SONG OF THE LOON / Richard Amory. 1966 (184 pgs)
First Sentences: “A brilliant day; the high May sun streamed through the Douglas firs, into pools of air, tangibly blue. Darker green, the waters of the Umpqua fell in tiny crystals from the paddle – waves from the canoe sighed in the shadows of white alders and lacey vine maples.”
Prevailing Narrative Voice: Third person narrator from a past tense point of view.
What the reader learns in the first paragraphs: The first paragraph describes a brilliant river forest setting. The second paragraph describes a shirtless, deeply-muscled man paddling up a river. The third paragraph tells how the man is drawn to the shore and eventually into the smoothly muscled, with sinews flexing, arms of Singing Heron, an Indian, who lays languidly on the bank playing his simple wooden flute. One. Two. Three. The author presents setting. The author presents a character within the setting. The author presents the character reacting to tension that occurs within the setting. This establishes conflict. (woods + man in the woods + unusual sound of flute in woods = tension & discovery). The story has a simple set up with a classic introduction of location and character which leads the reader to the main plot and conflict of the story.
What the reader learns in the first ten pages: It is apparent from glancing at the cover of this pulp classic that SONG OF THE LOON is written simply. It is a classic adult gay male porn story presented as a wild west drama between the good (handsome) white guys, the hot, muscled, sun-browned Indian natives and the evil white guys (some presumably dumpy and some hot and studly). As this is classic porn, Ephraim MacIver and Singing Heron are rolling about in the bushes by page four. Before their tryst, we learn that Ephraim is deeply troubled, having been jilted and left for dead by his ex-lover, a confused and difficult man. Ephraim is also being hunted by the evil Mr. Calvin for a yet unexplained reason. Singing Heron offers character-strengthening observations from the wisdom of his people (read: the gay, liberal Indians) and once Ephraim experiences the “power of love” he will “understand”. Singing Heron fixes dinner before he illustrates his take on “the power of love” and it is obvious from all the rippling muscles, powerful thrusting, loving caresses and full releasing that Ephraim has understand the lesson. To keep this in an historical perspective, THE SONG OF THE LOON was published and circulated three years prior to the Stonewall Revolution. It is easy to draw parallels of the utopian, gay sex-positive, psycho love speak offered by Singing Heron to the powerful draw of gay bars and bath houses offered only in urban settings. That this story takes place in the deep woods of the rural Willamette Valley and the rugged coast of Northern Oregon where, in 1966 they would have been ridiculed or shot a la BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, gives SONG OF THE LOON an ironic twist. But, hey, gay men are very comfortable with irony, it being one of their major defining characteristics. Also since the environment of the story exists in a classically male world (the untamed out of doors) and that there are no women present, homosexuality is the only sexual option (animals excluded). In the case of these first ten pages, where everyone is hot, hung, rippling and horny, and since Singing Heron promises there will be “many more of his tribe” along Ephraim’s journey, it seems that SONG OF THE LOON will offer many more pages of steamy deep-woods couplings for its generally closeted mid-sixties readership.
Language: As with the set up and plot, the language is simple and undecorated. As Ephraim and Singing Heron first become acquainted there are echoes of gay male street cruising following the way men would have gathered in the mid-sixties urban bars and bookstores. The language of their discovery, courtship and lovemaking is cloaked in sentimentality and metaphor – I mean who would choose “penis” when one can write, “he glanced at Ephraim’s manhood, thick and muscular like an oak tree.” One can only wonder, with bark or without.
Character: Ephraim is a good man who has been done wrong, which parallels the “homosexual everyman” who has been abused, spurned or shunned by a homophobic community. Ephraim has integrated some of the very homophobia that surrounds him and it is through Singing Heron’s open, uncomplicated view of love, community and love making that the reader sees, even in the opening pages, that Ephraim will be opened to a new way of living and respecting himself. Singing Heron is representative of the simple, subservient ethnic person whose true purpose in life is to support the white man and give him a good roll in the grass before his new hero moves on to another of his caste. Ironically, Singing Heron’s observations are intelligent, honest and foreshadow a generation of ‘respect-yourself’ psychologising that has been in effect in therapist’s offices and advertising campaigns since the mid-seventies. Leave it to the gays to take advantage of a movement or create one. Other characters are introduced into the plot: the self-hating ex-lover, the wise Indian leader, the evil gay-bashing villain and other caricatures, but they have yet to appear in these opening pages.
Setting: The woods are dark and wild, but a mysterious place. Above the trees there is lots of sunlight, at ground level it is murky and moist; typical of the Pacific Northwest. The setting functions as a larger metaphor for the wild untamed, freedom offered someone looking for a trail that will take him off the beaten path. Or perhaps just the path where he can get beaten off. Sorry. Had to. There are a couple of geographical landmarks mentioned to locate the reader in some part of the world: Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River; the Willamette River valley and a couple of other towns that may or may not be fictional. What is most important is that the author creates a fantastic impression of a substantially real location, similarly to the way gay men might dream of a place where they can be one hundred percent true to their nature and have that nature be encouraged, respected and reciprocated by others.
Plot & Expectations beyond the tenth page: Oh my goodness! Of course one expects several more scenes of rippling muscles, shafts of iron, and smooth brown features supplicating over taut and hairy masculine flesh, but believe it or not, in the first ten pages, there is the set up for an interesting conflict with the potential for treachery and suspense.
Random Comments: SONG OF THE LOON was a gay cult classic and made into an “art film” that relied heavily on the success of the book. The basic theme of the book and the movie is that it is OK to seek and have more than one lover at a time as long as you… wait for it… love the one you’re with. In a more hard-core version, the film would have been called “ Song of the Loins”. Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week. How’s your steak? Etc.