My friend Karen Abbott’s “Psychology of an Author” striptease is an homage to Gypsy Rose Lee’s “Psychology of a Stripteaser.” In her new biography, American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare, The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, Abbott calls her subject “Dorothy Parker in a g-string.” Here are her thoughts on Lee’s routine, and her own:
Like all of Gypsy’s routines, it made performance out of desire, suggesting, through every coy wink and cursory flash of skin, that it’s human nature to want most what we’ll likely never have.
But “The Psychology of a Stripteaser” took this concept a step further. It ruminated on all of the things Gypsy herself wanted most, and how these wishes distracted her mind from the slow reveal of her body. Each stanza had a punch line: she endured a rigorous education in elite schools to learn to take off her clothes; she thinks of paintings by Van Gogh and Cézanne when she bares a patch of shoulder; when she raises her skirts with slyness and dexterity, she’s mentally computing just how much to give to charity. She tweaked the references over time, name-dropping whatever cultural luminaries or books that were currently in vogue, but the gist remained the same. It was self-parody, of course (Gypsy was known as the “intellectual stripper”) but the lyrics also offered a core of truth. Gypsy reasoned that ridiculing her dreams—her very real desire to transcend the act that made her famous—was the surest way to achieve them.To that end, I present “The Psychology of An Author.” It’s a spoof of a spoof, a meta, name-dropping glimpse into the neuroses that plague an author’s mind in the days leading up to a book release. My apologies to the inimitable Gypsy Rose Lee (whose performance, below mine, is excerpted from the 1943 film Stage Door Canteen), and my solidarity to everyone in publishing—an industry in which each of us, at one time or another, ends up a little bit naked.