A thrilling, poignant, and bold memoir of the early years and accomplishments—both musical and sexual—of renowned contemporary composer Ned Rorem
Ned Rorem, arguably the greatest composer of art songs that America has produced in more than a hundred years, is also revered as a diarist and essayist whose unexpurgated writings are at once enthralling, enlightening, and provocative. In Knowing When to Stop, one of the most creative American artists of our time offers readers a colorful narrative of his first twenty-seven years, expertly unraveling the intriguing conundrum of who he truly is and how he came to be that way. As the author himself writes, “A memoir is not a diary. Diaries are written in the heat of battle, memoirs in the repose of retrospect.” But careful thought and consideration have not dulled the sharp point of Rorem’s pen as he writes openly of his life and loves, his missteps and triumphs, and offers frank and fascinating portraits of the luminaries in his circle: Aaron Copland, Truman Capote, Jean Cocteau, Martha Graham, Igor Stravinsky, Billie Holliday, Paul Bowles, and Alfred C. Kinsey, to name a few. The result is an early life story that is riveting, moving, and intimate—a magnificent self-portrait of one of the great minds of this age.
Rorem is arguably this century's finest American composer of art songs--but better known to readers as the author of the remarkably candid, irresistibly readable The Paris and New York Diaries. Admitting he was a ravishing youth, he scandalized 1940s New York and Paris by his nonstop drinking and avid sex with any man who would share his sheets. He writes brilliantly, illuminating what could be dull moments with unknown people--as well as offering marvelously frank portraits of household names, among them Jean Cocteau, Aaron Copland, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham, Truman Capote, Virgil Thomson, Igor Stravinsky, Billie Holliday and Paul Bowles. All this, and a constant flicker of outrageous opinions too. One reads on, paralyzed with pleasure by the flashing intelligence, the exact, colorful mot , the endless quotability. Why a memoir, and what does it add to the diaries--especially since it covers only Rorem's first 27 chock-a-block years? ``A memoir is not a diary. Diaries are written in the heat of battle, memoirs in the repose of retrospect.'' So the reader enjoys not only a whirlwind picture of bohemian artistic life during and just after WWII, but a touching self-portrait of an elderly semi-recluse, happily ``married'' now for decades, utterly abstemious of booze, reliving a madcap youth with only occasional regrets. The reader also enjoys Rorem's quotability: ``Minor artists borrow, great ones steal. All art is theft.'' ``People seldom change as they age, they just get more as they always were.''``I compose as I do because no one else is making quite the sound I need to hear.'' Rorem has marvelous fun classifying everything as either German (which he dislikes) or French (which he loves). ``This book fails,'' he concludes, ``because it is all Content without Style, and Content is German while Style is French.'' Wrong. His memoir overflows with both. Photos not seen by PW.