notes for Seven Guitars (4.3.2019)

Seven Guitars always leaves me with the strangest internal conversation, even though I’ve read it several times and I know what is going to happen at each decision point, AND I know Seven Guitars, while considered by many as Wilsion’s Greek tragedy play, is an important prequel, so everything that happens must happen. It is the “predetermination” that gets to me, that things are predetermined so wrongly. I ask myself during the reading, for example, why doesn’t Vera listen to Louise and ditch Floyd? Why didn’t Floyd listen to Canewell and insist on royalties for his first recording? Why doesn’t Hedley take his TB self to the sanatarium? Why doesn’t Hedley shut his trap about all the Ethiopia/Haiti stuff? Why does Floyd resort to crime? Doesn’t he know crime does not pay? Why is Ruby? Why IS Ruby? To be fair, these are all the types of questions I ask myself when watching Eastenders, but I watch it everyday!

Before I get too far afield, please pay sspecial attention to the dedication, to the Tony Kushner forward, and to the Note From the Playwright. All three are quite magical and add to the play’s context.

Also, upfront, the play list for Seven Guitars is probably one of the fullest and most complete of them all. So much music is cited/referred to/alluded to in the play.

By way of introduction, Wilson says in an interview that the thought for the play began as a story about four men working in a turpentine factory in the South. All musicians, they had a desire to go to Chicago to make a record. Wilson admitted that he knew nothing about the making of turpentine. Then he says that three women showed up, all in his imagination, of course, and asked for space. The setting for the play migrated from the turpentine factory, to Chicago, to his mother’s back yard in Pittsburgh when the women arrived. He also said in an interview that the seven guitars are the seven characters in the play.

A few things stand out for me in the play. There are so many lists of things. It almost reminds me of Walt Whitman. Act 1 Scene 1 lists all the different types of beer. Scene 2 has a list of ingredients for dinner. Scene 3 lists different brands of cigarettes that people smoke. Scene 4 lists the actual recipe for cooking greens. Scene 5 lists the blow by blow account of the Joe Louis fight and the different types of roosters. And skipping some, Act 2 Scene 3 lists Floyd’s seven ways to go. There is ritual in list making which is perhaps why Whitman found it a useful tool. And list making speaks to the oral tradition of religion in an almost mystical way.

A few more things stand out. The funeral scenes at the beginning and end serve as bookends for the plot development in the middle, almost a series of flashbacks. Vera says twice about the angels in Scene 1 “They come down from the sky.” Only Vera, Canewell and Hedley saw the angels. Floyd was a WWII veteran and claimed a knowledge of guns and weapons although most black WWII veterans didn’t see any combat action. Vera makes a reference to a dress having two different kinds of blue, perhaps a metaphor. Canewell would have been a preacher but the devil’s call was to loud (Canewell and Ruby show up in a later play, as does Ruby’s son and Red Carter’s son). The dance scene after the fight reminds me of the Juba in Joe Turner and the table prison song scene in The Piano Lesson. Hedley killing Floyd with a machete is certainly reminiscent of his ritual killing of chickens in the yard, but it also reminds one of Levee’s knife murder of Toledo and Herald Loomis’s self-mutilation with a knife.

There will be more later after our Friday discussion.

Notes from Session #2: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/11/05/notes-on-seven-guitars-11-05-2018/

Carloe’s notes from Session #2: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/11/05/carole-horns-notes-on-seven-guitars-11-05-2018/

Notes from Session #1: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/pre-class-notes-for-seven-guitars/

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