You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures
He’s a charmer, that Alan Cumming. Actor, author, provocateur. Amateur photographer, whose zeal for the art sort of makes up for the resultant photographic images.
After multiple seasons on The Good Wife, and a bestseller in his first memoir, Not My Father’s Son, his follow up, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams (awful title, but wait—there’s a reason) walks the line between memoir and scrapbook—an amalgam of photos and funny stories, some no more than quips, that, while far from revelatory, is extremely entertaining.
“Once I was working out in a gym in Vancouver. When I arrived I’d seen a few people whispering about me, something that I am very used to and so I thought little of it. A short time later, as I was puffing away on the pec machine, a young, perfectly formed trainer walked toward me looking a little sheepish.
“’I’m sorry to ask you this,’ he began.
“‘Of course,’ I countered, knowing the best way to deal with this situation was to find a pen and a piece of paper, give him the autograph, and let us both move on as quickly and effectively as possible. But no, that was not what he wanted at all.
“‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave the gym,’ he said.
“‘What?’ I sputtered.
“‘Some of the members are offended by your . . .’ He gestured down to me with his muscly hand and for an awful, brief moment I thought my penis was sticking out of my shorts. But then I realized the cause of his consternation. I was wearing a ‘Fuck Yoga’ tank top.
“‘My shirt?’ I asked incredulously.
“‘Yes. Many of our members practice yoga,’ he said solemnly.
“‘Well, so do I!’ I laughed a little, aware now of those I had offended looking over from their little Lululemon huddle. ‘Look at my body!’
“I admit this was a strange and possibly ill-timed admonition but it was true. Had there been a yoga class available there was no way I would have been struggling with these unfamiliar fitness machines.
“‘Our members don’t like yoga being made fun of,’ the trainer continued.
“I looked over his should at my humorless Canadian accusers and shouted, ‘But it’s a joke! It’s ironic! I love yoga!’
“They turned away, as one. I noticed one of them was wearing white socks that came up to just below his knobby knees and at that exact moment I knew it was a lost cause. I got up and left.”
Here and elsewhere in his memoir, Cumming attests that he is often the man in the ironically intentioned “Fuck Yoga” tank top.
He did, after all, name his perfume Cumming, his body scrub Cumming All Over, and his body wash Cumming Clean, and therefore, it is sort of to be expected that Bigger Dreams will be something of a compilation of photographed body parts, which, of course, it is, with Glenn Close’s muscular back, Kristin Chenoweth’s gasp, and Joan Rivers’ pearls all on photographic display.
And while the memoir is sort of festooned with anecdotes about dogs and pictures of those dogs (an opening chapter is sort of a Travels with Charley riff with Cumming and his dog Honey driving cross-country), the best bits uniformly involve star sighting and encounters with the rich and famous—tales of Klaus Nomi, Iman, and Iris Apfel (“She was fashion, she looked like a hippie granny, she was cool. Well, all these things are true, but what I did not bargain for was Iris being a rabid Republican.”) all make for great fun, but it’s the bigger names like Elizabeth Taylor and Oprah who steal the show.
Cumming sits beside Liz on the bench in Carrie Fisher’s hallway.
She tells him how she injured herself by falling in her dining room and hitting the floor, hard.
The tale concludes:
“‘Alan,’ she growled like the Cat on the Hot Tin Roof she still was. ‘You have never seen such a black ass.’
“My mouth gaped open in an involuntary gasp. I waited just a beat longer, then with the most saucy twinkle in my eye I had ever mustered, threw down my slam dunk. ‘Oh, Elizabeth,’ I said. ‘I bet I have!’
“Suddenly her hand unlocked from mine and slapped me across the chest. She cackled like a trucker who’d just heard a good fart joke.”
The Oprah bit is even better.
Playing the celebrity card, Cumming manages an invitation and takes his friend Eddie to a swanky dinner in Manhattan because Oprah was on the menu, only to find that their table was as far from Oprah’s as possible, over by the hallway down to the restrooms.
Happily, Oprah has to use the facilities, taking her within a few feet of their table.
Seizing the moment, Eddie says, “in a very endearing and choirboy-like voice, ‘Oprah! May I have a picture with you? It would be my dream.”
Alan Cumming fidgets with his camera and, after a pause, Oprah speaks:
“You gotta get bigger dreams.”
This not only gives the book its title, but the resultant photo gives the book its high point and the full tale of this close encounter with Winfrey is a tale that is itself the price of admission.
There’s also the story that ends with Gore Vidal peeing over the edge of the terrace of his villa on the Amalfi coast in Italy.
And proof that Kylie Minogue is as good a sport as you’d want her to be.
And the tale of the night that Diana Ross shoved Cumming aside on her way to the dance floor, twice.
And then there’s this:
“The first thing Liza Minnelli ever said to me was, ‘Alan, I want to be your friend forever!”
It goes on from there, with details on Liza’s birthday parties—one in her apartment, another in a hospital room, with Minnelli about to go under the knife—and opening nights and Cumming metaphorically throwing loving arms around her and writing about how “her face lit up and she exclaimed in that hiccup way of speaking when she is happy,” so that the reader doesn’t know which one of them he likes better.
There’s a lot of joy in this book and a lot of laughs. You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams is the best part of experiencing New York nightlife: all the gossip without the hangover.
And, like Kylie Minogue, it’s everything you’d want it to be.