A.A.Gill – I hate him! Why do I hate him? Quite simply because I find his writing is so consistently bloody brilliant. A new bundle of Sunday Times culture sections landed on the doorstep a few days ago (thank you the Maffins of Huddersfield) and the very first one opened at Gill’s television reviews didn’t exactly have me gasping for breath but certainly continued my admiration for this man’s work. Without unnecessary elaboration his writing is witty and stylish, polished to a degree others can only aspire to. It is said that the hardest writing makes for the easiest reading but his prose gives no indication other than it simply flows without effort. This is possibly not true but that is how it reads. I wish I could write half as well and I simply hate him. I hope the Sunday Times pays him oodles and oodles of cash. He deserves it.
I don’t know why but from the bookshelf in my bedroom I took down Dotson Rader’s memoirs of Tennessee Williams ‘Cry Of The Heart’ to read again after a long long interval and have found it as fascinating as the first time round. I can’t say I enjoyed it but I was deeply moved by it. What a tormented soul Tennessee was but then so many writers seem to have teetered on the verge, if not of madness, at least a mental or emotional breakdown. I think back on what I have read of Tolstoy and Gordon Craig as two examples, both monsters each in his own way who I would like to say more about at a later date but then there are all those American writers who killed themselves with booze or drugs or both. Next to them I am a boring figure or normality, if there should be such a thing as normality. But a quote here from Rader’s book – ‘The critics always bellow that their reviews don’t affect, psychologically, a writer’s ability to create. That isn’t true. Critics have killed more writers than liquor. They certainly defeated Tennessee. One of the few times I saw him cry was when he read a review about his work by John Simon, entitled ‘The sweet Bird of Senility.’ How smugly smart and how cruel can you get? For those who might not be au fait with Williams’ work the play is “Sweet Bird of Youth”. There is a saying that those who can’t do, teach. Perhaps it should be those who can’t do, criticise. After the mauling “The 88” got from the London critics it was at least two years before I could even think of writing again.
But it’s not only the professional critics who can be unkind. Another incident Rader mentions is as follows, ‘… we walked over to Park Avenue to get a taxi. While we stood trying to wave down a cab, a woman came rushing up to us.
“Aren’t you Tennessee Williams?” she asked.
Tennessee grinned, delighted at being recognised by what he assumed was a fan.
“I saw your play last night,” the woman continued.
“Yes?” he was still smiling’
“Yes. Tell me how can I get a refund? I thought it was just awful.”
Tennessee angered and hurt ran into the street.’
His advice to Dotson Rader was never be a playwright and, if there are budding young playwrights somewhere out there who are not prepared to put up with the shit that will be thrown at them, no matter how great they are, like Williams, stop right now.