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Ballad of Narayama

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Interview with Joy Bang

TORONTO, Canada - Joy Bang told me to meet her at her place, over at the Strip above a boutique, and when I got there she was being towed along the sidewalk by a large dog named Tai, which meant, she said, "dog" in a language I didn't catch.

"Today," she said, while Tai exchanged intimacies with another dog that'd happened by, "if I had to sing a song or write a poem, it would be like getting water out of a rock. Tai, get the hell away from there!"

We went upstairs to her apartment, which was furnished with a rug, two candles, and a mattress she said she'd bought from the Crippled Veterans, or from a crippled veteran, she wasn't sure. She lit the candles and put out some ground beef for Tai and a bottle of tequila for the grown-ups.

"First things first," she said. "First, feed the dog. Second, wash my face. Third, reveal my philosophy of life for an interviewer. I'm into this heavy organizational thing, maybe because I'm Libra or maybe because I'm Jewish. I don't know. But I am."

She left to wash her face. She is probably going to be a star a year from now, so remember the name (which is, yes, her real name, Joy Bang. Born Joy Winter, married Paul Bang). She has the second female lead after Barbara Hershey in "Dealing, or, the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues," which Paul Williams (who made "The Revolutionary" and "Out of It" with Jon Voight) is directing in Toronto. Before that, she had roles of assorted sizes in "Dealer," "Pretty Maids All in a Row," and Norman Mailer's "Maidstone." Next, the world.

"To get from one day to the next, to be alive, to talk to people, to love your love-man, that's all it amounts to," she said when her face was clean. She sat down on the floor between the candles. "I went to shrinks and things, and all I learned was, yes, life is inconsistent.

"The first thing on my mind when I wake up are all the questions, the Big Unanswerables. So, like all neurotics, I have to distract myself with tasks: Housewifing, dog, dish washing. This apartment doesn't have enough stuff in it to keep me busy, but God, do I find dishes to wash. I think when I get married again and have two kids...the more things a person is forced to do, the saner that person is forced to be.

"When you think of the kid revolutionaries, the Weathermen, they're blowing things up because they're not busy making their garden green. For the most part, they don't come from environments that forced them to live, to work. The pampered children of the upper middle class, making bombs with time hanging heavy on their hands. But if you're into something, you can't fool around like that. Like, you can't sit there and say, I dunno, let's see what the Buddha says, while the kid is bleeding.

Joy is about as direct and as expressive as anyone I've interviewed, I'm thinking while I'm getting all this down. So I ask her where she came from, where she was going, and what she was about.

"Born in Kansas City," she said. "Just born there, not anything else. Adopted at a month old. New York. Manhattan. Hunter Elementary School, and I went to a high school for intellectually gifted girls. Everybody was studying chemistry and physics, we were going to be druggists' and physicians' wives. But I was saved by one of my teachers, who was a closet drama-freak. Not a freak of closet drama, but a closet drama-freak.

"So I had an intellectual theater trip first, not an emotional one. Ionesco is a word-tripper, man; I picked up on that. La Mama, I was in the La Mama troupe, the same thing. I went to Boston University in drama, one year, no good. I wasn't ready for it. Joy Winter met Paul Bang when she was in 'Caesar and Cleopatra.' That's how I got my name, and a husband, for a while. Paul and I worked at the Charles Playhouse in Boston, and did musical theater for children. Fifty, sixty bucks a week. I was compulsive; I didn't care what I was doing, I did it for recognition, any kind of recognition.

"But after a lot of acid and after being really heavily into love for the first time I got to where I didn't need to be a star, didn't have to be the center of attention, didn't want to go near a theater, wanted to bake bread. I made friends in Stockbridge, the Arlo Guthrie group, and learned things I never learned from Norman Mailer's milieu. And I was in 'The Freaking Out of Stephanie Blake,' with Jean Arthur, on Broadway, but God was on my side, and nothing I did was successful. I didn't have the misfortune of Olivia Hussey, instant success bringing instant jaded worldliness.

"And I was a go-go girl in Boston, which was how I met George Plimpton. He was sitting over by the piano bar with six really straight types, and he sent me a carnation backstage, with a note: I must see you later. George Plimpton. So he came and stayed at our home for a couple of days, which was not quite what he expected. We had a large mattress, which was for Paul Bang and his wife, and when he saw the small mattress in the living room - he's taller than six feet it stopped being quaint, I imagine."

She smiled. Tai lay on his back with his feet in the air and rubbed his shoulders into the rug and growled with ecstasy.

"When I think," Joy Bang said, "of the number of people I've met in my small number of years, because I'm 22, I'm amazed at the people I've met, and the groups they were in, and the things I learned from them.

"But now, it's like I've looked at enough. The only thing, now, is to make something wholly new. A movie, a baby, a cake....

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