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ANDREW ELIOT’S DIARY. I don’t know how I could have dreamed it was a good sign.
January 9, 1978
I don’t know how I could have dreamed it was a good sign.
When Andy got back east from spending Christmas with his mom and her tycoon in San Francisco, he called my office and asked if we could meet for lunch. I thought, Hallelujah the millennium, my son wants to make friends with me. This was especially encouraging since next September he’ll be starting college. And I’m hoping to persuade him to choose Harvard.
Gauchely I suppose, I asked him if he wanted to eat at the Harvard Club. He turned thumbs down on that because it was “bourgeois.” I should have known then that bad news was in the offing.
I met him at a health-food place in Greenwich Village, where, as we ate a lot of sprouts and leaves, I tried to bridge the chasm separating us with all the loving words I could think of. But, as ever, it was he who was the one conveying truth to me.
He brought up next year. I quickly assured him that if he didn’t want to go to Harvard I honestly wouldn’t mind. He could go to any college in the world and I would gladly pay the tuition.
He looked at me as if I were a man from Mars. And then patiently explained that American education wasn’t relevant to anything. In his view, the whole Western world was decadent. And the only solution was to cultivate our spirits.
I told him I’d back him up in whatever he’d decided.
To which he replied that he strongly doubted it, since his decision was to drop out of the whole family.
I then said something like, “I don’t get it, Andy.”
He then revealed that his name was no longer Andrew, but Gyanananda (I had to ask him to spell it), which is Hindi for “seeker of happiness and knowledge.” I tried to take this all with good humor and offered that he would be the first Eliot of that name.
He explained that he was no longer an Eliot. That he was opting out of everything my rotten generation stood for. And was going to spend his life in meditation. For this he did not want, nor did he need, any of the so-called Eliot money.
When I asked him how he planned to live, he replied simply that I wouldn’t understand. I then explained that my question was not philosophical, but practical. For example, where would he be living?
In the footsteps of his guru, he replied. At the moment this prophet was presiding over an ashram in San Francisco, but was getting intimations from his karma to return to India. I then asked him what he was going to use for money. He replied that he had no use for it. I asked, still more specifically, how he planned to eat. He said that he would beg like the rest of the swami’s followers.
I proposed that, since I was a generous soul, he start his begging with me. He refused. Because he sensed I would use it as a string to tie him and he wanted to “fly untrammeled.”
He then got up, wished me peace, and started to go. I pleaded with him to give me some sort of address, somewhere to get in touch with him. He said that I could never be capable of being in touch with him unless I divested myself of all material things and learned to meditate. All of which he knew I would never consider.
Before he left, he offered me some parting words of wisdom — a kind of benediction.
He said that he forgave me for everything. For being an unenlightened, bourgeois, and insensitive father. He bore me no malice since he understood that I was a victim of my own upbringing.
He then walked away, stopped, lifted his hand in valediction, and repeated, “Peace.”
I know that he’s a minor and I possibly could call the cops and have him grabbed for psychiatric observation. But I know he’d wriggle out and only hate me more (if that’s possible).
And so I sat there looking at my plate of foliage and thought, How did I screw up like this?
“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you, Mr. Rossi.” Danny was sitting in the Park Avenue office of Dr. Brice Weisman, a world-renowned neurologist. Having taken enormous pains to ensure confidentiality, he had arranged a thorough examination. Though the doctor was about to put a name — and perhaps a fate — to it, Danny had known there was something physically wrong with him from that horrible moment in the studio when his left hand suddenly rebelled, refusing to obey the brain that bad been its absolute master for forty years.
The following day he bad returned to the television studio with the rehearsal tapes he had made at home. Then he, Maria, and a single engineer superimposed them at the crucial moment in the previous night’s taping when his hand had failed him.
Though Maria was his accomplice in this bit of deception so uncharacteristic of Danny, he had not confided in her completely. He had simply pleaded a busy schedule, impatience, and even television economy for this bit of electronic trickery.
“After all,” he had joked, “I’m dubbing myself. It’s not as if I had to sneak in Vladimir Horowitz.”
The only thing that made Maria suspect something more serious was Danny’s persistent questioning about whether the engineer was “a trustworthy guy.” Did he realize how many times he asked her? What was bothering him?
Indeed, that was what had brought Danny to Dr. Weisman’s office.
At first the neurologist merely listened impassively as Danny offered his own explanation as to why his left hand occasionally trembled. And that night, as well as in practice sessions thereafter, had seemed to be disobeying his mind.
“I mean, clearly it’s fatigue, Doctor. I suppose it could be nerves, too. I drive myself very hard. But obviously, as you can see from all those little movements you asked me to do — touching my fingers and all that — there’s nothing wrong with me physically.”
“I’m afraid there is , Mr. Rossi.”
“I can detect a peripheral tremor in your left hand. There’s also some discernible bradykinesia — meaning it moves slightly slower than your right. All of this indicates basal ganglia dysfunction. In other words, some kind of damage to the motor area of your brain.”
“You mean a tumor?” Danny asked, his fear exacerbating the tremor in his hand.
“No,” the doctor said calmly, “your CT scan shows no evidence of one.”
“God, that’s a relief,” Danny sighed. “Then how can we fix this damn thing so I can get back to work?”
Weisman paused and then answered softly, “Mr. Rossi, I would be less than honest if I told you we could ‘fix’ your condition. In fact, we can only hope that it progresses very gently.”
“You mean it might spread to my other hand as well?”
“Theoretically, that’s possible. But when someone as young as you presents this sort of unilateral tremor, it usually remains on that one side. And, you may be relieved to know, the loss of function is very, very gradual.”
“But you’re a doctor, dammit. Why the hell can’t you cure this sort of thing?”
“Mr. Rossi, much of the working of the brain is still a mystery to us. At this stage of our knowledge, the best we can offer are medications that mask the symptoms. But I assure you, we can hide a tremor as small as yours for many years.”
“Will these drugs let me play the piano?” he asked.
Dr. Weisman took off his glasses and began wiping them with his tie. Not that they really needed cleaning. But this way Daniel Rossi’s face would be out of focus when he told him the worst.
And he began with a kind of verbal anesthetic.
“Mr. Rossi, may I tell you, I’ve always admired you as an artist. And what I find most remarkable about your talent — and what will help you in what I know is going to be a difficult situation — is your versatility.”
He paused and then consigned Danny Rossi to a living death.
“I’m afraid you won’t be able to play concerts anymore, Mr. Rossi.”
“Not at all?”
“No. But your right hand is fine and very likely to remain so. You’ll be able to continue conducting with no problem.”
Danny did not reply.
“And the best consolation I can offer is something I learned from one of your own TV programs. Giants like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven all started as performers, but are remembered today only because of what they wrote. You can throw the energy you once spent at the keyboard into composition.”
Danny hid his face with his hands and began to sob more intensely than he had at any time in his life.
Dr. Weisman could not offer any further comfort. For he had no inkling of what his words would elicit from his patient’s psyche.
Danny suddenly leapt to his feet and began to pace the room. Then he shouted from the depths of his grief, addressing the neurologist almost as if his diagnosis had been an act of hostility. “You don’t understand, Doctor. I’m a great pianist. I’m a truly great pianist.…”
“I’m aware of that,” Weisman replied softly.
“But you don’t get my point,” Danny retorted. “I’m not that brilliant a conductor. And at best my composing is second-rate, derivative. I know myself. I can’t do any better.”
“Mr. Rossi, I think you’re being much too harsh on yourself.”
“No, goddammit, I’m being honest. The only thing I’m any good at is playing the piano. You’re taking away from me the one thing in the world that I can really do well.”
“Please understand,” the doctor responded, “I’m not taking it away from you. You have a physical disorder.”
“But what the hell caused it?” Danny demanded furiously.
“It could be any one of a number of things. You could have been born with this condition, which has only now surfaced. It can also be the result of diseases like encephalitis. It’s even been known to be induced by certain medications.…”
“What sort of medications?”
“I don’t think that would apply in your case, Mr. Rossi. I’ve looked very carefully at the list of drugs you gave me.”
“But I lied, Dr. Weisman. I omitted a few. I mean, with my schedule I’ve come to rely on all sorts of stimulants to get me up for performances. Can they have caused this?
“Conceivably. Is there anything else that you ye neglected to mention?”
Danny now let out a feral roar. “Jesus — I’m going to murder that fucking Dr. Whitney!”
“Not the notorious Beverly Hills ‘Dr. Feelgood’?”
“You mean you know him?” Danny asked.
“Only from the damage I’ve seen in the patients his ‘cocktails’ have brought to my office. Tell me, did his ‘vitamins’ make it difficult for you to sleep?”
“Yes. But he prescribed —”
Danny nodded mutely.
“And how long has this been going on?”
“Two-three years. Could that have —”
The neurologist shook his head in frustration. “That man should really have had his license revoked. But I’m afraid he’s got too many powerful patients protecting him.”
“Why did he do this to me?” Danny shouted again in frantic despair.
Dr. Weisman’s answer was somewhat sterner than his previous remarks.
“In honesty, I don’t think you can blame it all on the wretched Dr. Whitney. In my experience, his clients have been at least marginally aware of what they were getting into. And you are a highly intelligent man.”
Daniel Rossi walked the twenty blocks to the Hurok office in a kind of trance. He had not learned anything he hadn’t already known subconsciously. For long before he’d heard the dread pronouncement he had sensed the catastrophe the doctor had confirmed.
But at this moment he was shocked beyond feeling. And he would take advantage of this temporary numbness to perform the painful act the doctor’s diagnosis now required.
His abdication from the keyboard.
As soon as they were alone Danny told Hurok that he’d done an agonizing reappraisal of his life, his lifestyle, and what he had accomplished. In balance, he’d decided that he should be spending more time on composition.
After all, he reasoned, who remembers Mozart as a pianist — or even Liszt? But what they wrote abides forever.
“Also, I think I owe it to Maria and the girls to spend more time at home. I mean, before I know it they’ll be grown up and gone. And I won’t ever have enjoyed them.”
Hurok listened patiently and did not interrupt his virtuoso. Perhaps he was consoling himself with the thought that many great performers in the past had opted for a premature retirement. And then, after a few years’ absence from the intoxication of applause, had returned and concertized more actively than ever.
“Danny, I respect your decision,” he began. “I won’t try to disguise the fact that I’m distressed — because you have so many wonderful years ahead of you. All I’ll ask is that you finish out the two or three commitments left on this year’s program. Is that reasonable?”
Danny hesitated for a minute. After all Hurok’s kindness to him, the impresario at least deserved the truth.
And yet Danny could not bring himself to tell it.
“I’m really sorry,” he said softly. “But I have to stop immediately. Of course, I’ll write to all the orchestras concerned and give them my apologies. You might —” He hesitated. “You might invent a kind of sickness for me. Hepatitis maybe.”
“I wouldn’t like to do that,” Hurok answered. “All my life I’ve tried to be above board in my dealings, and it’s much too late for me to change. I’ll just look through my schedules and see if I can fill your dates with artists of your caliber.”
With an undisguised look of sadness on his face, he began to shuffle through his papers. Suddenly he gave a wistful little chuckle.
“What is it?” asked Danny.
“I’ve already found one pianist whom I can substitute for you in Amsterdam — young Artur Rubinstein, age eighty-eight!”
Fearing he would be unable to retain his composure much longer, Danny stood up to leave.
“Thanks, Mr. Hurok. Thank you for everything.”
“Look, Danny, I hope we’ll stay in touch. In any case, I’ll be at the premiere of your first symphony.”
He turned to go. The old man then called out to him as an afterthought, “Danny, if it’s facing audiences that’s the prob tern, you could still record. Look at Glenn Gould and Horowitz. There are so many brilliant performances still locked up inside you.”
Danny simply nodded and walked out. He could not say to Mr. Hurok that the pianists he had named still had the use of both their hands.
At 2:00 A.M. Danny was sitting at home in the near-total darkness of his third-floor studio. A gentle voice interrupted his solitary anguish. It was like a small candle at the end of a long shadowy cave.
“What’s wrong, Danny?” Maria asked. She was in her nightgown and bathrobe.
“What makes you think there’s anything wrong?”
“Well, for one thing, you’re sitting in the dark, so you’re obviously not writing. For another, I haven’t heard any real music for hours. I mean, that’s unless you consider a million repetitions of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ real music.”
“Mozart wrote a whole series of variations on that tune,” he replied without conviction.
“Yes, I know. It’s a favorite encore of yours. But I don’t hear any variations, Danny. That’s why I’ve come up. You know I’ve never interrupted you before.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate it if you stuck to that policy.”
“I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s wrong.”
“Nothing’s wrong. Just leave me alone, please.”
He was inwardly glad that she disobeyed him and came over to kneel by his chair.
But when she reached out to take his hands, he withdrew them quickly.
“Danny, for the love of God, I can see you’re going through hell. I know you need me now, darling, and I’m here. I want to help.”
“You can’t help me, Maria,” he answered bitterly. “Nobody can.”
For the moment he could say no more.
“It’s your left hand, isn’t it? Look, I’ve known something was wrong since that evening in the studio. I’ve passed your bedroom late at night and seen you sitting by the lamp, just staring at it with a kind of panic.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my left hand,” he answered coldly.
“I’ve seen it tremble at dinner, Danny. And I’ve watched you try to hide it. Don’t you think you should see a doctor?
He did not respond verbally. Instead he began to weep.
She put her arms around him.
“Oh, Maria,” he sobbed, “I can’t play the piano anymore.”
And then he told her everything. His tragic journey that had begun at Dr. Whitney’s and ended with Dr. Weisman.
When he’d finished the story, for a long time they did nothing but cry in each other’s arms.
Finally she dried her own tears and grabbed him firmly by the shoulders.
“Now you listen to me, Daniel Rossi. As terrible as this thing is, it isn’t fatal. You’ll still have a career. You’ll still be involved in music. And most important, you’ll still be alive to be with your family. And most especially with me.
“I didn’t marry you because you could outplay Liszt. I didn’t marry you because you were a star. I married you because I loved you and I believed you when you once said that you needed me. Danny, darling, we can get through this together.” Maria kept holding him as he leaned on her shoulder, sobbing softly.
And, unlike all those audiences that clap and then go home, she would always be there.
She stood up and took his hand. “Come on, Rossi, let’s get some sleep.”
They descended the stairway arm in arm. And when they reached the second floor, she did not let go. Instead she drew him down the corridor.
“Your bedroom?” he asked.
“No, Danny. Our bedroom.”
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