As he approached his teenage years, decades before winning a Pulitzer Prize for his music, American composer Ned Rorem began a diary—the first of many he would go on to keep. His diary entries could be candid, gossip-filled, profound, and often starry—increasingly so as he grew in age and fame. This particular entry was written in February of 1974, days after the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old grandchild of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. At the time of writing, her assailants—far-left terror group Symbionese Liberation Army—were demanding that the Hearst family distribute food to every needy person in California, to the tune of $400’000’000. They declined. 19 months later, having been caught on camera robbing a bank with the SLA, Patty Hearst was arrested and sentenced to 35 years in prison1.
The Diary Entry
Warm, and robin’s-egg bright.
As a child I used to ask my parents, Am I worth a million dollars to you? Why yes, of course, they reassured. After I’d been “bad” I would ask them, Am I still worth a million dollars?
Four decades later, without children and not rich, how would I confront the two-hundred-million-dollar ransom demand for a daughter, as Mr. William Hearst is asked to confront it this morning? From the sidelines the demand at first seems less outrageous than stupid. This money, asked as a benefit for the poor, would be absorbed without a ripple, leaving the poor as poor and Hearst poorer. Still, in the name of the Revolution, the demand’s not dumb. The gesture, like the granting of civil rights, is a fact that could burst an abscess. Probably I’d shell out. But then, I’m without children and not rich.
The first volume of Ned Rorem’s diaries to be published was A Paris Diary in 1966, followed the next year by A New York Diary. However, handily, those two books—which collectively cover 1951 to 1961—have since been released as a single volume. Next up was The Later Diaries Of Ned Rorem: 1961-1972, and then The Nantucket Diary of Ned Rorem, 1973-1985. In 2000, there was Lies: A Diary (1986-1999), and the final volume, Facing the Night: A Diary (1999-2005), came in 2006.
THE NANTUCKET DIARY OF NED ROREM: 1973-1985 by Ned Rorem. Copyright © 1987 by Ned Rorem. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author.
1. There is so much more to this story. Wikipedia is a good starting point should you wish to lose a few hours.