Drug-haunted violin virtuoso dies at 60
The rain soaked me to the bone and the gloom overcast drained all of my humor and spirits. The burial was in Arlington and the ride back to Georgetown was solitary and silent, the roads covered in a thick grey fog that seemed to take on a life of its own as it floated from the Potomac and melted across the roadway.
I really didn’t expect to see them at the burial, especially not on a miserable day like this. I had to stand with them at the burial. I couldn’t very well stand with the family, I don’t know them well enough and the widow doesn’t like me. Never has liked me. Standing alone would have seemed, well, confrontational so I stood with them. It was surprising when Wolfe leaned in front of Schuler and whispered “Dylan, join us for drinks afterwards. We’ll lift a pint to our friends passing” he mentioned a place, the Harp and something. Shamrock maybe.
I should have said no. Pint indeed, where does he think he is? England? We don’t lift pints in America, we drink a beer and beer is cold and it’s not the right weather drinking beer or anything else, even if I did drink, which I don’t….anymore….. And I doubt that he and Dylan do either.
I parked on 35th street, bounded down the sidewalk, shielding my head from the rain when I spotted the warm, soft glow of coffee shop’s lights on O Street, beckoning my weary bones. Coffee. Warmth. I’ll take it. My fingers are cold and white.
It was warm inside the shop and the thick smell of freshly brewed beans relaxed me. I order a cup from a tall very lean and very young man behind the counter.
“Black, no sugar”
I took a seat with small round wooden table that looked out into the streets. I folded my cold hands around the cup and with the chill gone out of me I removed my rain coat and hat and relaxed to the rhythmic sounds of the rain falling on the tin roof around me. The bright lights gave the café a sense of protective warmth and I needed that.
I’m damned comfortable and I’m not moving. I called Wolfe and said “Ernest here. Look, I’m in Georgetown at a coffee place on 35th and O, there’s plenty of parking. It is far too early for drinks. Come by here. I’ll flip for the coffee.” He agreed. Reluctantly and grumbling, but he agreed. Dylan would come with him of course because Dylan had absolutely no backbone around Gilbert. It was why they made such a successful partnership later on.
I returned to the events of the day. So he was dead. He was so young. He was only 60. Looking around the café filled with the fresh young faces of Georgetown students I though “My God, sixty, am I really so old that I hail six decades as young?”
So, maybe he wasn’t young. It was more that he always seemed so young, so vibrant. Cirrhosis killed him. It made sense of course. I can’t remember when he didn’t drink, a lot.
I took a deep breath and sighed louder than I had intended causing one of the students at a table full of student to turn and give me a scornful look. Scorn. It’s what youth does best. Well that, and travel in packs. I am solitary and at my age it is a blessed, golden thing to be enjoyed.
I saw them park at the far end of the street and ordered two teas, Earl Grey, and a coffee for Gilbert. By the time they were ready and I collected them and placed them at the table, they were only moments away.
I studied them carefully. Glee, his wife, although lovely, tall and graceful as ever, looked old and tired. The lines in her stately face were deep and told of her weariness. Dylan walked slightly behind her of course, but that was Dylan, that was her way. Beautiful but timid. Younger than us. She had been their secretary of sorts and now she was another friend who remembered things past. And then there was Gilbert. God help us all. Look at how large he’s gotten.
I stood and greeted them all, embracing Glee, kissing the hand of Dylan, oh so lovely Dylan and offering a curt nod to Gilbert and remained standing through the traditional shuffling of positions and then I sat.
Dylan unbuttoned her heavy coat to reveal her still slim and curvaceous figure and once the coat was removed she turned to me and said “It’s all like a bad dream isn’t it?”
“Let’s not discuss it” Glee said as she removed her coat and hat and then turning to me to pulled me closer and gently kissed my forehead and said “Let’s just talk about the old time, shall we? The good times.”
“I don’t like this chair” Gilbert said “Terrible view”
“Would you like my seat” Dylan asked with a smile.
Gilbert looked over the offering and said “No. That seems only worse”
He looked around the shop with disdain. He did disdain well. His eyes looked over the faded black and white tiles on the walls and ceilings and asked “What is this place?” he asked to no one in particular “It has the feel of morgue”
“It’s a coffee shop” I answered “It’s a place where nice people go to drink coffee. I bought you one” and pointed to the cup in front of him. He took the cup, placed it close to his nose and smelled the coffee. A flask appeared from his rain coat. He poured a bit into the coffee cup.
The tall, lean young man behind the counter pointed an accusing finger at Gilbert and said “There is no liquor here, sir”
“I know dear boy” he answered pouring a pinch more “That’s why I brought my own”
Glee sat to my left and clasped my hand in hers “How are you Earnest?”
Dylan leaned forward in her chair to hear my answer and Gilbert took another sip of his whiskey coffee. I felt nervous and played with the rim coffee cup.
“I’ve been better” I answered as I inspected the cup.
“You’re depressed over what happened recently” Glee said.
“Why” I asked “What happened recently?”
“She means” Dylan answered “His death. Depressed over his death”
“I am not depressed over his death” I said “All right maybe a little depressed.
I paused and then said “I’m very depressed over it”
“People die” Dylan said as she aimlessly stirred her coffee. “If only I had……”
“If only you had what?” Gilbert asked.
She shrugged “I don’t know”
“I gave up on him.” I answered sadly.
“We all did” Dylan replied with a tilt of her head.
“Well I certainly didn’t” Glee said.
And she was right in that. She had stayed with him through it all, even when he divorced her, she was there for him
“Life makes no sense now.” she said.
“Well life has never made any sense” I said but I’m sure she did not hear me.
“I feel numb” she said to no one in particular. “It all seems so meaningless”
She turned and looked at me and said “It took me five hours to get ready this morning and I can’t recall a single moment”
“Have you asked yourself the question” Gilbert said to Glee and I “Is this something worth being depressed about?”
He leaned forward when he spoke. He always did that, leaned forward into person’s space and I hated it when he did it and I was thankful for the table between us.
“What sort of an asinine proposition is that?” I asked “You want me to be happy over this?”
“I want you to see it for what it is.” He answered with a shrug “And what it is, what it’s all about, is that it’s about time. It’s about time he died”
“Oh that’s lovely” I said “I’m so glad you came along to the funeral. You’re a delight, really”
“Oh Gilbert” Glee cried “What in heavens is wrong with you?” She pushed her tea to the side, crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair.
“Gilbert. Really” Dylan added “Gilbert Really”
“He was confined to his bed for the past eight months.” He said and then added loudly, “He wore a diaper because he had no control of his bowels” and at that a very young student, a girl, turned and crinkled her nose at him causing Gilbert to return the look to her and add “Oh grow up kid, we all have bowels and every now and then they do whatever the hell they want to us”
Returning his attention to me and said “He hallucinated. He cried.”
“That’s enough” Glee said
“He howled. He demanded. He begged.”
“Gilbert” Dylan said “Enough”
“He vomited. He was on a constant painful withdrawal from something for the past ten years only to become addicted to something else. And you tell me you are depressed that all that is over? Well I’m not”
“Why are you so angry, Gilbert?” Glee asked snapped.
“I’m not angry” he answered “I’m simply saying that for once in its long creepy career, death, that goddamn thief, finally came at the right time “
“Let him be” Dylan added. “It’s his way of healing”
“And how are you healing” I asked her.
“My usual way” she answered “Guilt and trying to bargain with God to make it all not true”
“Well I’m not angry” Gilbert said again.
“It’s all right if you are angry” Dylan said “Anger covers pain. There are other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time”
“Thank you Doctor Dylan” Gilbert said.
“Why don’t we discuss something more pleasant?” Dylan said.
“I know what we can do” Glee said happily “We can all meet again, like we used too in the old days. Sunday’s remember how it was on Sundays? We can have that again. There’s the four us and he’ll be with us, in spirit. What do you say?” It’ll be just like it was, just like it should be. One big happy maladjusted family.
“What will you do with his things?” Gilbert asked
“His things?” Glee asked indignantly.
“Well his instrument….his…things” Gilbert said haltingly. He knew he was in trouble.
Glee turned her slender body to face him “What do you mean what will I do with them?
“Well” he said slowly “will you donate them to a charity? Sell them perhaps? There is a market certainly. I could probably fetch well into the six figures or more for his instrument if you’ll allow me to make inquiries”
“I’ll do no such thing.” Glee snapped “I’ll keep them where they are, where they belong.”
“Why?” Gilbert said equally loudly “He left you nothing except debt. So why won’t you let me sell what I can for you?”
“Why?” Glee shouted emotionally “Because they are his, they are his belongings”
“He’s dead, Glee” Gilbert said softly.
“You know he never liked you and now I can see why” she answered.
“That’s uncalled for” I said to her and turning to Gilbert I added, “Nor is it true” but Gilbert’s bloodshot eyes were locked on Glee. She had hit target. She had hurt him
“You bitch.” He whispered.
“Heartless little schemer.” She answered and then turned her back on him.
No one spoke but after several seconds. Finally I said softly “He is dead, Glee. And you should start thinking about…”
“That doesn’t mean everything changes.” She snapped “That isn’t what it means. Only people like you think like that”
“Frankly, and yes I recognize that this is a somewhat inappropriate statement to make at this time” Gilbert while examining the black and white marble floor tiles.
“When has in inappropriate ever stopped you?” Glee snarled.
“All right” he said emphatically Okay. Fine. You talk about not being liked?”
“I think we need to get off this” I interjected “Before we say more things we don’t mean”
“I don’t know why I’m here.” Gilbert said loudly “I didn’t like him very much” and then he corrected himself “Not at the end” and turning to Glee he said “And I knew him for years before you arrived. There wasn’t much about him to like at the end”
“I prefer to recall him as in his fantasy life” I said “The glamorous life. The ideal of him”
“Believing in fantasy leads to madness.” Gilbert answered “He believed it and look at what it did to him”
“But the reality of him is to stark.” I said “Too bleak. And it always ends in death. I stayed in touch for a few years. He would be clean and sober for years at time and then relapsed periodically into drugs and alcohol again.”
“When did you hear from him last, Earnest?” Dylan asked
“Oh, five years was it? Yes. Five years. But we were on again off again constantly. He would stop the drugs, stop the boozing and seem genuinely interested in focusing on music again. But he had declined as a performer; some of the old spark was there every now and then. He told me he was embarrassed by the bookings.
“After he got ill last summer just decided to die.” Glee said “Several years ago, in despair, he stopped playing entirely. It was too painful for him. He felt like his career had been ripped from him, and he didn’t have the great venues to play in anymore and it just crushed him.”
“Ripped from him by whom? Fate?” Gilbert asked “he screwed himself, plain and simple”
“They closed the doors to him.” Glee said angrily “He was blacklisted. You know that. You know that more than anyone else”
“He was blacklisted because he lost control of himself and as a result everything around him disintegrated, his career his family. Everything.” Gilbert said “How can anyone with that much opportunity be called a victim? ‘He had everything handed him and he messed it all up.''
I didn’t want to hear it. I changed the conversation “When did you see him last?” I asked Gilbert.
“Oh” he rolled his eyes and calculated “Last year…no …yes when he had that liver failure issue. I phoned”
“I didn’t hear about it” I said
“We kept it under wraps” Glee added “he wanted it that way”
“He should have died then” Gilbert said twirling a plastic stick in his tea.
“Oh ease up will you please?” I said
Why? I speak the truth. He gave up. There have been other concert violinists with the same problems and they did not just give up. Their careers did not suffer. Other concert artists have gone into decline, accepted it, and just moved on, playing music festivals far and wide, founding chamber orchestras, taking up conducting, taking up full-time teaching, starting private academies and so on. But for some reason, our boy could not bring himself to do any of those things. He thought too much of himself. He was as much the victim as the beneficiary of his public-relations stunts “The bottom line is he went along with it. He let them promote him as an attractive commodity rather than an attractive musician. That’s how he landed on the Tonight Show so many times. And our world, the classical world is not nor was it then, ready or willing to deal with. We are not Hollywood this world of ours. You can't cross back. There is no crossover in our universe, nor should there be. In that world, that Hollywood world, personalities reign over substance. With us, with our kind art is the thing. He never should have tried that crossover thing; it’s dangerous because sometimes you can't cross back. The bridge behind you gets blown up.''
A group of students slowly made their way into the cafe
“Must they open that door every time they come in and leave?” Gilbert growled as he cast the evil eye on some departing students.
“Well yes, that’s the entire purpose of a door” I said “It serves no other purpose”
“It lets in the cold air” he snapped.
“We’ll have them exit through the back, how would that be?” I said
“Why don’t we just meet in a bus station or something?” he snarled.
“You have no idea what bus station looks like.” I said “For all you know this is a bus station.”
“And what happened between you and him?” I asked Gilbert.
“He stopped talking to me ten years ago.” He answered “I booked to play for a large condo community in South Florida. The money was good. Glamorous? No But a good paycheck. I brought it to him in person. He was drunk or maybe he was high, but he was in a foul mood. He was insulted. Kept screaming “A condominium!” smashing things. Threw a lamp at me. That was the last of us. Then he called earlier this year. We spoke for a while. Never mentioned Florida”
He stared out into the rain and then turned to Glee and said “It’s astounding how much of what he did to us we simply decided to forget”
Although she was looking out the window, Glee reached across the table and taking Gilbert’s mighty hand in her own and kept it there which caused the ever cantankerous Gilbert to smile slightly.
“Do you know how to best describe his style? Dylan asked to no one specifically
“Pyrotechnic” she said
“Pyro what?” Gilbert asked, of course.
“Pyrotechnic.” Dylan said again “He had a pyrotechnic style”
“Firey?” I asked.
“All right yes, Firey.” She said “He had a firey style. And that’s what made him.”
“Well that and incredibly good looks and a dazzling personality, chiseled jaw, wavy locks” I added.
“Mercurial. He was a mercurial performer” I said “It was what I called him in the first column I wrote about him. He didn’t know what it meant. He assumed it meant mediocre”
“He was barely educated” Gilbert added.
“So I look up from desk the next morning and there he is, red as beat, my column in his clenched fist demanding to know why I called him mercurial. I reached across the desk opened the dictionary and read the definition “Wonderful word mercurial. Related to the Roman God Mercury. Unpredictable, lively, active, brilliant, impulsive, consistent.” He said “Oh. Well in that case do you want to go and have a few drinks?” I said yes. He needed an agent. I abhorred writing columns so I told him I would be his agent. He agreed. We were both good and drunk by then. But I represented him for seven long years. Never had a written contract between us. I booked him in more than 100 concerts a year back then. He grossed $350,000 a year just from the shows. And then there were records. Do you know how much money $350,000a year was back then?” I asked.
“A lot” Dylan said.
“A lot” I echoed by raised my eyebrows to emphasize the point.
“He said many times” Glee said “he repeated himself a great deal towards the end, but he said many times that he sold out Carnegie Hall”
“He did” I said “Well, it was him but what sold seats was his passion. He was a passionate performer.”
Gilbert’s large mouth opened to make a point, a negative one no doubt, but I raised a finger to signal that I was still making my own point.
“He had near perfect technical ability.” I said, took a sip of my increasingly cool coffee and added “You rarely hear that said of him, but it is true. Near perfect”
I took another sip and added “He played at the White House you know that of course, state dinner. I was there, too. He was the complete center of attention that night and he devoured every second of it. The dinner was in honor of some Middle East king, something like that. When the performance was over, the king motioned with his fingers for our boy to come to the main table so he could be introduced. And I watched this transpire with great interest because he was not a man to be beckoned. The king motioned again, and he nodded. Then the President motioned for him to come forward and again, he nodded, politely, but didn’t move from the spot where he had been performing. They came to him. The President of the United States of America and the oil rich king had to stand and walk to him. Extraordinary.
“Part of him suspected that he was just cow poke from nowhere and other part of him thought he was God Almighty” Glee said dreamily.
“He never thought of himself as conceited” Gilbert said “Which is why he was so conceited”
“He did things like that” I said “Like the White House thing, t just to be difficult I assume”
“Can we blame him?” Dylan “He did the Tonight Show 15 times, some sort of record for classical performers”
“Yes” Gilbert snorted “a record to avoid”
“But” I countered “the point is he had people attending classical music concerts who'd never been before. “He spent a decade as one of the few classical musicians known to the general public.”
“Who cares what the general public knows or doesn’t know about our world? I say it’s a bad thing if the general public has heard of a performer or conductor” Gilbert said.
“How could that possibly be a bad thing?” Dylan asked
“Our world” Gilbert said slowly “The world we live in, the classical world. It’s complex, intelligent, sophisticated. We are one of the few institutions left where standards matter. If Joe Six pack from North Lower Nowhere knows of a performer or conductor it means our standards are falling”
“Well once again the voice of lunacy speaks” I said
“You think it’s just me that thinks that way?” Gilbert answered “They all think that way and that was why everything he did pissed them off. When he went on the Tonight Show, he didn’t even discuss music he talked about fishing and all that sort of thing. Where are the standards in that?”
“What happened between you two?” Dylan asked me “
“I was with him one afternoon” I said with a deep sigh “we were both drinking, this was in the beginning and he asked me “Why aren’t I on television anymore?” and I lied and I didn’t know. Well we argued, as drunkards do. So in the spirit of complete meanness, I phoned…I’ve forgotten his name, the producer up in New York, he’s dead now.”
Neither Gilbert nor I could recall the producers name and we fell silent for a few moments before Gilbert said “senior moment”
I shrugged and continued “Anyway, we get this producer on the line and he asks him “Why am I not television anymore?” and the producer doesn’t miss a tic and says “Because you are no longer new and no longer young and you are fast becoming an unreliable drunk” and he hung up. After that, he never spoke to me again. A few weeks later I got a letter from the questionably esteemed Mister Gilbert to my right stating that he was now representing our boy”
“I thought he would be a good client” Gilbert said nervously and turning to me added “And I did not pursue him, he came to me”
That was lie but I changed the course of the conversation again. I didn’t want to talk about that. It was the reason I had stopped speaking to Gilbert all those years ago.
“Where was the second wife? Why wasn’t she there today” I couldn’t remember her name but I could picture her beautiful face “What’s her name?”
“The bitch from hell.” Glee offered.
“Yes, but what was her name?” I asked again, my eyes rose to the wonderful tin ceiling.
“That was her name.” Dylan said.
“It was her title, actually” Gilbert offered.
“Why did he marry her?” I asked “She was so awful.”
“She thought he had money, he thought she had class” Glee said recalling her face “Jesus, he really was a hick back then wasn’t he?”
“No” I said “I think he was just young”
“You could spot her a mile away” Gilbert said
“Well, now we could, yes” I replied
“She’s the one who turned him to drugs.” Dylan said “He was innocent drunk before” her.
“She didn’t even have the class to show up to the man’s funeral” I said.
“Well thank God for that because she’s dead” Glee said happily.
“Dead?” I repeated.
“Yes. Dead. Seven or eight years ago” Glee said “Put a gun in that lovely mouth of hers and pulled the trigger”
“I understand no one claimed the body” Dylan added.
“Jesus” I whispered “She was so beautiful”
“What about the mother?” I asked “You never hear much about his mother.”
“A drinker” Glee said taking a sip from Gilbert’s flask “very tragic. Died early on.”
“But the way he spoke about her rather loved.” I said “I always had the impression he disliked his father”
“I heard” Gilbert said “his father pushed him, mercilessly. He pressured the kid to practice for hours at a time.”
“Well that’s the oldest tune in the book though isn’t it?” I said. And I was right about that.
“Five years old.” Glee said “He told me once that his father put an instrument in his hands when he was five years old.
“I remember when he told me that as well “I said “we were getting drunk at the…oh I can’t remember that bar with all the oak wood and all that. Down on Massachusetts Avenue near 10th street. It was in a hotel”
We shook our heads as one. There had been a lot of bars over the years and most of them fit that general description.
“Anyway, he said he had made his orchestral debut, playing Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Denver Symphony. Imagine? Ten years old”
“Well” Glee “he was a child prodigy after all”
“He told me” Dylan said “That it was his old man who got him into Juilliard.
“He got booted out though” Gilbert said.
“Why?” Dylan asked.
“Generic disciplinary reasons is what I’ve always read’ I answered.
“He seduced a teacher.” Glee said as a statement of fact.
“A man or a woman?” Gilbert asked. He was fishing for gossip.
“You’d love it if it were a man wouldn’t you?” She answered and I had to laugh.
“And then he was …16?.....was he 16 years old when he won the Tchaikovsky violin competition in Moscow? Dylan asked
“Yes” I answered “And then there was the Paganini competition, in Italy, two years before Moscow. He was 14 years old when he won that, imagine? Fourteen years old. The first American-born violinist to win that prize. “
“Oh how the Russki’s loved him.” Gilbert added.
“I know” I said “I was there.”
“You were there?” Gilbert asked doubtfully “Why were you there?”
“Because I’m a God dammed communist.” I said
“Well we know that, dear, but why were you there?” Glee asked.
“I was the cultural editor at the Standard at the time” I answered “Anyway, he was brilliant. He played so rapturously that he received a five-minute ovation, and Russian women sent bouquets to his Moscow hotel room.”
“Bouquets?” Gilbert said “That’s it? That was the best they could do?”
“Oh all right, you’ve got me” I said tiredly “They sent their underwear as well. The bouquets were wrapped in the underwear of Russian women. Woolen. It’s cold in Russia”
“Well there’s a mental image I won’t soon forget” he said. “Thank you for that”
“But, ultimately” Dylan said putting us back on track “No gold medal was given. They just could not bring themselves to give the award to an American”
“Ah!” I spat “It was that North Vietnamese judge, nit the Russians.”
“Oh I remember that, Bon Ming…moon bong… something.” Gilbert said turning to Dylan “He sat there through the entire performance blowing smoke rings in the air the little creep. And all because we were bombing his country”
“He got the silver instead, didn’t he?” Glee asked.
“Insult to injury he had to share it with two Russians.” I said. “Still, at that time, his showing was the highest placement in the contest by an American violinist. Cold war and all of that.”
We fell silent and I added “He rose so suddenly after he took the silver.”
“Well his rise was fast his descent was so painfully slow.” Gilbert added but we all knew that. We had each of us gone through a blitzkrieg of drunken phone calls from him, crying, threatening demanding.
“I heard that when he returned home from Moscow to Idaho….” Gilbert said
“Colorado” Dylan corrected.
“All right, Colorado.” Gilbert said “I heard that when he returned home from Moscow to Colorado that his father had choreographed a publicity stunt and that included having the boy’s horse met him at the airport.”
“That’s a long drive for a horse isn’t it?” Dylan asked.
“And” Gilbert said tossing more gasoline on the fire “Let us return to the august Carnegie Hall. He sold the place out?”
“Yes we did” I answered.
“So what? Putting asses in seats does not equate to talent, we’re not Hollywood you know.” Gilbert said to us as he stared out into the rain filled streets ‘The entire point of that concert, if you will remember was to prove that he had the right stuff for a long term career that he wasn’t a pretty boy flash in the pan. And you saw what happened, you were there. You were sitting next to me for Cripe sakes. He reinforced the image of a musician wonderfully adept at light repertory and at sea in Brahms.”
“The man’s dead” I said firmly “Show some Goddamn tact will you?”
“Must you keep saying that?” Glee asked me mournfully.
“All I’m saying is that he succeeded for the wrong reasons.” Gilbert said firmly “It’s the same with all of these competition winners. They never have a chance to recover. His is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a gifted young artist, still personally and musically immature, is turned into a global commodity for a spate of wrong reasons.
His entire pachage was nothing more than mastery over a small body of 19th, 20th century showpieces that were intended to show off the violinist's art. That was all well and good in the beginning but as the years went by it grew old”
“He didn’t mature” Dylan added “as a musician”
“And” Gilbert continued “as expected the critics took him task increasingly for what they saw as, correctly I should add, of flash over substance.’you used to be able to start an artist in Carnegie Recital Hall and build them up over seven years. Now you have a couple of competition winners who reign supreme over a limited ability until the next couple of winners come along and pushes them out of the way.''
“But” I interjected “they always said that about him, from the very beginning “His repertoire relied too heavily on flashy pieces that lacked depth” but it didn’t bothered him, not in the beginning anyway. Nothing bad could touch him and he knew it. He used to say to me “Aside from technique of the highest caliber, you need the glitter. The conviction of your own style. The polish."
“He had no polish” Gilbert said looking directly at me “Not the right kind. He had flash. There is a difference you know”
“He was never an introspective artist, he said that once” I said in his defense. “He told me “Ernie, the problem with introspection is that it has no end.”
“He failed completely in the heavier repertory, Beethoven and Brahms.” Dylan said “You know that”
“Because he was never given the opportunity early on to develop and grow.” I said
“That’s not true” Gilbert said “The opportunity was there for the taking. He chose not to take it and he paid for it as a result. The Big Five orchestras barely acknowledged him.
“He played with Philadelphia and Cleveland” I said
“He played with them once” Gilbert corrected me “perhaps twice Boston, Chicago New York Philharmonics? Never. The music directors at those orchestras didn't want to spend their time conducting his repertory. And had they asked for Beethoven or the Brahms, he wasn't ready. You can't make a career just on bravura repertory.”
“But you can make a career out of being charming” I said “And he was charming”
“He was overbearing” Gilbert added
“He could be tactlessness.” Dylan added “He told a conductor once, I’ve forgotten who it was, when he was told that he would have to perform a duo recital ''I don't intend to share half the burden with the pianist. It's a violin recital, and I intend to play just that.''
“My God” Gilbert said as the memory came to him “He posed for After Dark, do you remember that? What an uproar that caused! Do you recall that?”
“How can I ever forget?” I answered mournfully.
Gilbert leaned into me to closely and whispered “Tell me truthfully. Did you arrange that?”
“You are really obnoxious” I answered “and no. I did not. He did it on his own.”
I paused and looked out into the rain and saw us, him and I, twenty years in Manhattan at the photo shoot. He’s lying naked, belly down on a white carpet on the floor, the auburn red of the violin covering his torso, a bottle of Armand de Brignac in his hand “Cheer up Ernest! We’re letting them see a new side of me”
“Managing him could be a nightmare” I said aloud but barely above a whisper.
“You’re telling us?” Gilbert shouted. A group of students at a table turned to look at him.
“You are being loud” I said with an eye towards the kids.
“Oh fuck them” Gilbert said directly to the kids and waving them off he turned to Dylan and whispered “Our boy did a three page spread, shirtless, wearing cowboy gear.”
“I missed that one” Dylan said “What’s After Dark”
“It was this trashy rag” Gilbert answered. “It was long before you were around”
“Before I was around?” she asked
“Yes, you know, before you two were involved” he replied
“I think it was a legitimate weekly magazine, filled with celebrities” I added
“Well he was a cowboy you know” Dylan said
“Oh please, not everyone from Colorado is Cowboy” Gilbert said waving her off.
“Yes true” Glee said “but everyone from Turkey Ridge Colorado is a cowboy. I’m certain of that”
“Besides, he grew up on a ranch, for Cripes sakes” I added
“He really did wear cowboy boots.” Dylan said “Had a closet full of them”
''A Groton grad wears a Brooks Brothers. A cowboy wears boots.” Glee “There was nothing manufactured about that”
“Cowboy indeed” Gilbert said dismissively “He was trained at Juilliard.” And then he turned to me and snickered “You couched him into wearing those damn boots”
“I did not.” I said “The man wore cowboy boots”
“Snakeskin they were.” Glee said still on the boots “Who in the name of God hunts down snakes for their skin? Where do they get people to do that sort of thing?”
"He could stand on a horse" I said “Only cowboys can do that”
“Now there’s a talent every violinist needs.” Gilbert added with a majestic wave. “Did you advise him on that bit of trashy behavior as well?”
"He could play violin on a horse.” Dylan said “I saw him do it when we went to his father’s ranch or far or whatever you call those horse places"
“Oh I’m so sorry I missed that.” Gilbert said with a condescending air.
“Well anyway, it’s difficult to do.” Dylan added
“How would you know?” Gilbert cracked and then added “And once again I say unto ye “The triumph of flash over substance. He could play a violin on a horse but he couldn’t Beethoven in New York, or Chicago or anywhere else for that matter”
Pensive for a moment, he took a sugar packet, examined it, rolled into a ball and snapped across the table with a flick of one of his thick, hairy fingers. “Well anyway” he said, his eyes on the sugar packet “that whole After Dark thing was just eye candy stuff”
“Well he was eye candy” I said and took a large gulp of coffee. “In that regard, After Dark made sense.”
“True “Dylan said.
We fell silent for a moment. Glee ran a manicured finger over the rim of her cup, squinted and asked Gilbert “What did you just say?”
“That he wasn’t a real cowboy” Gilbert answered as he poured more whiskey into his coffee cup.
“No” Glee said sharply, her lips closed tightly her clear blue eyes focused completely on Dylan’s face. “You said to her ‘before you two were involved’
She leaned in and stared intently at Dylan from across the small round table “You were involved with my husband?”
Gilbert and I looked across at Dylan. Her mouth was open, her eyes were wide, her fingers dug into the sides of her cup. She took a deep breath.
“That isn’t what I meant” Gilbert lied.
“It was for one summer” Dylan said
“It’s all ancient history” I said cutting her off before dug a deeper grave.
The sentence was barely finished when Glee reached out quickly and slapped Dylan across the face. Dylan reached up to in shock causing the cup to tip and spill over the table. The shop fell silent as every eye watched the drama unfold.
“You two faced” Glee searched for the words, her face flushed. She raised her hand again and I took her by the wrist and lowered her arm to the table as Gilbert sopped up the coffee that was running from the table onto the floor.
“Every all right over there?” the tall, thin young man from behind the counter asked in a way that was intended to be commanding.
“That’s an idiotic question” Gilbert shouted back “Does everything look fine?” He turned around fully in his chair and waved his hand dismissively at the young people who stared across the shop as thought they were frozen in place. “Return to your comma’s.”
Glee turned her eyes to me and then to Gilbert.
“You two bastards knew what this tramp did and…” she hissed
“That’s enough” I said firmly.
She clenched her jaw and began to collect her purse to leave and I pushed her back down in to her chair.
“Sit down” I told her.
She sat down, her hands crossed over her purse that balanced on her lap. Her head lowered. She shook her head slightly. She sighed heavily. She was looking at the floor when she began to speak and then raised her eyes to Dylan. “I knew about most of them. I didn’t know about you”
“It happened quickly. It ended quickly” Dylan said as she tilted her slender face up towards to white ceiling “ I didn’t know you then, well I didn’t know you well. He told me that you two barely spoke. He lied. He lied about everything all of the time”
She looked directly across to Glee and with her eyes filling quickly with tears she shook her head and said “I was young and he was beautiful and I was stupid and dumb and you are my best friend and now I have no one. I’m alone and I deserve it”
“And you are my only friend” Glee said taking Dylan’s hand “and if a girl can’t slap her only friend who can she slap?” and Dylan laughed against her will and wiped away her tears and Gilbert rose a meaty hand in the air and shouted “Garçon! Coffee’s!”
“It’s self-serve” I told him.
“I don’t know what that is” he replied.
“It means you have to get up and go get the coffee” I answered.
“I don’t know what that is” he replied and then shouted at the tall, slender young man “And bring more paper napkins”
He spat out the word paper with complete disdain.
“He was flat broke” Glee said and then taking Gilbert’s hand in hers again she said “Maybe you should look into selling his things, his instruments and all”
“What about the records?” I asked “He was the labels Gold Children”
“He was the record labels golden child until his sales dropped” she said
“Which coincided with his drug problems.” Dylan added
“That and” Glee added “The public forgot him. He became unfashionable”
“He should have known the public would tire of him.” Gilbert added “Celebrity in the mainstream is a fleeting thing, nothing more than a disposable commodity in the mainstream.”
It was about that time” Glee added “when he tried to come back by presenting himself in a more sober and serious light, but the classical world didn’t want him back”
“Well no one took him seriously anymore.” Gilbert said “Those people tend to mistrust sudden fame. You know, he once said to me “Gilbert my lad, fame will make me immortal” but actually fame killed him. And it killed him a hundred times or more”
“He was so bewilderment by it all, by the loss of his career.” Glee said “He started losing weight. Drink more until he stopped playing the violin entirely.”
“How many concerts did I schedule for him” Gilbert asked “only to have him cancel?”
“He said it was all too painful for him” Dylan said.
“For the longest time it looked like he would reach superstardom but the moment never came” I said.
“I think we all waited for that moment” Dylan said. The only person who kept waiting for that moment was you, Glee”
The tall, rail thin young man arrived with a filthy white towel and sopped up the spilled coffee and walked back to his position to the counter causing Gilbert to point a spot on the table and say “I think you failed to leave some germs here, on this spot” but failing to get a raise out of the young man he said “Then there was that utterly ridiculous arrest at that motel on Martha's Vineyard.”
“I was never clear on what happened there” Dylan said
“It started out as drunken Tom Foolery is what it was.” Glee said “I was representing him at the time. A young woman he was seeing was staying there, at the hotel he was accused of breaking into and God only knows what else was involved with it”
“I was representing him then. “Gilbert finished “They arrested him for breaking and entering. The manager phoned the police and instead of simply sending him home for the night they arrested him for breaking and entering…of course he threw a punch at some point, as I understand it. They searched him and found cocaine in his pockets. Heroin and an unregister pistol in his car.”
“It all seemed to have ended there” I said
“Do you know that he tried to give his Guarnerius violin as surety?” Gilbert said with more than a little disgust “A 300 year old instrument. The judge, a music lover refused to accept it. He released on him on his own recognizance. They sentenced him to probation but his career never recovered. As you say Ernest, it was all over after that. People had simply had enough. In interviews afterward he claimed he found sobriety and was resuming his career but, no one was interested any long.
“But actually his career was already on the skids.” I added “Well, skids is such a strong word isn’t it? He was still performing, worldwide too, but not always with the finest orchestras or in the most prestigious halls, a situation he was well aware of. He never expected to fail. He truly believed that through some sort of…of…of… osmosis of some sort that he would never ever fall from Olympian heights he had always known. His swashbuckling ways ruined most of his professional opportunities, and his career began to swirl out of control. He started to drink even more than he did before, excessively in fact, smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine, heroin.”
“I question whether he was intellectually or personally equipped for the serious career he thought was being denied him.” Gilbert said “Frankly I doubt that he ever possessed the native ability to handle the repertory necessary for permanent success.”
“What?” I asked “How can you say such a thing?”
“Well it’s a valid point” Glee added to my surprise. “What he never seem to understand was that most of the people in music who have good careers are artists but are also very shrewd. They have always known what was good for their business and what wasn't, what to say to whom and when. But he never really understood how the game worked.''
“Nor was he a pusher” I added “and in the music business pushing is everything, I told him that. I said ''There are 60 orchestras in this country who hire perhaps two violin soloists per season. It's highly competitive you have to push a little bit “but it had all come so easy to him at first that, well, pushing wasn’t something he was comfortable with”
I looked across the table and noticed Gilbert was smiling. He caught my gaze and said “He was unique. And he was grand and that was how he made me feel about myself. It was a pleasure to know him”
“Most of the time” Glee added with a laugh and then looking over to Dylan she said “He was so handsome wasn’t he?”
“He was funny too” I said “Do you remember that thing you used to do with his bow?”
“You mean when he would put it down his pants?” Glee laughed and we all joined her.
We sat back in our chairs, each of us lost in a good memory of our friend. I looked out into street and noticed for the first time that the rain had stopped and the streets were bright in a sun streak. Perhaps, just perhaps, death may be the greatest of all blessings and we have come to fear it as the greatest of all evils.
“Are we okay?” I asked to one and all “Is everything all right between us?”
No” Glee answered “but we will be. We just have to accept what happened to him was his own doing, really, not ours”
“Will we ever be as grand again as we were back then?” Dylan asked
Sure we will.” I said “It’s just that we’ll never be young again. It’s our new reality. We’ll learn to live with the mistakes he made on his life and the mistakes we made in his life and then move along”
“To live in the here and now.” Glee said
“Well what more can be said?” I asked
“He seemed unable to thrive out of the limelight. So, he withered and died” Gilbert said. “Even the brightest candles are not meant to burn too long”
We took each other’s hand and Glee, being Glee hugged us all and held Dylan close for several seconds and then kissed her gently on the cheek. No one spoke for a moment until Gilbert said “I should take a leak before we leave” and he did and we waited for him making small talk and when he was finished we gathered our coats and hats and walked out into the rain.