Yesterday I came into possession of an advance galley of Ned Rorem's latest collection of diary entries and other musical whatnots, scheduled for publication later this year. I glanced at a page or two, but — as always with these diaries — found myself perversely enthralled, and within an hour I had devoured the whole thing. It was like a big bag of moldy pistachios, noxious and smelly and somehow impossible to set aside.
My god, the whingeing, the moaning, the unbridled self-pity! These were always the dominant motifs, but now there's practically nothing else. Rorem has become the Eeyore of contemporary music.
One feels for him on the personal front, perhaps — the loss of friends and colleagues, the physical and emotional indignities of old age. But the endless keening about cultural matters is simply beyond the pale. This is a man for whom Shakespeare, Beethoven, Cervantes and Schubert (to name just a few) are "boring" and "incomprehensible" — and then he has the gall to complain ad nauseam about the "dumbing down" of contemporary culture.
His beef is obvious, of course: not that Shakespeare or Schubert are overvalued, but that he — Ned Rorem, dammit! — has not been given his due. He name-drops furiously, but art and culture in general seem to have no meaning for him any more. All that counts is his own work, his own struggles and the perpetual scandal of his underappreciation by the world.
The most sadly comic bit is this: "I am forever 'accused' of narcissism. But everyone's a narcissist — I just admit it." Well, no — many people are in fact not narcissists, and most of us understand this. But the mark of a true narcissist is his inability to perceive his fellow humans except as mirror images of his own narcissism. It's like the mot by the great recreational logician Raymond Smullyan: "Most people hate egotists. They remind them of themselves. I love egotists. They remind me of me."