REMEMBERING GORE VIDAL AT THE NATION
Kevin Rodrick, LAOberserved
Gore Vidal, who died last night here in Los Angeles, published 41 articles in The Nation magazine after his political conversion from right to left. (He ended up a partial believer in the conspiracy theory version of 9-11.) The magazine’s Jon Wiener, the author who also is on the air at KPFK and a professor at UC Irvine, interviewed Vidal often and writes an appreciation.
Gore was a great talker as well as a great writer, and I interviewed him many times—in front of live audiences, on the radio and for print—and in many places. The most memorable was at his legendary cliffside house in Ravello, on the Amalfi coast of Italy, where lots of people visited him. We arrived a few days after historian Eric Foner departed; he told me his daughter had played in Gore’s famous swimming pool with the children of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Gore sent my wife to sit by the pool with Howard Austen, his lifelong partner—she had a wonderful time with Howard—while Gore talked about his life and work in the deep shadows of his downstairs study….
Gore was glorious before live audiences. At the Los Angeles Times Book Festival at UCLA in 2007, Royce Hall was packed with two thousand of what can only be called “adoring fans.” Onstage, I asked him what he had said to Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins when they asked him to be the godfather of their son. His answer: “Always a godfather, never a god.” I concluded by noting that he had pretty much done it all—novels, essays, plays—and won every award; I asked, “What keeps you going? What gets you up in the morning?” He had a one word answer: “rage.”
In the late 1990s Gore named Christopher Hitchens as his official “successor, inheritor, dauphin or delfino.” But after 9/11, when Hitchens came out in support of the Iraq war and quit The Nation, Gore withdrew the nomination. Hitchens came back in 2010 with a Vanity Fair column titled “Vidal loco,” going after Gore for his endorsement of the “9/11 Truth” cause—which indeed dismayed many of us. (Gore held the milder version—that the Bush administration had advance warning, but let the attacks happen—rather than the view that the towers were blown up from the inside on Bush’s orders.)
One of Gore’s memorable quotes had special meaning for me–it came in his unexpected appearance in the 2006 documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, based on a book I wrote about Nixon’s attempt to deport Lennon in 1972 because of his anti-war activism. “Lennon was a born enemy of those who govern the United States,” Gore said with a twinkle in his eye. “He was everything they hated.… he represented life, and is admirable; and Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death, and that is a bad thing.”