Saturday, December 30, 2006

Say it loud (paca)

Warning: I am about to give a lot of background before I simply post some old writing of mine. If you just want to read the writings without the build-up, skip to after the videos.

And now:

I happened to be browsing James Brown videos a couple weeks back looking for some to post here for all of you. Then, as you all surely know, the Godfather passed away about 5 days ago. I also dug up some of my old writings last night and remembered that I have a scene with my main characters dancing around a room as they sing James Brown tunes. It's not great stuff, but posting this here will be my little tribute.

This is an excerpt from in many ways my first serious attempt at writing. Before this, I had only written a few scenes, scattered through different styles and genres. Nothing was ever revised or connected up to anything else. Then I started writing up this story here of Vanessa, Holly, and Jessie. (OK, Jessie has never been her name, but I want to rename her as of right now, and that's the first name that popped into my head that didn't nauseate me.) For people with an absolutely stunning memory, those names have appeared (other than Jessie) before on this blog when I posted an old character study of Vanessa here. Anyway, this was a pseudo-novel I started about the three of them, which I then turned into a play about one third of the way through, since I realized I was writing almost exclusively dialogue. I call this my first serious attempt merely because I actually continued working on it for several weeks until it's full play length and has a mild story arc. It also sucks, but that's neither here nor there.

To know what our heroines are doing, you have to know James Brown tunes pretty decently, as the character seg through lyrics from at least three different songs within one page or so. So for those of you who are not lords of funk, here's a YouTube primer.

Here's Hot Pants. If you listen to the first 45 seconds or so, you will get the idea.

Hot Pants in concert

You might want about 30-40 seconds of Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud

Say It Loud

To get a feel for call and response, let this next video load, then listen to James and Bobby Byrd open Sex Machine. Then skip to about 2:15 and listen to about 3:30.

Sex Machine and Soul Power

This scene, starting in the next paragraph I promise, is pretty close to the beginning. Holly and Jessie have come over to Vanessa's apartment because of a sort of emotional crisis V is having. Jessie is in the kitchen cooking dinner for the three of them, while Holly is talking to her family on the phone in another room to tell them she might be staying at V's place tonight. We already know that Jessie has a reputation for being an awful cook, miraculously ruining the simplest dishes. They also all admire Jessie tremendously. She seems to have her life together. V and Jessie are talking with V starting off.

"I want to be like you, Jess."
"Look at you. Legs up to your chin. You enjoy your work. Beautiful home. Love...."
"That's what I do for slender legs. And as of today I wear short shorts."
"They do seem a little uhh racy for you, Jessie."
"I know! Just trying it out. I have two pair. I liked the person selling them, so why not?"
"Why not what?" asked Holly returning to the kitchen.
"Jessie's decided to try out the slutty look for a while," Vanessa informed her.
Jessie spun around with the spatula, and a ravioli went flying across the room again, this time hitting Holly in the side of the head.
"It's hot! What the-?" yelled Holly.
"Oh my god!" Jessie joined in, running to her. Vanessa started laughing out loud for the first time. "I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" Jessie said. She pulled the ravioli from Holly's head, leaving a mass of gravy where it had been.
"Why are you throwing food at me?" Holly asked.
"I didn't."
"My hair begs to differ."
"It was just stuck to the spatula when I turned around."
"They will cook better in the pot, Jess." Vanessa commented.
"You!" said Jessie turning to Vanessa. "You are the cause of this! Calling me slutty because of my pants."
"Hot pants! Smokin'!" laughed Vanessa. Jessie just stood glaring at Vanessa. "You're dripping sauce on the floor, Jessie."
"Hot sauce! Smokin'!" exclaimed Holly.
"What is this? James Brown revival day?" asked Jessie.
"See the girl with the hot pant on? She can do the MacNasty all night long," sang Vanessa.
"Hot pants!"
Jessie glared at them and then without warning broke into the James Brown dance, gliding the feet, up on toes, spinning around. This brought an even louder peal of laughter.
"Oh, c'mon, Jess." said Vanessa, standing up. "It's lighter." She stood to Jessie's side. "Light, light. So you really seem to glide on the shuffle." She began to demonstrate as Jessie tried to follow.
"Ooh, ooh, wait for me." Holly jumped up so that all three were dancing in the little kitchen.
"Say it loud!" began Jessie.
"I'm black and I'm proud!" the two said in chorus.
"Say it loud!"
"I'm black and I'm proud!"
"You know you need it."
"Soul power."
"Got to have it."
"Soul power."
"Spin!" yelled Vanessa sending all three around. "Follow," Vanessa continued and they formed a dancing train. "Thinking of losing that funky feeling? Don't. You got to use just what you got to get just what you want. Jessie!"
"Huh? What?"
"Dance!" Vanessa explained. Jessie stood there with a blank expression on her face.
"Hot pants!" Vanessa sang again restarting the rhythm.
"Smokin'," Holly joined.
"The girl over there with the hot pants on. She can do the funky broadway all night long. Holly!" They spun to watch Holly's moves. Holly simply threw her ams in the air and shimmied her heart out. "Smokin," concluded Vanessa.
The train formed again. "Hot pants. Smokin. Hot pants. Won't make you dance. Slick as you are, you make the pants."
"Ness!" yelled Holly and Jessie at once. Vanessa just continued her perfect groove that she already held. "Go V, Go V," they chanted as Vanessa never lost a beat.
"You know we need it!" Jessie started singing again.
"Soul Power."
"Got to have it."
"Soul power."
"You know we want it."
"Soul power."
"Got to have it."
"Soul power."
"Give it to me."
"Soul power."
"Take me to the bridge!" Vanessa exclaimed, keeping her tight silent groove. Jessie tried.
"Love me tender. Love me slow."
The music froze.
"Who's got response?"
"Holly," said Vanessa.
"I can't remember."
"Help me, Bobby," Jessie said to Vanessa.
"If that don't get it-"
"Come back for more!" Holly finished.
"Love me tender, love me slow," Jessie sang again as the rhythm retook them.
"That don't get it, come back for more," the other two sang together.
"Love me tender, love me slow."
"That don't get it, come back for more."
"Love me tender, love me slow,"
"Turn off the stove, 'fore it all goes," sang Holly in rhythm.
"Look at the stuff, on the stove." Holly answered in song.
"Burning dinner, Ms. Yamamoto."
"Oh, crap!" Jessie yelled running to the scorching food.
"Keep dancing, Nessie," Holly requested. All was silent except for the sizzles and two pair of feet shuffling on beat.
"I'm still on the case. And my rap is strong." Jessie sang to herself as she flipped. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that her two friends has shifted to a swing of some sort. Kind of a half-lindy. "Dinner's ready. You two dance on into the living room."
Vanessa spun Holly around but kept her hands, so that they ended up facing the same direction, and the two danced on out of the room. Jessie served the plates and followed them out.

And there you go. If I ever revise that play / novella, I'll almost certainly cut the entire scene, but I think it serves as a nice tribute to Mr. Brown. I also need new names. Jessie and Nessie? No way I'm keeping that.


bunnygirl said...

The only thing I would critique about this passage (other than some of the dialogue tags) is its length.

For a novel, it absolutely would have to be trimmed. A lot. But for a play, perhaps not as much, so long as the extended dance sequence contributed to the plot. If the play was a musical, it would probably work almost as-is.

Even if I didn't already know you were into languages, I would guess it from this scene because you've got a good ear for natural-sounding dialogue. It's a tough trick for some people to pull off.

I think dialogue is one of those things you either get or you don't get-- no real middle ground. I don't know if it's easy to develop an ear for it in adulthood, so it's something one has to start at early or have a natural talent for.

pacatrue said...

Thanks, bunny. I had problems too with the tags when I was typing it up. I think they intrude far too much. As I said, this was the first pseudo-serious writing I ever did and I discovered that, if I don't watch it, all I write is dialogue. When I noticed this about myself, that's when I switched the whole thing to just be a play. I've since done reading about writing and learned that I suffer from "White Room" syndrome, where people just start talking in this unknown, undescribed place. Just words floating. So now draft one of whatever I write is almost always still a white room with words, but I know how to see that now and go back to flesh it out, adding in touch and sight and the other senses.

I have no idea what this Vanessa thing would turn out to be in the end. For a while, I was going to turn it into a sort of comedic version of My Dinner with Andre. Do you know that movie? Its just two people sitting at a dinner table eating and talking. I was going to have these three people hanging out together in just three or four locations, talking and laughing and exploring the meaning of life. Music does crop up several times in the play, so I once scribbled a note, "wouldn't it be cool to have a live band during the performance?" If so, then it's a psuedo-musical.

However, in the end, this thing has no plot. Once I decide on a plot, I will decide on a form and then go from there.