Susan Tyrrell on Tennessee Williams: The Essential Thing

Interview By Phone
Susan Tyrrell in Austin, Texas
James Grissom in New York City

Oh, there was music and there was art and lots of conversation. Lots of conversation that did not make too much sense at the time, but which fell into place later, a sort of human collage that you could hang on the wall of your consciousness and say, Oh, now I get it.

We spent some time together in 1976, the Bicentennial year, and Tennessee thought it was all some sort of government cover-up, pernicious and evil. You know, let's have boats in the harbors and flags waving and actors on television extolling the beauty of the country, and then no one will notice the men in black coats robbing us of everything. Tennessee believed that the United States of America and all the churches and all the schools were just determined to keep us silent and scared and sitting in our aisles or our pews or our recliners asking nothing, doing nothing, just buying things and feeling grateful that we weren't European.

He may have been right.

He liked funky music--well, funky by the standards of what I thought Tennessee Williams would like. He liked classical music and music that was popular when he was learning to do what he did and when he was first appreciated for doing what he did. We all do that. I love the songs that were playing on the radio when people told me I was the flavor of the month, even if the music is shit. The music may be shit, but it's the soundtrack of your best moment, the background noise for the flavor of the month.

He liked I'm Easy from Nashville, and he would sing along with it. I liked his version better than what Keith Carradine was doing. I like Keith, but Tennessee did a nasty, sexy version: It felt like I Put A Spell on You with hot sauce on it, some beer suds on the chin. 

Over and over and over he would play Take It To the Limit by the Eagles. Loved that song! Made me love it. He would tell me to listen to it intently. The words were words he thought he might have written, and certainly that he felt. 'So put me on a highway, and show me a sign, and take it to the limit, one more time.' 'Oh, SuSu,' he would croon, 'that's what writing is like for me. Put me on the highway!'

And we would smoke some pot and he would tell me all about the actresses he had loved, and about his mother, whom he adored but could not understand. And he would cry, and I would cry.

At the end of all of our meetings, he would always say 'The essential thing, of course, is that we continue to love.'

He hasn't gone anywhere.


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