I received my Christmas present earlier than usual. It was a message sent via The Spectator from a gentleman who had been a reader since — hold on to your hats — 1947, when he was 18 years of age. He is now 90 and believed me to be 88. I thanked him and said that I was only 83. The message included some advice: to keep going, and that I still sounded young, and that was it. The best present by far.
Just think of it. What the world was like when the nice Bernard Cowley began reading The Spectator in 1947. The French were top bananas in French Indochina, as Vietnam was then called. There was French Morocco, and Algeria was considered part of mainland France. India was about to be partitioned, with catastrophic consequences, and the first postwar Olympics were to take place the next year in London. The American president was Harry Truman and the Brit premier was Clement Attlee. Rock’n’roll did not exist, and beatles were little crawly things. The most recent World Cup winner had been Italy, in 1934 and 1938, and the next one would be Uruguay in 1950, beating Brazil in the final. (Sixteen years after that, England would finally win it, beating Germany with the help of a friendly Russian ref.) People in Roswell, New Mexico, saw UFOs, the Marshall Plan saved Europe from starvation, and after piano-playing Harry introduced the Truman Doctrine, the Cold War began in earnest. A Brit could buy a house for £1,824 and a Greek called Phil married an English gal called Liz. They’re still married and doing well, despite the shenanigans of their children. Oh yes, and a woman called Hillary Rodham was born, as well as two men whose names were Reg Dwight (later Elton John) and David Bowie.
Some of these events made it into the pages of The Spectator in 1947, others did not. But as I said, Bernard Cowley’s wishes were the nicest present yet. Christmas is a time to act in a Christian way, forgive petty acts by petty people and appreciate one’s friends. And uplift oneself by attending classical music concerts, something I did last week at the invitation of my actor friend Alec Baldwin, who heads the Lang Lang International Patrons Circle, a group of individuals who are dedicated to extending the power of classical music. I took Jimmy Toback with me and it turned out to be a night to remember.
But first a word about music. When was the last time someone attended a classical music concert, then went out and mugged somebody? Better yet, when was the last time someone attended a rap gig and did not mug somebody? As far as I am concerned, rap was invented by Satan, but the New York Times assiduously covers this abomination and even has a brain-dead groupie reporter who refers to the women-bashing, N-word-using thugs as ‘artists’. But I’m forgetting what I just preached, not to respond to petty fools. Maxim Lando, a 20-year-old, performed a variation of Bizet’s Carmen by Vladimir Horowitz that left the audience stunned by its virtuosity. He also played two Liszt études, his head close to the keys à la Glenn Gould. Then came Elliot Wuu, just as brilliant, with frenzied eruptions of the leaping chords of Rachmaninov, finishing off with Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata. Alec Baldwin told me that he has often been disappointed after a movie and even a play, but never after a concert. How true.
When Albert Einstein was a youth, he studied the violin and he attributed his later scientific accomplishment to musical perception. Who am I, a poor little Greek boy, to argue with Einstein? What I can tell you is that if one composes a medley of profanity-based lyrics ‘F—k you, pay me’ and ‘It’s all in the game’, as an entertainment mogul by the name of Damon Dash recently did, it’s not exactly nourishment for the soul.
And so it goes, another Christmas is upon us, and I’m giving my party in a place called the Explorers Club, located across the street from me. Last year’s bash left my flat looking like a Cuban brothel on a Sunday morning, so this year a change of venue will stop the mother of my children, in faraway Switzerland, spying on my guests and me having to lie and say they ain’t misbehavin’. This has been a wonderful year, with Boris coming to power and Brexit around the corner. After my bash, a night after Jay McInerney’s annual shindig, and that of Prince Pavlos two days later, I am off to Gstaad, a place where visitors are so old they pass as middle-aged even in Palm Beach. This year I will close it out by skiing at Christmas, something I’ve avoided doing all these years because of the crowded slopes and conditions. The reason I’m doing this is that there is talk about age limits coming into force next year. Just kidding: there will never be an age limit for skiing in Gstaad because most rich people don’t ski. Except for the richest Swiss, Ernesto Bertarelli, who is not only the one with the most moolah, he’s also a hell of a skier.
A very Happy Christmas to all of you at The Spectator, and all of you readers out there. See you on the slopes.