Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. and Murray Kempton: A Reunion of Gentlemen

Almost eleven years ago, Newsday Sunday Currents editor Christopher Lehmann's elegy to Murray Kempton (in was headlined, "The last gentleman columnist," an appellation Kempton himself might have disputed so long as his friend William F. Buckley, Jr. remained alive and writing.

In flesh and blood Mr. Buckley no longer does, in this world, anyway, having passed at last after a battle with diabetes, emphysema, and widowhood. (His wife preceded him by almost a year.) But like his friend Mr. Kempton his mind and soul lives as unfurled in fifty books and enough essays (it was calculated elsewhere) to fill forty-three more, should anyone have the resource or the inclination to bind them.

Transideological friendships (the term was Mr. Buckley's, first, I think) fascinate the composed and mortify the conspiracy-obsessed, the bicyclist Mr. Kempton of the left with none of its recalcitrant self-delusions, the sailor Mr. Buckley of the right with none of its insouciant self-destructions, and they transcended the fascination and mortification alike by projecting together the ancient observation toward Edmund Burke that they chose their sides like fanatics and defended them like gentlemen.

It was enough, almost, to make one wish for his own passage in hand with Mr. Buckley's for the chance to observe the reunion once passed through the checkpoints.

On my seventy-first birthday he sent me the complete sonatas of Scarlatti, performed by Scott Morris. And a letter that began, "I pray your forgiveness for having waked one morning awhile back to the revelation of how much I missed you. There's little enough to say beyond that foolishness, and nothing of wisdom except to report that the years between 78 and 80 are quite shockingly depleting and to warn you to brace yourself for their leakage with an early commitment to the disciplines of Geritol . . . I cry your mercy for divagating but, when people haven't talked for so long, degrees of loss of touch do assert themselves. I do, as I first said, very much miss you but . . . I am otherwise content with having grown too old for further steps on the road to Avernus, which, as Virgil soundly observed, is a slope so easy that the Germans had but to begin it by underpaying Bach to travel straight down to the Holocaust."

He was a great artist, and a great friend.

---William F. Buckley, Jr., "Murray Kempton, 1917-1997," republished in Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography. (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2004; 594 pages.)

And, a tolerant acquiescent, if we are to believe the dedication inscribed upon Mr. Kempton's second anthology of essays, published (it seemed) a century after the first (For William F. Buckley, Jr., genius at friendships that surpass all understanding), and telegraphed in The New Yorker when the writer profiling Mr. Kempton noted Mr. Buckley's years-on badgering that the former get the anthology done already.

It was worth the protracted wait, of course, and the value merely began with Mr. Kempton citing Louis Armstrong from an ancient interview that there's kicks everywhere.

Mr. Buckley and Mr. Kempton spun their public musings with the sort of lyric intricacy voted heterodox by succeeding generations of rhetoricians and editors for whom any line more complicated than that from the sidewalk to the donut shop is an assault upon the donut shop itself. The destination is the thing; our Kemptons and Buckleys remind us that the journey means almost more, a reminder that affronts in a speed-bound era no matter that the reminder is lyric and witty in the same expression.

And few were the targets unworthy of their withering counterpoints, though you might have found one or two about whom you'd have said they escaped with their lives on the flimsiest of shadows of doubt.

For Mr. Buckley that would surely have been Gore Vidal; their infamous 1968 television debates seem to have been the prime among the prurient in recalling Mr. Buckley's signature hours, perhaps because it was the prime among the very few times he had lost his public temper. For Mr. Kempton that would surely have been Lillian Hellman, whose prettily disingenuous balloon received its first pricks in 1976, when Mr. Kempton lacerated the self-congratulatory selectivities of Scoundrel Time.

They had something else in common. Each was a nonpareil elegist. I have never read any such writing more elegantly affectionate than those written by either man, against even their adversaries or their discomforters, and I have seen none written for either that approaches their genius for escort to the next world.

The heart attack upon pancreatic cancer that struck down Murray Kempton in 1997 granted Bill Buckley his chance. None have yet done Mr. Buckley his genuine due, though one or two have approached the neighbourhood, and I am neither qualified nor worthy to enter. We shall have to wait our turn before we have the honour of hearing how Mr. Kempton welcomed Mr. Buckley through the gates, once Mrs. Buckley permitted him access, but we still have the sad pleasure of imagining how it left God lost for words for once. Even with Scarlatti and Satchmo offering the soundtrack.

None of which has to do with the customary subject of this journal. Unless you stop to consider that even recalling Mr. Buckley's famous mannerisms, or Mr. Kempton's pipe and bike, it isn't untoward to suggest that the pair of these men in the classic radio era would have delivered an elevating music in their own right, kicks everywhere.


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