Sunday, November 10, 2002

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry

Please indulge me. At least two more brief passages of his sublimely profane autobiography Moab Is My Washpot, given a perceptive and laudatory notice (a "rave review") by one of the nation's most prominent and hallowed journals of conservatism (National Review).

In Moab, Fry devotes many a page to discussing the greatest love of his adolescence. That love was another young lad.

My sense of kinship with Fry is in no wise impaired by this. For his Matthew, one can for oneself readily substitute any other name (Amanda, Beatrice, Cynthia, Deborah, Emily) ... Besides, when Fry writes about Matthew, twenty-five years after the fact, it is evident that the primarily impulse in his reminiscence is not eroticism -- though he doesn't in any way deny that that's there -- but awe.

This book is in no danger of being found in the library of a Camaldolese monastery, as I wrote in a review of it elsewhere. But it is, to my mind, a gem. It's been described as "a gay coming-of-age memoir," not inaccurately, but too reductively. It's a Stephen Fry coming-of-age memoir. He wins us over with his ebullient dexterity of language, his honesty, his charm ... and passages on the beauty of his beloved that could be, with a slight adjustment of idiom -- and yes, orientation -- Dante writing about Beatrice, Petrarch about Laura, dylan_tm618 about Cynthia ... etcetera etcetera etcetera.

Here is Fry, describing how his universe changed one bright September day. I empathize and sympathize beyond completely.

And then I saw him and nothing was ever the same again.

The sky was never the same colour, the moon never the same shape : the air never smelt the same, food never tasted the same. Every word I knew changed its meaning, everything that was once stable and firm became as insubstantial as a puff of wind, and every puff of wind became a solid thing I could feel and touch.

This is where language is so far behind music. The chord that Max Steiner brings in when Bogart catches sight of Bergman in his bar in Casablanca, how can I bring that into a book of black ink marks on white paper? The swell and surge of the Liebestod from Tristan, Liszt's Sonata in B minor -- even Alfred Brendel can't conjure that up from this keyboard, this alphanumeric piano beneath my fingers. Maybe, because sometimes pop music can hit the mark as well as anything, I could write you out a playlist. We would start with the Monkees :

And then I saw her face, and now I'm a believer
Naaah ... it's no use.

There's nothing for it but old words and cold print. Besides, you've been there yourself. You've been in love. Why am I getting so hysterical? Just about every film, every book, every poem, every song is a love story. This is not a genre with which you are unfamiliar even if by some fluke (whether a cursed fluke or a blessed one I would be the last able to decide) you have never been there yourself.
-- Moab Is My Washpot : An Autobiography (US edition Random House, 1999), pp. 217-8

Another excerpt soon to follow.