Waiting For The Bright Lights To Return

Elliott Murphy - Photograph by Chusmi10

December 1, 2020

Just finished watching Gatsby in Connecticut – a very thought-provoking documentary about the disputed origins surrounding the original inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel The Great Gatsby which was a book that profoundly influenced my 1973 debut album Aquashow. Not only was my homage to all things Fitzgeraldian “Like A Great Gatsby” included on that album but also the cover shot was photographed at my insistence in the Palm Court of the iconic Plaza Hotel in NYC where Gatsby courted Daisy and almost came to blows with her jealous husband Tom Buchanan. The documentary explores the theory that in fact the characters and geography of the book were far more influenced by Scott’s (along with his wild wife Zelda) brief time in Westport, Connecticut (1) in 1920 then their later (and far longer) stay in Great Neck, Long Island. Well, being a L.I. Homeboy, I’m inclined to believe that the setting might have been more Westport (which might explain why Gatsby lived in fictional West Egg and not in Great Egg) but there was a definite nouveau riche style to Gatsby and his gangster milieu that to me was totally Long Island accent and all. Have we got that settled now? I mean, I can’t imagine a handsome bootlegger moving to Connecticut to throw his outrageous jazz age non-stop parties where the use of condoms even among married couples was outlawed in that state until 1965 when the US Supreme court finally gave the go-ahead for safe sex in New England!

And, admittedly, I have a personal family connection as well when it comes to being a supporter of the Long Island Gatsby team because my father’s brother, Uncle Arthur and his family lived in Great Neck (Kings Point to be exact) and I always wanted to believe that his tony (2) neighborhood was the epicenter of Gatsbyland. My mysterious Uncle Arthur was a bit of a Gatsby-ish character himself; always dressed in a dark suit with a white tie and a pencil-thin moustache like Douglas Fairbanks, the silent movie star. The source of my uncle’s wealth was quite mysterious as well although no-one was bootlegging whiskey in the 1950’s. Arthur’s impressive house, sleek and modern, was right on the Long Island Sound, perched on a great cliff, and he kept a huge telescope in his den focused on the lights of the Throgs Neck Bridge. Was he looking for the same green light as Jay Gatsby? Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? A dream we can’t quite reach and if we do it never turns out to be quite the same as the dream we longed for all those years …

At the end of the Gatsby In Connecticut documentary, the legendary actor Sam Waterson (who brilliantly played Nick Carraway in the 1974 Robert Redford film version) reads the final paragraph of this timeless American novel out loud and when he came to the passage: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past …” it actually brought tears to my eyes. Why was I now so affected by this poetic phrase, perhaps the finest sentence Fitzgerald ever wrote, as I must have read this same passage countless numbers of times before? Why now did I feel this sadness or rather, some kind of inevitable melancholy about my own life’s journey? Well, not only because Sam Waterson’s reading was so exquisitely poignant, but also, I guess, because I’m at an age where (to quote myself now): “The past is the only thing that lasts … if you move too fast.” Perhaps Jay Gatsby moved too fast, wanted too much, too soon … and perhaps I moved too fast as well for a while.

Which brings me to my recent autobiography Just A Story From America – A Memoirwhich was recently published in English, Spanish (along with my novel Tramps in a collection by Varasek Editions titled The Last Rock Star) and French editions (Editions de Layeur) and is now also available as a genuine Audiobook narrated by yours truly on audible.com and amazon.com. It took three days of recording with my son and producer Gaspard Murphy sitting at the mixing desk, learning, I hope, not more about his father then he wished to know, as I recounted both my youth, my glory days in the 1970’s, and how I found a separate peace with the music business and my own demons when I moved to Europe in 1989. The ironic thing is that just a few days ago I had a disturbing dream in which I was screaming “I can’t make peace with my past” and just today I wrote a song with that same title. Have I made peace with my past? Or, as Fitzgerald noted, am I just another boat pushing against the current of my own history?

What was most interesting about the experience of narrating my audiobook of Just A Story From America was that I could easily trace the lineage of those high and low watermarks of my life which were so important to me and how they have shaped so much of my work. Someone said that a writer only has a few extraordinary moments in his or her life and then he or her continues to write about those indelible times while disguising them in various fashion. Perhaps that’s what I’ve done with Just A Story From America. Now I suppose I will need to begin a second biography, more Euro-centered this time around, about the faithful and enduring public I have found and since treasured on this old-world continent and whom I miss immensely during this Covid-19 dark cloud we are all living under. I’ve played only two concerts in nine months and experienced my longest time off in over forty years. When there was slight break in the lock-down in October I (along with Olivier Durand and Melissa Cox) was at least able to play to a masked and seated audience. I can only hope that there were smiles under those masks.

If you would like to read Just A Story From America in written form, it is available as both a paperback and Kindle version on Amazon and the Spanish and French versions are there as well or you can order it from my website store.

Photo by Chusmi10