Note added 9 July 2021: following the discovery that, through all the years I was working with him, Chris Goode was consuming images of child abuse, I've returned to a self-evaluation process rethinking the work I did with him. That process began in 2018 and some of what it raised is detailed in this post from December that year, in which I acknowledge that I was complicit in some of the harms he caused, for instance by erasing the work of other women who worked with him, fuelling a cult of genius around him, and consistently asking people who criticised his work (particularly the sexually explicit work) to see it in softer ways. A second post is now in process in which I look in more detail at the ways in which Chris coerced and abused particularly young men who worked with him, using radical queer politics to conceal these harms and police reactions. I hope that any other writing about his work on this blog, including the post below, will be read with that information in mind.
Further note added 27 July 2021: that new post is now written and undergoing an extensive rewriting process as it's read and commented on by people who appear in it (that is, other people who worked with Chris in the seven years when I did). It could be up to a month before it's ready to share publicly, but I'm happy to share it privately in the meantime.
I've been obsessed with Chris Goode for some years now, ever since seeing him perform Kiss of Life at the Edinburgh festival in – according to people who are better with dates than I am – 2002. Here was someone only a bit older than myself, on stage alone, shy and a bit bumbling, slowly weaving this beautiful, achingly sad story of a boy trying to commit suicide and the boy who saves him, how they fall in love and fall apart, using breath and the elements of the air as silver threads through the story, the whole thing homespun and gentle but intricately smart in its depiction of the fragility of human relationships, of the human mind, wearing its intelligence so lightly, so quietly moving it made me tremble.
In the years that followed I watched him dress up as a Morris dancer, lie on the floor in a friend's flat and outline his body in salt, deliver passages of internet gibberish with as much heartfelt emotion as sheets of poetry, and scatter jelly babies over my front garden, marvelling each time. The show of his I've seen most recently, The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley, had me in tears for a lot of its running time: Wound Man is the embodiment of a medieval illustration of a man embedded with daggers and swords; Shirley his sidekick, a lost teenager grieving for the older brother he worshipped, doggedly in love with the most handsome boy in school; together they seek out scenes of danger and disaster, arriving too late to “save” anyone, helping people by drawing out their pain and sorrow, because when hurt and frightened people gaze at Wound Man, they see someone who looks exactly how they feel.
Chris's blog is excellent, too: I would hazard a guess that a lot of it is written after midnight; there is that quality of while-the-city-dreams to his writing, a moonlit exuberance. In ways that might possibly embarrass him, I get a lot of sustenance from it: his New Year's Eve post felt like a call to arms – to link arms, that is; a manifesto for a new theatre but also much more than that, a new way of living with each other, talking to each other, reshaping the world together. “What would it feel like to not be afraid any more?” he asked. I've been trying ever since to find out.
Lately I've started using his blog as an arts guide. I bought Jill Johnston's book Admission Accomplished after reading about it in that NYE post, and had one of those moments when an elusive mental jigsaw piece slots into place, when you finally meet someone for whom you've been waiting for years. Words tumble from her apparently in free-form torrents, but always with an intention and purpose that are absolute, politically exhilarating (she was a lesbian feminist writing in the 1970s, how couldn't she be), and inspiring: my burgeoning intention to return to fanzine-writing, albeit for the interweb age, couldn't remain a daydream after that. What he wrote about the folk singer Sam Amidon in the same post so intrigued me that I scoured the music listings week after week until finally getting to see his gig at the Vortex, which was extraordinary: I reviewed it, and barely scratched the surface of what made him so fascinating to watch. Here's a random taster:
I don't remember – and haven't been able to find the post in which she was mentioned – what he wrote about the theatre-maker Rajni Shah, but the idea of her stayed in my memory persistently enough for me to book a ticket for Glorious at the Spill festival last week. For the first 30 minutes of the show, I was disappointed: Chris and I don't always see eye-to-eye (for me, our divergence is characterised by the fact that he loved Ontroerend Goed's Teenage Riot, which I loathed, and hates Little Bulb, whom I adore), and I thought we might not agree here, either. Glorious opens with Shah, encased in a stiff grey tube dress that spreads around her like a black sea (think Ursula the witch's outfit in The Little Mermaid, but less becoming), sombrely intoning songs about people and life and relationships, between text written and spoken by locals she met on Whitecross St a few months before. The texts were intermittently involving, the songs occasionally gleamed, but mostly it seemed humdrum, banal. Seats emptied during the interval and were not refilled.
But something magical happens in the second part. The stories are repeated, perhaps with a little more detail, perhaps continuing to a new chapter. And the songs are repeated, but this time with an orchestral backing, and Shah's voice no longer flat but warm, elegant, glowing. Her dress becomes a kind of Louise Bourgeois sculpture of moulded plastic and wrought metal and twisting fairy lights. Banality, the basic matter of our everyday lives – the breakfast parties, the arguments with our children, the shops on our streets, the political anxieties, the houses we've lived in for years, the cemeteries in which we'll end – is transformed and transcended. And in the third part text and songs are repeated again, slightly changed again, the register again shifted, the mood soft, gentle, soothing. One by one, everyone on the stage drifts off, and when it is empty we, the audience, are invited on. Those lives we were glimpsing? They were our lives. Those parties and arguments and anxieties and houses are ours.
There is a poem by William Blake – Auguries of Innocence – that I know of because, for reasons unfathomable to me now (a charity shop find of my mum's, I suppose), I had a copy of its first verse illuminated and framed and hanging on my bedroom wall when I was quite small. Looking at it now, I realise I've never read the whole thing. But I've carried its opening verse around with me for most of my life:
To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.
It came back to me watching Glorious, because that is what Shah shows us, and that is the gift she offers us. Don't be frightened of life, she reminds us. It's all we have.