Listen to audio from the Spalding Gray archive
The Spalding Gray archive includes more than 150 audio cassette tapes of Gray's performances, interviews, and more. These cassette tapes, along with more than 120 VHS tapes, help trace the evolution of Gray's work in front of audiences across more than two decades.
Audio clip 1
Gray's best-known monologue was probably Swimming to Cambodia, which premiered in 1985. Gray had been working on the monologue off and on for two years prior to that, and in December 1983, Gray presented work-in-progress showings of Swimming at The Performing Garage in New York. This first audio clip is an excerpt from a performance on December 20, 1983.
Audio clip 2
In the summer of 2001, Gray was injured in car accident while on vacation in Ireland with family and friends to celebrate his 60th birthday. In the accident, his hip was shattered, and his skull was fractured. He suffered from depression in the years following his accident and died of an apparent suicide in 2004.
Not long after his accident, Gray began a revival tour in late 2001 and 2002 of Swimming to Cambodia, which he performed at The Performance Garage, the Geary Theater in San Francisco, the Freud Playhouse in Los Angeles, the Goodman Theater in Chicago, and in Albany, New York. At many of these revival performances of Swimming, Gray begins with an introduction that describes his car accident in Ireland and his time in Irish hospitals. Parts of this introduction evolved into Life Interrupted, the monologue that Gray was working on when he died in 2004.
This audio clip includes the introduction and the beginning of Swimming from a December 12, 2001, performance at The Performance Garage.
Transcript: Audio clip 1
Saturday, June 18, 1983.
MX missile sails over Pacific in successful maiden flight.
Hua Hin, Gulf of Thailand—Gulf of Siam, Thailand:
It was our first day off in a long time since we had come back down from Bangkok to the town of Hua Hin. And there are about 130 of us all out by the swimming pool, trying to have a holiday, have a celebration at this big hotel. It was kind of like a, well, a kind of pleasurable prison. That's what it was. It had very large electric fences around it. It was one of those hotels. It was just put up in the middle of the jungle just outside of Bangkok. I suppose it was a package deal. If you're going to take a vacation or a holiday, you could line it up with that hotel, fly into Bangkok, and then be driven to the hotel and be completely protected by guards because there were so many bandits in the area.
So we were all trying to rest and relax and out on the beach along the gulf which was as hot, the water as warm as a bathtub, there were wild dogs straying and wandering. And fishermen going out put, put, put—no sail, that's the little motor, just a boat.
Occasionally you'd hear a shot because one of the hotel guards would shoot a rabid dog. And if you went for a walk along the beach, the dogs would get in packs and kind of try to intimidate you, which they did with me often, and I just learned I just had to shake a piece of seaweed and everything would be hunky-dory.
So everyone was out just trying to have a good time and the sparks were out. The sparks are the English electricians for the film. They're called the sparks, and they all had their Thai wives. They were smart: as soon as they arrived in Bangkok, they just went into one of the dancehalls and bought up five or six women, I think there are about five sparks. And this worked out very well because the women, you see, they all could talk Thai. They spoke Thai, and the men didn't. So the women could spend the day socializing and when the men came home at night—well, it wasn't really a radical idea, I guess. The men would come home at night, and they'd just go out for dinner together. And, you see, it all worked because it was a cluster of Thai women and a cluster of English men. So the sparks were out there, 250 pounds, lying like beached whales by the swimming pool on their day off with these little Thai girls. I mean, they must have been 90 pounds, in bikini bathing suits. Luscious little, sweet little country girls walking up and down on these guys' backs, giving them shiatsu.
And the other people, others of us who didn't have Thai wives, were sitting around drinking beer under umbrellas. And the waiters were running trying to bring us beer fast enough. Kloster, more Kloster. There were two kinds of beer besides Amoret, but Kloster and Singha was the most popular. They have Singha here. They export it to the United States. But no one would drink it over there in the crew because they all said it had had formaldehyde in it. They had found out that so they were ordering Kloster.
Now the Thai waiters were jumping over hedges to get there. And they're very formal, they were dressed up in jackets and smiling. They smile, the Thai's are smiling all the time. They're the smilingest people, and in fact they're very very happy. They have a special word for fun, and they won't do anything unless it's that word. They mean it in the deepest way. It's not that they're idiotic, their smiles, but they like to have fun. There is a saying that Thais are the nicest pole money can buy and that a Thai will do anything for money. It's a furang saying that the English have over there.
Anyway they're jumping over hedges, carrying—the waiters were balancing these little trays. And then one would come running up to this table and the Klosters fell off the tray, they exploded on the cement next to the swimming pool. And with a big smile, he'd go, "Sorry sir, no more Kloster. We're out for the day." So everybody was beginning to drink Singha.
Transcript: Audio clip 2
I don't know if it's a wise idea, the reason I decided to try—um, let's see, this front row here is lit pretty strong. This is the way it is every night? Or did you add some lights? You got a light coming over from here. Right down on you guys. How's that feel? Did you like it? Ok, I'll play too. No, I know. Maybe [unintelligible].
The monologue that I'm usually doing at the time is my favorite, and I'm doing this one now. But this was done before. So, if I was going to revive a monologue, it would either be Sex and Death at the Age of 14 or Swimming to Cambodia, which I'm trying to do here tonight.
The only thing that's kind of pushing through and hitting up against me is this, um—well, I went to Ireland to celebrate my 60th birthday, and on the day after the longest day, the 22nd day of June, we went to a restaurant, five of us adults. And coming home, it was dusk. It was about 10:15 at night, and I look up—I was in the back seat, and Kathie was driving—and I look up and see framed right in her window, is this looks like a little bakery van, out of a cartoon, coming at about 60 miles per hour straight for us.
We're stopped to make a right turn, and there is this enormous explosion where they hit the car, and we spun out. The engine came through into the cabin. I was on a road lying in a puddle of blood. Kathie was next to me saying that she was dying. I said, "I can't straighten my leg out."
And so they took us to this country hospital in the middle of dairy land. It was run by Pakistani doctors. I don't know what happened to the Irish doctors. They've all left. The entire crew was Pakistani, and they insisted that I, first of all, that I just stay there in the hospital for six weeks in this dormitory situation where there were five other, I guess, farmers that had just run into each other in their various—I mean, the man that hit me was a veterinarian's assistant. There was medicine all over the street, you know, cow medicine mixed with my blood.
These people in there were, it was, they didn't even have an orthopedic doctor. So they had to just leave my leg there. I'd dislocated my hip and broke part of my hip, fractured my hip, and I was in the worst pain. And they gave me this shot of morphine, and I woke up in the night, and I woke up in the middle of the night and thought I had died in the Civil War. I was on the battlefield, wounded actually, at Antietam, and all these other people around me groaning were corpses. You could hear the magpies outside, squawking, and oh my God, in the morning, in came people with toast and tea—there was a cross dresser working in the hospital. A guy with green fingernails, long green fingernails, this long, holding the toast going, "Toast! Toast! Anyone want toast?"
No, thank you. I'll pass on that.
Then the priest came through with the Eucharist, and I took that for the first—I was desperate.
Then a woman came through with a clipboard doing a survey. She wanted to know whether or not I wanted to vote for the hospital to go smoke-free.
And by noon, all the relatives arrived with blenders and started making daiquiris and hanging out. Cell phones going off left and right. Everyone had a cell phone. Suddenly Ireland's very prosperous. Cell phones going off. Oh boy.
It took about three days—by afternoon, they were showing races on television. Cars going 192 miles an hour. Tara Newman, who was in the back seat with me, one of the five adults who were in the car. She wasn't injured—no one was injured but me! She was saved by her Prada bag. It hit the ceiling. I got the fractured skull and the broken hip. So, somehow Kathie relentlessly called and called and called until she got me out of that hospital. She was in there for observation herself and got me to a hospital up in, 10 miles north of Dublin. And I was operated on by a very good Irish doctor, I was told. One of the few left. Dr. McElwane [sp?] put a titanium plate in my side to reinforce the acetabulum. So, if I'm still a little uncomfortable tonight, it's from that. I woke up the next day a little depressed, but I wanted to talk to them about it, but I didn't want to say that to them because I figured the Irish didn't know exactly what depression meant. So, I said I was feeling a little blue. Mr. Gray, he's feeling a little blue.
And they said, [in Irish accent] "Oh, Mr. Gray, I wouldn't be worrying about it. If you were an Irishman, you wouldn't be giving it a second thought." She said, "Should I take you to the spinal ward? There, you'll see people blue."
So, after the operation, the one treat I had was that opium-morphine drip. That thing, that cht cht. Every six minutes you press it, and you get a shot of morphine. And, you forget to press it again. It's just a bliss land. And I put on my—Kathie was there with the boys every afternoon, she'd come over and visit, but I was there alone with the morphine drip. And I couldn't play a game of Scrabble. I couldn't [unintelligible]. I put on my little Walkman, and it was the Grateful Dead. And I'd never been to a Dead concert, and I totally understood what the attraction was. The tightness of that music and the spokes, the colored spokes, coming out of that very tight ball. We will survive. A lighter shade of Gray.
And then coming down from that drip, I didn't watch television. I got out of the dormitory room finally and got a single room. I had to get away from the TV, you see, because it would start with Judge Judy, and then it would run all of the American shows through up to Survivor, which, by the way, was dubbed in Gaelic.
So, I did have a TV in there just in case, and the one thing that I enjoyed was The Simpsons. They do about, oh, maybe three of those in a row at night. And the boys would watch it with me, and ah God. Coming down from the morphine drip, I would have such a treat. Because that was the Simpsons episode—I'd never seen it before, I'd only heard about it—where Marge calls out and says—Homer's in the bathtub—calls offstage to Homer, "Homer! The Reynolds are here with two extra tickets to see Spalding Gray." And Homer goes, "I don't want to see that."
So here you are. And it goes:
Saturday. June 18, 1983. Hua Hin, Gulf of Siam.
It was the first day off in a very long time, and about 130 of us were trying to get a little rest and relaxation out by this pool at this very, this very modern hotel really, right on the Gulf of Siam. It looked kind of like a, oh, like a pleasure prison, I suppose. Like one of those prisons they're making nowadays that are private prisons. I mean, they didn't have bars on the window, but it had—you know, you might go down there on a tour just for the day or something and stay to swim in the pool. You wouldn't go off the grounds because of the high barbed-wire fence around to keep you in and the bandits out.
And every so often you might hear a shot go off down by the Gulf of Siam where one of the guards are shooting a rabid dog. And it's the first day off in a long time, and the Thai waiters are running and jumping to bring us more Kloster! Kloster beer! Everyone is ordering the Kloster. No one's drinking the Singha—which they say is exported to the United States— because they say it has formaldehyde in it or something like that. And the Thai waiters are running and jumping and smiling, and there's a saying there that the Thais are the nicest people money can buy. It is a wonderful smile they have. Never seen a frowning, despondent Thai. And they have a philosophy called "sanuk." This, loosely translated, means "fun." Pleasure. And they don't do anything that isn't sanuk. And also they have a very radical thing. They don't have to suffer afterwards. There's some low level of guilt feeling there for some reason.