Nerve deserts me in 1986 when I spot the American writer and social reformer James Baldwin sitting alone in the lobby of a grandiose Barcelona hotel. He is weathered and intense, absorbed in his own thoughts, with a face there could never be enough time to describe. I drink him in, but can do no more. I pin so much prestige to James Baldwin that to risk approach places my life on the line; I’d hang myself at any glimmer of rejection. History books overlook James Baldwin because he presented an unvarnished view of the American essence — as blunt and rousing as print would allow. His public speeches were intoxicating, his motivational palette of words so full of fireworks that you smile as you listen — not because of humor, but because he was so good at voicing the general truth, with which most struggled. His liking for male flesh gave the world a perfect excuse to brush him aside as a social danger, and he was erased away as someone who used his blackness as an excuse for everything. In fact, his purity scared them off, and his honesty ignited an irrational fear in an America where men were draped with medals for killing other men yet imprisoned for loving one another. Pitifully, on this Barcelona day, I do not have the steel to approach James Baldwin, because I know very well that I will jabber rubbish, and that his large, soulful eyes will lower at someone so ruefully new to the game. Shortly thereafter, he is dead.
MORRISSEY Autobiography. London : Penguin, 2013. p196.
wQr’s premiere podcast with KEVIN HEGGE and DON PYLE on MORRISSEY’s book posted here soon.