“There are no two words more precious to a writer than, ‘You’re free.’” (Philip Roth)
My desk is a mess. It’s impossible to see its wooden top save for a few fuzzy patches, hair on a balding man. Ideas are scattered everywhere. I had it in my head that I would write about the book I just read; Walter Yetnikoff’s memoir (with David Ritz): ‘Howling at the Moon: The Odyssey of a Monstrous Music Mogul in an Age of Excess’, and now the time has come.
Bottoms up! I started this post with a 110 proof of Philip Roth and a jigger of Yetnikoff… I feel a theme coming on. Here it is: two intensely ambitious Jewish titans of a certain vintage (born; same year, four months apart); one from New Jersey, one from New York. Both are proud-nosed cowboys blazing their singular trails to wealth and notoriety. Both have felt the unbearable lightness of the world at their feet. One has won a Pulitzer (where in hell is his Nobel?), and one has shtupped more women and bumped more coke than a rock star on a life-long bender.
Aside from being a feverish fan of the Roth oeuvre, and having swallowed Yetnikoff whole in one long night (no pun intended, horn dogs), I can’t help but ask myself, what’s the fascination here? Why do I relate? Raising funds for my film JACK & ELLA, I canvassed wealthy Jews of a similar vintage- old and new-money alike. It was the nouveau-riche who jumped on board my risky passion play- with whom I sincerely bonded; the alpha-male entrepreneurs who crashed and bashed their way to the top of the heap. I can’t say that their lives (let alone- stock portfolios) mirror my own, but I feel a kinship with these mouthy aging warriors; who always, and I mean always, say what they mean and mean what they do.
I ponder the lingering dream of a good (in Roth’s case- great) book. Despite the fact that I am a Jewish woman (hear me roar), is there a part of me that is secretly a battering ram of a self-made Jewish man (fearless and full of fear)? If I wrote the story of my life, who would I make myself out to be?