I’ve made substantial strides on the next full-length, which is a concept album, if only loosely. It is typical of me, though, after leaping forward, to reflect a bit. At the moment my retrospection is fixed on the piece of music I’m most proud of from my last album. It’s actually part five of five of a monumental ten-minute track called “Pitfalls, Revisited.” Out of context, I like to call it “Theresa.”
What I’m about to write could have been one of the entries I made as a lead-up to that album’s release. But for whatever reason, this is a subject I didn’t choose to tackle at the time.
Much heated discussion has surrounded Richard Brooks’ 1977 film Looking for Mr. Goodbar. There seem to be two main schools of thought, both of which have merit. Some feminists view the film as a case study in paternal finger-wagging, which is an understandable take, given the protagonist’s fate. (Though it bears mention that this fate was not merely a writer’s choice, but a thing that actually happened to a real teacher in the Bronx.) Other viewers believe the film is simply an unblinking exercise in “it is what it is.” A character took certain risks due to her discrete set of psychological baggage, and, unhappily, this was the outcome.
I tend toward the latter school. What Goodbar is to me, more than anything, is a character study. An exploration of the motivations of a person who, like Carole in Repulsion, like Esther Greenwood in Bell Jar, was pathologically singular in the world.
None of the descriptions of Theresa I’ve found have quite hit on what I got from her (though I could be projecting here). There is a certain matter-of-factness to her self-destruction that tempts one to think she might crave abuse on some level, as if she feels she deserves it (especially given her strict Catholic upbringing). I’m not saying this isn’t the case, but a more discerning look reveals a rebellious quality to her behavior. She wants to wrest back control of her body (which polio encroached upon), her image (which her family, the church, and society tried to shape), and even her disposition toward emotional attachment (the product of being intelligent and soulful and desperately lonely as a result). She wants to wield herself as an object of desire, to fraternize on her own terms, to leave before she can be left, and, ultimately, the license for her two natures to co-exist.
Theresa’s liaisons are sexual, but not sexy. They’re an exercise, a ritual. And somehow, in the midst of it all, she never stops to reflect on her own fallibility. She doesn’t have a death wish; in fact, tragically, on the night she accidentally finds “Mr. Goodbar,” she is poised for a reformation. You could call all this a kind of naivete – akin to the clumsiness of the good kid trying to go bad and instantly getting caught because they are not practiced enough in manipulation – but I prefer to look at it as a blind spot. Which makes her name important.
An old flame of mine – the aforementioned Bostonian musical theater enthusiast – enjoyed nicknaming me “Cassandra” for a while. The proverbial seer whose catastrophic prophesies no one believed. I am not positive why she chose this name, but I have a few ideas. In a show of hubris I see now was terribly out of line, I claimed to know her own heart better than she did, and eventually, much to her surprise, said heart seemed to follow suit. And since ours was a relationship of childlike fantasy, clearly not fit to exist outside the bounds of an idyllic college campus, I also obsessively envisioned the day I’d lose her. Right up until, quite operatically, I did.
Not being that great with mythology, I conflated the Cassandra myth for a long time with the myth of another seer, Tiresias (or Teresa, when he was in a woman’s form). His claim to fame being that he was both clairvoyant AND blind. In fact, it is this combo I would end up relating to more, being perspicacious but also severely myopic (in the literal sense).
I think of Theresa Dunn, a generally perceptive character who fell prey to an unfortunate oversight, as a kindred. I can see myself making a miscalculation similar to hers, feeling a little too powerful and not realizing the severity of an existential threat. It’s this that informs my composition about her, which comes at the end of a series of reflective vignettes about myself and my relationships with men. Particularly times when my assessments of them had been too charitable and I was unable to recognize their lousy antics for what they were.
Just yesterday I finally paired the image of Theresa with my composition about her, which was weirdly satisfying.
I need to conclude with this amazing Bill Withers song from the Goodbar soundtrack, which I’d never heard of before today. It happens that the song was not written for the movie, but whoever handpicked it really “understood the assignment,” as they say.