Ned Rorem is a composer. And a Pultizer Prize (1976) winner at that. He is also his own favorite subject: listed among his titles are The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem, with which he started his career as a writer in 1966, and The New York Diary (not A), both of which will soon see fresh ink. The diary portion accounts for about one-third of the present volume, but whether he is dealing with Stravinsky or The Beatles, writing for Opera News or Christopher Street the subject is still, essentially, one Ned Rorem. Joyce Carol Oates figures that there are “really two ‘Ned Rorems,'” and Rorem does, too: “Gradually, like amoebas merging and then separating, or like two Ned Rorems passing each other as they enter a mirror…” But one is enough. After all, is it possible to imagine one man who is split in two who is totally self-centered? Even bona fide clones, presumably, have differing self-interests.
Music, of course, can indicate something of the composer’s personality and can be characterized by noting specific traits. But only in language is the first-person singular so obvious. In “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Critic” Rorem writes: “1. Critics of words use words. Critics of music use Words.Those thirteen syllables, penned a decade ago, are as pertinent as any I can make on the matter.” The 40 syllables pivot on the “I” who thinks that his private jottings require public notice while he can still produce more of them. In the piece from which he takes his title he writes: “To reread my diary is to cringe. Yet I hold to every banal word, and am forever governed by a distaste for the serious.” Unserious banalities, then, are the essence of Rorem’s remarks, yet they are presented as if they are to be savored, not savaged. Part of the reason for this is that Rorem slinks through the right milieu, one People’d with celebrities. He, too, is something of a celeb, but he is more. Celebrities tend to have a public persona that’s distinct from their private lives (at least one hopes that they do). But Rorem will have none of that; he will not cordon off any area of his number-one subject. He is Public Person Nonpareil. (SM)