Monday, October 10, 2011


Excerpted from Ting and I

Preparing to write this memoir, I had reserved a special section about my friendship with David Brudnoy, whom I would have described as my best male friend during the period from 1969 to 1983, my years in Cambridge and Boston.

David, famous in Boston and well-known in national conservative political circles, died in December 2004. I had long believed that we were very close friends. In a gift he once gave me of a leather-bound autobiographical volume, The Education of Henry Adams, Dave wrote, “One of the greatest books to one of the greatest friends.” As a gift to Tina and me, associated with his single visit to us (in Bedford Mews), he gave us another leather-bound volume, Milton’s Paradise Lost, with the inscription, “To Tina and Doug, who have regained Paradise. Love, Dave, Feb. ’85.” Seemed very friendly to me.

David was the very bright only son of a Midwestern Jewish dentist and his wife. He was talented, ambitious, hard-working, and homosexual. Let’s add charming, warm, always polite. We became strong political allies. When I first met him, he was leaving the left to join the right, or at least the libertarian, minimum-government faction of conservatism, where he remained.

A thing I admired about Dave was that he took rational argument seriously. Abortion was a main issue at the time. He favored its being legal. I did not. I did not argue from the perspective of religion. My argument was closer to Kant’s moral imperative. I showed him the consequences of not defining a human organism as one with the human genetic code, from fertilization on.

Definitions of humanness based on awareness, rationality, age in the womb, etc. led to allowing practices such as euthanasia or the harvesting of embryonic organs, practices that are repulsive and dangerous. I won’t go into the details here, but Dave was intellectually honest enough to concede and to maintain that new position as his thereafter. He understood that arguments that start, “I know it’s human, but ...” refute themselves.

During my Cambridge and Boston years, Dave and I would talk frequently on the phone or in person. We would breakfast together monthly, sometimes with C, at the elegant Park Plaza Hotel. We lived a few blocks apart in the Back Bay and had many mutual friends, in the media and in libertarian and conservative circles. For example, we both spoke at a “Tell It to Hanoi” rally on the Boston Common, December 7, 1969, before a few thousand supporters of the U.S. role in the Viet Nam War. When he wrote an article on the occasion for National Review, he noted “Harvard YAFer Doug Cooper gave the evening’s most thoughtful speech: ‘The war is not hurting us so much as are its critics, who clamor only for material things; we need more than a higher standard of living; we need a higher standard of character.” I had arrived at Harvard in September 1969, only three months earlier than he, so this would have been one of our earliest interactions.

In 1997, fourteen years after I moved from Boston, Dave finished a memoir, Life Is Not a Rehearsal, detailing his growing up, his ideological journey and professional success, his lovers, his homosexuality, his drug use, his AIDS, and his losses due to that lifestyle. He was at that time enmeshed in a very painful decline that ended seven years later.

The blurb on the book jacket summarized his professional history: “A graduate of Yale with a major in Japanese, David Brudnoy went to graduate school at Harvard (East Asian Studies) before getting his Ph.D. in American intellectual history at Brandeis. In 1976 he won a full-time talk radio slot at Boston’s WHDH, then moved to WRKO in 1981, finally going to the region’s powerhouse, WBZ, in 1986. In addition to his hugely successful radio show on WBZ, he is a TV commentator, film critic, newspaper essayist on politics and travel, and teacher of journalism at Boston University.” They could have added that he was a frequent contributor to conservative journals, especially National Review, but “conservative” might not have helped book sales.

By the time Dave’s book was published, 1997, I was sufficiently distracted with Tina’s and my life that I did not read it. Lately, writing this memoir, I’ve dipped into it, getting many a surprise. Dave had revealed to me toward the beginning of our friendship, in 1970, that he was homosexual, something he asked me to keep secret. I knew nothing of his frequent drug use (Mescaline and LSD), until now. I knew he had a drinking problem for a while, but I did not know the seriousness of it.

David, I hardly knew ye.

It seems that the friendship I thought we had was, in fact, of minimal significance to him. I was not gay, as so many of his closest pals were. Once, in reference to a media opportunity he could have opened up for me, he let slip that “my father told me never to promote a rival.” Rival? I thought we were buddies.

I left Boston in 1983, and I do not recall seeing him after that, other than his visit to us in 1985 and my trip to Boston with our son Phil in 2000, where we had a highly enjoyable fancy lunch together. Phil would be at Boston College starting that year. I was not eager for the two of them to become in any sense close.

Dave’s book reveals that for all his success in worldly terms, his was a sad life, especially toward the end. He was a talented, ambitious, industrious man. His uncle, Herbert Isbin, was a noted physicist/engineer. A cousin, Sharon Isbin, is a well-known professional guitarist. As I knew at that time, and as his book reveals even more clearly, his homosexuality was paramount in his life. There is a narcissism, coupled with insecurity, a reflexive anti-conventionality, a superficiality, and an obsession with sex that I came to associate with the homosexual lifestyle, where promiscuity is markedly more prevalent than among heterosexuals. You can look that up.

David memorialized one of his very close friends (someone I knew casually) under a pseudonym in his book: “Blitz” died of AIDS in November 1989, at about 40 years of age. An earlier tribute Dave had written, using Blitz’s real name, had gotten Dave excommunicated from that family’s inner circle, which deeply hurt him. Dave told me he himself was nearly killed by a one-night-stander. His book reveals his belief that his best friend probably died that way.

Dave died in December 2004, 64 years old, of a painful and prolonged illness likely caused by homosexual sex. Absent the gay sex and perhaps the drugs, his life expectancy would have been in the mid-eighties. He lost twenty years. He described himself in his book as not brave but a “thrill seeker.” Was it worth dying for, Dave? Blitz? R. I. P.

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