I sit down at this time with very little news but many thoughts, and, as, it is the week before Thanksgiving, perhaps you will allow me to share them.
I received a voice message from Charlie Finch asking me to include more information about the late Jim Feldman’s life in music criticism. As I had not seen Jim since the fall of 1974, I had no sense of Jim’s professional career, and despite some extensive Googling, I had come up empty. So I got in touch with Susan Klebanoff, who, as mentioned in the last issue, was a longtime friend of Jim’s and she let me know that Jim “wrote for the Village Voice, among other publications, and amassed a large personal collection of music.” With this information, I was, indeed, able to find references to and some excerpts from articles written in the 80’s and 90’s in the Voice and other publications as well as subsequent references to the effect of his writings on a notable artist’s career. My apologies to any and all who felt my acknowledgement of Jim’s death was incomplete. I will say that, as I am not a journalist but merely a scribe, I can only deal with the information I am given. When, however, someone passes away and Yale has no obituary to send me, I do try to find one. Sadly, in Jim’s case, I could not.
The only direct news I received was from David Stone, who wrote some weeks ago:
“I just got the mailed Sept- Oct print version of the YAM in which my note about my lunch in Charlottesville with the Fallons was printed. Could you possibly put something in the next version re how the lunch took place in June, and my class note was submitted well before the tragic August 11-13 weekend events now generally referred to as ‘Charlottesville.’ Therefore, no reference could have been made to those then-future events. Otherwise, my note may seem like a rather oblivious item to our classmates who I am sure are well aware of what took place here later in August. On a brighter note, the next president of UVa, James Ryan, is Yale ’88.”
I promised David that I would print this note not only because his explanation deserves printing but also because his note illustrates what I have found to be a particularly galling issue around this role: the gap between the time the notes are written and the time they are actually published. Hence, David wrote me about events that happened in June; I wrote them up in July and, by the time they were published, Charlottesville had experienced a national tragedy. David’s fear–that his note about a bucolic pleasure in a then apparently untroubled town would appear insensitive — only arose because of this publication delay.
Frankly, the same thing has happened to me. Recently, I incorporated a note, with what I thought suitably harmless commentary, about a classmate who had appeared in The New York Times. Subsequently, but before my column was published, negative news about that individual emerged. As a result of this news, my including the person in a class note was viewed as unacceptable to a vocal few, an unexpected reaction of which I was recently and directly apprised. It wasn’t fun. It also made me think.
I realize that taking some heat is why Yale pays me the big bucks for this column. I am also cognizant that being a class secretary is also a quasi-public role within the relatively small community comprised of Yale alums, and that the line between good humored inclusion of news of our classmates and the apparent endorsement of any of their activities is a fine one and one which I have tried to walk with some aplomb. Nonetheless, it begs the question, “What is the role of a Yale class secretary and, more specifically, of the secretary for a class that attended Yale during four years of radical change for the college as it attempted to move, however belatedly, into the 20th Century?”
Each time I sit down at the computer (I almost wrote “put pen to paper”), I must be aware that each reader of these notes has led a life since Yale that eclipses by more than ten times the four years we spent there. During that time, each of us has undoubtedly experiences both joys and grief, success and failures, dreams realized and deferred and, dare I write it, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I can’t possibly know what these have been, but what I can know is that whatever paths any one of us has walked, and despite the contrary behavior allowed by social media, they are not mine to judge or opine on.
It seems to me that this role demands a sort of “staying above the fray.” So, what I do try to do, is to relate each classmates news in some way that ties it back to our fondly remembered four year home or some common experience in which we may all have shared if only as people alive at this time and walking the planet together. What I try not to do is, especially when relating news of public figures from our class, is allow any of my personal views on their positions, their politics or their other activities color my commentary. This is a social column not a political one, and there is no room in it for ad hominem attacks. And as long as I am writing it, there won’t be.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And as I end this column, written a week before Thanksgiving, allow me to close with some thanks of my own:
To my four children who presented Jessica and me with four new grandchildren since May bringing the total to eleven, my cup runneth over.
To my two youngest grandsons, Samuel Aloysius Wachter (born September 27th) and Samuel Bruce Fraser (born October 1st), you are destined to be known as “the Sams” and for the rest of my life, whenever something wacky happens, I will simply say, “The Sams did it,” and smile indulgently.
To the Yale football team, thanks for beating Princeton and good luck against Harvard, and
To the 20 or so new friends from our class that I have made during the first Tuesday of each month and the five of you who already were, thanks for just showing up. It’s 99% of everything.