More On Tennessee Williams

By Larry Fyffe

In the movie “Sweet Bird Of Youth”, Adonis-like drifter Paul Newman hooks up with an ageing movie actress. Realizing the clock is ticking, Chance Wayne hopes that the relationship will lead to his gaining fame and fortune for himself in Hollywood.

Chance returns with the alcohol-drinking, pill-popping actress to his hometown where he hopes to re-establish a relationship with ‘Boss’ Finley’s daughter. The drifter has really messed up the image of the daughter (she’s named Heavenly) as a chaste Southern belle; her politically-ambitious father (who keeps a supposedly-secret mistress named Miss Lucy) sees to it that Chance gets beaten up.

With the ageing actress, and the daughter, Chance leaves town, all three in search of the fading American Dream of their youth

The play by Tennessee Williams, on which the movie is based, is much darker. Chance does not leave with the actress who, as it turns out, becomes sought after by Hollywood; the daughter, who inherits her father’s wealth, gets revenge on the womanizing gigolo.

Akin to the theme of an imagined “paradise lost”, mournfully expressed in the song lyrics below:

So I just think I'll take my foolish pride
And put it on a south-bound freight, and ride
And go on back to the loved ones
The ones that I left waiting so far behind
 (Bobby Bare: Detroit City ~ Dill/Tillis)

As depicted by the narrator in the following Williams-influenced song lyrics, construed it can be that though the industrialized North has characteristics that turn it into a kind of a new Babylon, the imagined paradisal South of the defeated regime of the Boss Finleys be actually a living hell for belles and blacks:

I can tell you are torn
Between staying and returning 
Back to the South
You've been fooled into thinking 
That the finishing end is at hand
(Bob Dylan: To Ramona)

As well, Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire” is burlesqued in the song lyrics below:

Well, they're going to the country, they're going to retire
They're taking a streetcar named desire
(Bob Dylan: Tweedle Dee And Tweedle Dee)

Both “Streetcar” and “Sweet Bird” likewise in the song lyrics beneath:

I'm in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood ....
Don't get up gentlemen, I'm only passing through ....
Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

And there’s Paul Newman as Brick (saying to his father Big Daddy) in the movie version thereof:

"You don't know what love means. To you
it's just a four-letter word"
(Tennessee Williams: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof)

Echoed in the following song lyrics:

I thought that there was nothing more absurd
Than that love is just a four-letter word
(Bob Dylan: Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word)

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