Glenn Gould’s Raincoat
June 7, 2010 8 Comments
In 1956, my father, Jock Carroll, spent two weeks with Glenn Gould in the Bahamas. Gould was on vacation; Jock—a photo-journalist—was on assignment. When he got back Jock wrote an article about Gould for Weekend Magazine entitled, ‘I Don’t Think I’m At All Eccentric,’ and forty years later Stoddart published ‘Glenn Gould: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,’ a collection of photographs Jock took on the trip.
In an opening essay in the book, Jock recounts his adventures with Gould—how Gould hid in his hotel room for days, drove like a maniac and played the piano in the middle of the night. He also remembered a conversation they had on the flight down to Nassau:
“During the trip we exchanged a few jokes and one of Gould’s has always stuck in my mind. In the joke a middle-aged man consults a German psychiatrist about a sexual problem. After some months of analysis the psychiatrist announces, ‘I haff solved your problem. You are in love with your raincoat.’
“Gould had a good ear for voices and as the patient he now waxed indignant. ‘Five months of analysis!’ he shouted. ‘And $5,000 in fees! And you tell me I’m in love with my raincoat! That’s ridiculous!’
“Gould’s voice dropped to a lower register: He began fingering the sleeve of his own raincoat. ‘Still,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘I am very fond of my raincoat.’”
Indeed he was.
The Virtues of Hesitation
The first time Jock lured Gould out of the hotel and down to the beach, Gould wore his raincoat, gloves and a hat. He also brought some light reading: a score by Bach; a book about the visual arts; and a copy of the Hudson Review containing an essay entitled ‘Turgenev: The Virtues of Hesitation.’
This last item gave them an idea for a movie (Gould had discovered Jock had a movie camera). Gould would lie on the beach reading and a beautiful woman would come up to him in a raincoat. When he did not look up, the coat would come off and she would be wearing only a bikini. Then she would start dancing in an effort to get his attention. But he would remain focused on the book, and never look at her. Near the end it would be revealed he was reading ‘The Virtues of Hesitation.’ They both thought this would be funny—intellect transcending temptation.
Jock details their plan in his book, but when they got to the beach Gould changed his mind and said he didn’t want to be in the movie. Because he had gone to so much trouble to set up the shoot (he had even hired an exotic dancer), Jock decided to shoot it anyway. He would play the lead.
Of course, once filming was completed, Gould announced he did want to be in it, and promptly jumped into the surf and began conducting non-existent music with a beer bottle. Jock filmed this impromptu performance and spliced it into the film later, the scene made all the more surreal by the fact that the music playing at this point is George Symonette’s Mamma Don’t Want No Peas ‘n Rice ‘n Coconut Oil.
Fast Forward Fifty Years
In 2006, I packed up all of Jock’s files and sent them to the Library and Archives Canada. He asked me to do this before he died. He had thousands of photos, recordings, films, etc., of many famous people including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Gloria Swanson, and also famous Canadians like A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Hailey and Bob Goulet. Collectively they represented an important record of photo-journalism in Canada and the U.S. in the 50’s and 60’s. Hundreds of boxes went to the archives. But I would not discover the film that Gould and Jock made in the Bahamas until 2008.
I found it when I was reorganizing boxes of family files. It was clearly marked, so there was no question what it was—the issue was how to see what was on it. It was an 8mm film with a separate sound track—50-year-old technology. Fortunately, Deluxe Postproduction in Toronto had the capabilities to transfer the film and sound to DVD. They also captured still shots from a high definition digital master they created. The film runs just over 4½ minutes.
Lights! Camera! Dancing!
The movie is just as Jock described. It opens with Gould walking onto the beach—in his usual outfit—and sitting in a director’s chair with his name on it. He takes off one glove. In the other hand he has a cigar.
In the second scene, Jock sits on the beach reading and the girl shows up in Gould’s raincoat. She soon takes the coat off and starts dancing, but Jock ignores her—pretending to be totally wrapped up in what he is reading. As unlikely as this scenario is, it must said the girl is a fine dancer.
Gould Just Wants to Have Fun
Sound was not recorded at the time, but Jock added music later. Three calypso songs accompany the Dance of the Seven Veils: Mamma Don’t Want no Peas ‘n Rice ‘n Coconut Oil, followed by Creole Girls and The Big Bamboo by the Duke of Iron.
Gould conducting was shot after-the-fact and has nothing to do with the music—or the movie. But Jock spliced him in because he had to be included—he was the reason they were there in the first place (and since the movie was a bit silly to begin with, no harm done).
Interestingly, Gould—without his raincoat—has a great time. Free of his persona (he had to give up the raincoat so the girl could wear it in the movie), Gould let go.
His mother had asked Jock to get him out into the sun, and he did just that—with extraordinary results. Here he is with no coat, no gloves, no scarf. At the end of this short episode, he has even taken off his sunglasses and hat. He conducts with a beer bottle. In the end, he breaks out into uncontrollable laughter.
Maybe his raincoat was like the mask in the Jim Carey movie of the same name. Once Gould put it on, he was transformed into an eccentric musical genius; without it he was just one of us, a mere mortal who liked to laugh and have fun. Maybe Gould needed the raincoat to hide his human half because it simply could not compare with his larger-than-life genius half.
Then again, maybe he was just cold.
About sixty seconds of the film referred to above appears in the movie Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, which was short-listed for the 2011 Oscars (although it did not make the final three nominations). The photo on the cover of the DVD is also by my father.