Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gilda Radner: It's Always Something

There are some poems I hear read that remain in my memory. Certain voices have a particular music. Certain personas leave indelible traces. For example, Ron Mann's film Poetry in Motion is one of my favorite films of contemporary poetry. And every voice in that film/documentary has stayed with me. I even find these voices manifested in subtle ways when I read my own work. Colossal poets. Amiri Baraka, Helen Adams, Jayne Cortez, Ntozake Shange, Robert Creeley, John Giorno, Diane DiPrima, Michael Ondaatje, Jim Carroll, Miguel Algarin--really just to name some of the talent. And an unforgettable smattering of drunken post-modernisms by Charles Bukowski, sitting in front of a goose lamp looking cool as death. So the music of a confident poet's voice stays with you long after they've departed, leaving the trace of their uncanny invention.

This morning I found myself left with the voice of Gilda Radner's late 70's SNL persona, Roseanne Roseannadanna. I felt a need to hear the character's voice. I felt the need to see her strangeness. Her accent is unplaceable. Her hair is invincible. Something about her exuberance is attractive in a way.

I'd heard the name Gilda Radner, but never knew the character of Roseanne Roseannadanna to be her invention. Roseanne is funny and memorable and clever--in dialogue and inception. Roseanne is a character that seems familiar, like a distant relative you know you should call but would rather not speak to on the phone because they have a bad habit of ranting...You know the one. The voice is so subtly inflected (despite its volume) and the repetition of her name is just so satisfying and its arrogance is only saved by her insouciance. Gilda finishes each performance of Roseanne with a corny little ditty based on an old standard (like happy birthday--an easy lyrical piece) and even if it doesn't have the biting sarcasm of modern juvenalia (Family Guy) it will leave you with a smile. It leaves me with a smile. Its a nice reminder that comedy doesn't have to be nasty (although its wonderful when it is). Silliness is a wonderful thing too.

Gilda was married to Gene Wilder in the south of France (according to Wikipedia). Five years later she was gone. Gilda died young. 42. Gene Wilder said this of her in her last moments. After painfully resisting a morphine treatment she feared she would not wake from.

I stayed at her side late into the night, sometimes sleeping over. Finally a doctor told me to go home and get some sleep. At 4 am on Saturday, I heard a pounding on my door. It was an old friend, a surgeon, who told me, "Come on. It’s time to go." When I got there, a night nurse, whom I still want to thank, had washed Gilda and taken out all the tubes. She put a pretty yellow barrette in her hair. She looked like an angel. So peaceful. She was still alive, and as she lay there, I kissed her. But then her breathing became irregular, and there were long gaps and little gasps. Two hours after I arrived, Gilda was gone. While she was conscious, I never said goodbye.

It hurt to read this after having discovered and enjoyed the character of Roseanne. After she passed, of ovarian cancer, Gene established the Gilda Radner Ovarian Detection Center to screen high risk patients. Gilda's cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull, with help from Gene, founded Gilda's Club.

"I said to myself, RR, yes you can. I'm ok. You're ok. I'm my own best friend. My mother, myself. I have no fear of flying. I'm woman, hear me roar."

-Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna 1979

-Andrew E. Colarusso