Monday, October 8, 2007

Stop Necking With That Dog, Beryl!

Another book review for GCN, published sometime in 1981.


A Liar’s Autobiography, Volume VI

by Graham Chapman
Methuen, Inc.
240 pp.
$13.95 hardcover

Since I am not, never have been, and do not expect ever to be a fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, I approached the task of reviewing Graham Chapman’s autobiography with trepidation. I mean, a little of these guys goes a long with me: I’ve never seen any of their films, never bought or read (except standing up, in a bookstore) any of their spinoff books, nearly dozed off during the one M.P.F.C. telly program I ever tried to watch, and although two of their albums are in my municipally-famous record collection, I haven’t played them in five years. And anyway, if you (O gentle reader) do happen to be a fan of theirs, you probably know already if you want to buy this book.

For the benefit of the rest of you, however, may I say that although I am still not a fan, I enjoyed A Liar’s Autobiography, Volume VI (No, it isn’t really Volume Six, that’s a typical Monty Python joke, borrowed from Gertrude Stein). Some of it is quite funny, such as the phantasmagoria of a gay bar in Chapter One:

At this point a man wearing a suit made entirely of wood is wheeled over my toe, and I look around to find David and see that he’s stuck talking to a group of people dressed entirely in leather, except for their spectacles which are made of glass and leather. He seems happily occupied so I continue to hunt for a drink. Someone shouts –
‘For Christ’s sake, Beryl, stop necking with that dog.’
‘But it’s an Alsatian …’ (p. 30)

…But I mustn’t quote too much of it, it’ll spoil it for you. One trouble with funny books is that the second reading lacks the freshness and surprise of the first, and the third … well, if there is to be a third reading, the book had better have more going for it than laffs. And (I hear you ask) does A Liar’s Autobiography, Volume VI have more than laffs going for it?

Well, yes, I suppose so. It is reasonably interesting to hear what it’s like to be the gay member of Monty Python, and I wish that more moderately famous gay people would follow Chapman’s example, come out, and tell us about themselves. Chapman comes across to me as a rather unremarkable man, not terribly insightful but not terribly dense either. He drinks too much, I mean way too much, and though he is prone for PR purposes to make much of the fact that he’s lived with the same man for umpteen years, he also has this compulsion to score sexually with at least one person in every town he passes through. He is commendably honest about his faults and decently modest about his virtues – loyalty to friends, hard work, and all that. The book is fragmented enough (mustn’t let the reader forget that this is a Monty Python book) that I had the feeling at times that Chapman himself wondered at times why he was writing it. There also seems to be a fairish amount of recycled Monty Python material used to pad out the text, such as the Oscar-Wilde-meets-the-Prince-of-Wales bit on pages 24 through 28, which I recognize from one of my two albums. The initiated fan will no doubt recognize more than I did.

Still, I’m always interested in the stories of gay people’s lives, and if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be the gay member of Monty Python, here’s your chance to find out. But I’d wait until it comes out in paperback.