Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blame the Diarist, Not the Editor

During last night's discussion of the Spring 1956 section of Ned Rorem's New York Diary, excerpted in Gay American Autobiography: Writings from Whitman to Sedaris (David Bergman, editor), several attendees speculated that poor editing might explain why Rorem doesn't come across as a more engaging or sympathetic figure.

In fact, after comparing the version we read with the original Diaries (which I've had for years but never before gotten around to perusing), I can safely say that the author, not the editor, bears the entire responsibility for any shortcomings. Bergman does skip two sections, which come right after the parenthetical reference to Truman Capote on p. 182, but never again departs from Rorem's original once he resumes with "Bernard Charpentier" immediately thereafter. So, for better or worse, what we read last night was the genuine article, so to speak.

I suspect Bergman's main motivation for the cut was concision, though he may also have thought Rorem's detailed discussion of music and musicians would not interest general readers. Whatever his reason(s), my OCD compels me to reproduce the missing text below for the benefit of any who wish to satisfy their curiosity. The following "omission" occurs between the second and third sentences in the final paragraph on p. 182 of Bergman:

Neither of these ladies knows I exist. Et puis apres. Talullah rose up from her couch and exclaimed, "I'm not yet so old that I can't stand up for a young man who wants to meet me." As I was speechless, even her conversation lagged, and that was that.

As for Marlene, there we sat in El Morocco at midnight, she all in black, with Harold Arlen, downing a four-course meal including an oozing baba au rhum, and Truman's three other guests pretending she was just someone else, and she so bored, while I longed to lean over and whisper, "Oh, Miss Dietrich, I loved you in this, and even more in that, and especially in Song of Songs, which nobody knows," but lost my nerve and remained mute, and she never looked my way, but remained thin despite the baba, hummed along with the solicitous pianist playing "Lili Marlene," called over the chasseur ("How do you say chasseur in English?"), to whom she gave a phone number and said, "Tell them I can't come," without explaining who she was. Even grander was the leave-taking: when Arlen gave her a handful of change for the powder room she complained, "Oh no, darling, I need a bill. After all, coming from me, noblesse oblige!"

I prefer to recall my enthusiasm of 1944 when, drunk at 5 A.M., I would phone from veneration to Povla Frijsh, then hang up when she answered. Today, knowing her, I am disenchanted. Or knowing George Copeland or other idols of my babyhood. More and more, despite myself, I am impervious to those about me and wander through daylight past all reactions like a somnabulist, aware only of me, or vaguely of the family unit, which takes new meaning. Before the age of thirty we can't know this, being charged with only accusation. There's no longer the desire for gossip to interest others. What's a diary? Write about the rain.

I made discoveries in New York and know it as well as one can only in getting away. Write about drinking in America: je m'y connais un peu, quand meme! The best thing for a hangover (next to not drinking)--and this I hadn't known before--is that Manhattan array of rhapsodic turkish baths which answer so well to your one-track carnal awareness the afternoon after. Days, days can be spent there in the sensual naked steam of anonymity disintoxicating the body (always the body), while outside it ceaselessly rains, glumly rains to your total disinterest. It was my discovery of America and must be shown to all Latin visitors as an Anglo-Saxon attitude.

Nothing exists unless it is notated, not even the smell of wind, much less the sound of pastorales. I remember sounds with the eye. Even love and lovemaking are unreal except through a recollection which grows faint and disappears unless I print it here. I can't "just live," but must be aware of being aware.

"Why do we live, since we must die?" everyone wonders, whereas the converse could as logically be asked. Maybe life is death and death life--like Pascal's sleep and waking. My sleep is so light, so light, just Miltown at night gets me through it. Quite simply, the purpose of life is to seek life's purpose; to find the right answer is not so important as the right question. Where we come from, where we'll go, and above all, why, we'll never never understand.

Can you polish a phrase about tears in your eyes with tears in your eyes? Yes.

Who am I to say that Delius stinks? Every nonmusical association from my sexy adolescence shrieks of him. Wagner too I love, if I don't have to listen to him. For nothing works today. Things must work: love, music. Or if they flop, they should flop tragically, not tackily.

Title: The Rewards of Boredom; i.e., of sobriety. No one believes it, but I'm much more timid than these journals indicate. Yet the fact of their existence proves it. If I utter brasheries when dead sober it's to prove I can dead sober. I'm not longer "mean" when drunk, just weepy and redundant. But my bite is louder than my bark.

Some of my best friends are 12-tone composers. David laughs for Absalom. Fugue is as suspect as its opposite, improvisation. (This applies to present decades.) Opera should be seen and not heard---needs letter scenes, toasts, instruments on stage, candles, dream sequences, and women dressed as men. (Men dressed as women, can never be taken "seriously;"i.e., as people in love.) The bad old days. Two nuns take leave of each other saying: Be good! Stravinsky-Cocteau Oedipus: a telegram from Sophocles. I deserved the Gershwin Memorial Award (1949), but the piece I wrote did not.

Now I've known so many that'll die soon: Carl Van Vechten. Who? Peter Watson and Cecil Smith. Honegger's dead too, and now little


Terry said...

Thanks, Steve, enlightening. However, the story about Marlene is very funny.

DCSteve1441 said...

Definitely! :-)

Tim said...

It's been over a month since I read the Rorem "extracts" but reading the entire passage, I find Rorem much more interesting than I remember and editor Bergman's editorial practices much more objectionable. Such cavalier editing (to put the kindest face on it) has passed the limit I had thought Bergman himself had already established. Astonishing!