Wings and Helen’s career

I realized the other day that one of the reasons I loved “Wings” so much was that Helen wanted to be a concert cellist, and she was always getting her heart broken on that dream because music is so competitive.

She also wanted to get married and got her heart broken by men occasionally, but that she dealt with or shrugged off. Music was her unhealthy on-again off-again true love relationship that she couldn’t seem to walk away from. That I related to. Let me spell it out in case any film people are reading:

  • Woman unable to break away from sick relationship with man who keeps hurting her and stringing her along – I don’t relate. In fact, I just want her to go away.
  • Woman unable to break away from sick relationship with a dream that keeps hurting her and stringing her along – I so relate.

Helen had been playing the cello since childhood and she’d never yet set the world on fire. She’d get up every morning before dawn to get in the necessary hours per day of practice. Then she’d work her day job. Then she’d attempt to have some kind of a social life in the evenings. And then she had to audition and get kicked in the teeth over and over and over. This is pretty realistic for someone wanting to play in an orchestra. In one telling episode, she complains to Fay that all the girls she went to high school with are getting married and she still has no prospects. They were the “easy ones,” the ones boys were supposed to get tired of before settling down with a nice girl. “Not me, I was dedicated to my music.” That totally resonated with me, although my high school celibacy had more to do with the boys being too unattractive to date thanks to generations of inbreeding: in high school, I too was spending hours on my own ultimately failed music career and my still-hopeful writing career.

In fact, Helen broke up with Joe for her music. She got an offer to play in an orchestra that meant she’d have to travel, which caused Joe to freak out… which caused her to realize their relationship was really just sort of coasting. So she moved to New York to pursue her real passion: music.

Every once in a while, Helen would realize she didn’t have what it took and was better off letting the dream go. The first time it happened was when she met an important conductor who finally told her flat out she didn’t have what it took. Unexpectedly, she went home, cried herself to sleep, then woke up early and realized she didn’t need to practice. She watched the sunrise, did her nails, took a bubble bath, and realized how much of her life that cello had been sucking away. Now she was free! Until a few hours later, when the conductor dropped by to say he’d been hasty, and she did have “a glimmer of talent” but she’d have to work rigorously, four or five hours a day, to make it work. At which point she physically attacked him, demanding, “You take that back!” and had to be dragged off by Joe and Brian (who always supported her music, even to the extent of buying her a new $15,000 cello at one point).

After that, Helen was “cursed with a glimmer of talent.” She gave up the cello again later, only to run into someone from the Boston Symphony Orchestra she’d submitted an audition tape to ages ago. He told her they’d wanted her to play for them, but something must have gotten lost in the mail. That night, she finally has a chance to play with a real, reknowned orchestra… and a series of freak coincidences instead puts her in a plane crash with all her friends who were going to see her play. When the cello floats to the top of the ocean as they’re sitting on the life raft, she shoots it with the flare gun, blaming it for all her troubles.

An agent I once worked for said, “Hollywood is the only down where you can die of encouragement” but I think all artists know what she’s describing. Because that dream is all up to you – how much talent you have, how much work you’re willing to put in and in some cases how much you’re willing to sell out. It’s not like a boyfriend that has a will of its own beyond your control, about whom you can eventually realize “He just doesn’t care enough.” The dream is entirely your production, and it’s hard to tell whether you’re giving up early or intelligently cutting your losses.

It’s too bad TV’s about 300 times more likely to give you a woman who can’t break away from a boyfriend who doesn’t love her than a woman caught up in a career dream. The eternal artistic dream storyline always seems to go to the men, while the women’s only passion is finding a man. Helen had a real passion, to which her interest in finding true love took a backseat even though she was part of the show’s Destined Couple. And her passion is what kept me watching despite Alex the faux feminist chopper pilot and Helen’s romance with Mega-Rich Plot Device Boyfriend that served no purpose but to finally bring together the show’s Destined Couple. It did finally jump the shark for me when they introduced Amy Yasbeck as Helen’s Spoiled Princess Stereotype sister, but damned if I didn’t sit through several of my pet peeves just to see a rare woman character who had a dream that wasn’t a man.

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