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Golden Boy

by Clifford Odets

I was kinda dreading reading this play, cause it seemed long and dated and I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy it. However... within the first few pages one of the characters calls another a phonus bolonus and I knew I was in for a fun ride.

Golden Boy is an underdog story of a young "cock-eyed wonder" who quickly rises in the fighting world. Written in the late '30s, this play is definitely reflective of the time. When a guy says, "I'm super-disgusted with you!" and it's not meant to be funny you know you're dealing with language of a different generation. I think I may start using that line in fights and see what happens - I'm willing to bet it would diffuse the situation rather quickly into a fit of giggles.

The '30s feels like a long time ago to me but apparently not much has changed with regards to society's perception of the arts. Before our "hero" Joe becomes a fighter he played the violin. His father would much prefer that his son continue along his musical path but Joe's manager-of-sorts feels otherwise.
Could a boy make a living playing this instrument in our competitive civilization today? Nowadays is it possible for a young man to give himself to the Muses? Could the Muses put bread and butter on the table?
I like that idea of giving oneself over to the Muses. I think I'll do that today and see what happens. "Don't blame me, officer, it was the Muses!" "Sure lady, it's off to the dungeon with you." Apparently in my head jail = a dungeon. It's early, don't judge me.

Joe has a major crush on his boss' girl, Lorna. She has been sent to convince him that he should fight. Joe thinks it's more of a date sort of thing and begins to open up to her about why he likes the violin. He says:
With music I'm never alone when I'm alone - Playing music ... that's like saying, "I am man. I belong here. How do you do, World - good evening!" When I play music nothing is closed to me. I'm not afraid of people and what they say. There's no war in music. It's not like the streets. Does this sound funny? But when you leave your room ... down in the street ... it's war! Music can't help me there. Understand? People have hurt my feelings for years. I never forget. You can't get even with people by playing the fiddle. If music shot bullets I'd like it better - artists and people like that are freaks today. The world moves fast and they sit around like forgotten dopes.
So beautiful and so sad. "There's no war in music." I love that. And then Odets takes that lovely idea and darkens it by putting the image of music shooting bullets into our heads. This was my favorite speech in the play. Joe starts off young and tender and gets progressively fiercer in his fighting and harder in his emotions. He is now a "success" and yet he has alienated himself from all the people he loves. That's not my definition of success.

Word that I learned from reading this play - bellicosity: a natural disposition to fight; Warlike or hostile in manner or temperament.

The best insult goes to Eddie - the new manager who "buys" Joe. At the big, final fight, angry that Lorna has thrown Joe off his game by refusing his love, Eddie tells her:
That's right ... if he lost ... the trees are ready for your coffin. 

Tomorrow's Play: The Actor's Nightmare by Christopher Durang

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