet she'd've gotten a real kick out of it. I know I will, when I finally get to watch... and listen....

UPDATED, June 30: Having written this piece I decided it would be a huge mistake to wait to watch the movie at home, because I'd never be able to hear the voices properly. So I did some juggling and made it to a Saturday matinee screening. This movie is WAY worth seeing. It will be at the Criterion at least through this coming Thursday, and I urge anyone who has even a fleeting interest in seeing the flick to go see it in a theatre and not wait to watch it at home, no matter how good your "home theater" is, I don't want to hear about it. If I could, I would arrange for a private screening for all former staffers at Cutler's Records.