Thursday, November 09, 2006

Foof! Gorey's Elephant House

"If I'm working very hard, which is seldom, the last thing i want to do in order to relax is to be with people and babbling away and so forth. So I go to the movies or read a book or watch any of my thousands of tapes upstairs. Most of my friends in New York were my friends because we were all so busy going to things we had no time to do anything else. I might never had seen people if I didn't see them that way. Social events - foof. You know." - Edward Gorey, Edward Gorey and the Tao of Nonsense, 1992

Well, now I know the destination of my next weekend get away: Edward Gorey's Elephant House in Yarmouth Port, MA. Odele loaned me an amazing book of photos of Gorey's home which were taken one week after his death. The book is called ELEPHANT HOUSE or, The Home of Edward Gorey. It is everything you would expect from Gorey's abode. Dark, vine covered, cluttered with found objects, full-o-books, cats all over the place and lived in.

Gorey usually met his visitors on the front porch or in his kitchen for a cup of tea. Few were allowed into his inner abode. This makes the fact that his home is now a museum that everyone can visit a guilty voyeuristic pleasure. It is like getting a secret glimpse into his inner workings.

"[The House] really does need an awful lot of work, and if I got a large sum of money I would have it all fixed up - though I'm not sure I would have much of the inside fixed up more than it is. I rather like decay. I'm a little reluctant to take out a mortgage. Being free-lance, you never know." - Edward Gorey, Edward Gorey and the Tao of Nonsense, 1992

There are cool inns to stay at when visiting Gorey's house and you can even go and eat at the restaurant where he had many of his meals. They have preserved his Elephant House as it was when he died. Proceeds from the visits go to animal charities (as did Gorey's estate).

How cool would a trip to Elephant House be? I am so there. I mean, how can you resist a house located at 8 Strawberry Lane? Especially one that lets you inside the dark, mysterious, inner-workings of a talented mind like Gorey's?

To spend one day sniffing about his home is probably as close to a man like that as you can get. Although I have a feeling Gorey would not be too happy about all these strange feet tromping through his private kingdom.

Not that Gorey himself desires cult status, mind you. As he told the Globe in 1998, "When I think of other things that attain cult status, they strike me as somewhat feebleminded. I mean, I suppose it's better being a cult object than nothing at all. But I don't see how anyone has time to be really famous. I might get people dropping by who are slightly -- unhinged." - Amy Benfer for Salon

Apart from his amazing, prolific artistic creations, I am fascinated with Gorey as a person. He was an effeminate man who wore jewelry before it was popular. He had, as far as we know, no lovers of either sex. He moved from New York, which he found cumbersome and loud after Balanchine died, to the quiet of his Elephant House where he created a fanciful and private story book world for himself.

He spent most of his down time in his TV room where he taped all of his favorite TV programs on carefully labeled video cassettes (Buffy, Golden Girls and Third Rock). His cats ran wild and scrabbled over his table as he was drawing and bounced off the walls while he watched TV. He was a voracious reader and his library is overflowing with books and doo dads. He even gave the computer a try but found pen and ink more satisfying. He hated hospitals, who can blame him. He sewed Figbash dolls as he was watching TV.

Gorey's studio contained only one small window that overlooked his beloved magnolia tree. He complained that he dithered and dawdled but the fact that he produced 8,000-10,000 images proves him wrong. I find it entertaining that the most dedicated and hard working artists are often the best procrastinators.

Gorey filled his house with objects that had already had another life somewhere else. He created little tableaux with his strange found bits and pieces.

He was a fan of both high and low art. He had tons of unread fan mail to which he replied with a postcard, "You've written to me to no avail because I never read my mail." He suffered a fatal heart attack in his TV room and was kept alive on life support for three days before he died on April 15, 2000.

I believe that spaces retain a bit of the people who once haunted them. There is definitely a feeling present in Anne Frank's hidden home in Amsterdam. It is almost as if their suffering, fear and happiness in the face of horror, imprinted itself into the walls and puffs out whiffs of feelings.

Even a beautiful vacation home like Vermont's own Shelburne Farms retains imprints of its former inhabitants. I often feel that if I listen carefully or relax my eyes just right, I will catch a glimpse of a fleeting ghost of long dead people who once lived there.

So it is only fitting that my next road trip be to Yarmouth Port to soak up some Edward Gorey. True, if he were still alive, I would just be another cumbersome stalker trying to understand the mysterious enigma of a man who was also an amazingly talented artist. But since he is dead and long passed into the ether which he knew so well, it seems only just that I should soak up his last imprints at The Elephant House.

Gorey had the balls to be himself unabashedly. Without apologies or guilt or insecurity. He figured out who he was and he found a way to be that person and live his life to the best of his ability. And to boot, he left us with thousands of his creations as mementos of his pioneer spirit. What more can anyone ask for in this long, cumbersome life than a hovel of one's own in which to entertain our intimate fantasies?

Here is a piece we did about Gorey for the November DBC28 which included, of course, a foof of a montage avec Portishead:

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