THE NANTUCKET DIARY, 1973-1985 by Ned Rorem


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Why do I write all this? Why persist? For whom? It's not particularly unusual. I write it all because I know who I am, and that is unusual. If from the start je me suis fait un personnage, I know who that personage is."" Here, then, Rorem persists for some 624 pages--making this the longest diary of all (chunks of which have already appeared in An Absolute Gift, 1978). As before, the composer and would-be personage writes down everything from recipes to health problems (more than one wants to know about his bouts with herpes), from pretentious musings on Art to the ugliest giblets of revelation. The most unpleasant entry in this line is Rorem's description of being pawed (at age 55) by onetime lover John Cheever (then 66): ""No sooner in the door than he drops his pants, pleads, whispers how lonely he is. . ."" Elsewhere, there are glimpses of a drunken John Ashbery making advances to John Simon, of Lenny Bernstein's ""affectionate viciousness,"" of other friends and ex-friends (some famous, some not) from Judy Collins and Francine du Plessix Gray to Claus von Bulow and Truman Capote (he ""sold his talent for a mess of pottage""). There are frequent updates on Rorem's longterm live-in relationship with unstable musician ""JH,"" on the doings of his aged, doting parents. There are musings on feminism, Cocteau, Proust, and homosexual identity (""Is a queer queer when out of bed? When solving equations?""), with increasing preoccupation in the 1980's with the onset of the AIDS epidemic: ""I am wise, wiser perhaps even than Jerry Falwell, yet cannot help wondering (I who don't believe in God) if some chastisement is at work, some cosmic pendulum."" And while Rorem's opinions on literature, theater, and film are rarely to be taken seriously (Fred Astaire was ""a one-dimensional hick""), his remarks on his own music and that of his rivals are sure to attract some attention: one constant theme is the lack of ""charm"" in Elliot Carter's music; another is the unfairness of critics. (""Every time Sessions spits, Andrew Porter cries genius. . ."") No, Rorem hasn't mellowed with late-middle-age and the Pulitzer Prize: he's as petty and catty, as narcissitic and posturing, as ever. So, though gossip aficionados may want to browse, most readers--even music-lovers--will find this far too much of an effete, self-indulgent thing.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1987
Publisher: North Point