REMEMBERING ARTHUR MILLER
By David Amram
The day before Arthur died,, I had received a phone call from his house, saying that he was coming home from the hospital, and his neighbor in Connecticut, Frank McCourt, with whom I am writing a Mass, called me and said he would visit him the following Monday, and I had hoped to join him as well.
It is difficult to even imagine that he has actually left us. Arthur was not only a great artist and warm and honorable for-real person.
He was a great friend, and really an old fashioned idealist who cared about the World and felt that art. artists and those who appreciate art were all supposed to ennoble and uplift people and make the world better for being there.
He couldn't stand superficiality or phoniness. He was also a proud person who wanted to be appreciated for being the true artist that he was. He never allowed himself to be put in the position of acting like a publicity hound celebrity egomaniac narcissist, or world famous and therefore unapproachable person.
He always acted the way we think gifted and accomplished people should be in their lives. He listened to others, always observed everything around him, and was able to laugh at much of the craziness that the world accepts as being normal.
Because of his complete lack of pretension, he was often uncomfortable when surrounded by jaded selfish people. He had incredibly high standards for the work he did, but could not bear snobbery in any form. So he avoided trendy chi-chi glitterati events, unless they were raising funds for all of the humanistic causes that he always put himself on the line to help.
In all the times I spent with him when we were not working together in the theater, when anyone on the street or anywhere else came up and spoke to him, he ALWAYS responded to in a natural way.
We first got together in 1963 when he chose me to compose the music for his plays After the Fall and then Incident at Vichy, both of which were done to open the Lincoln Center Theater. at that time. we had to use the old ANTA Theater in the Village, before the building uptown at the Lincoln center complex had been constructed, and we would hang out in the Village after long hours of rehearsals and listen to jazz and folk music and Middle Eastern music and talk about vibrancy of New York's endless series of unpredictable surprises and endless energy.
For the World\ Premiere of After the Fall, and opening of the new theater, he and Elia Kazan HAD gotten back together again, never mentioning to any of us about their falling out a result of the McCarthy hearings, and it was a glorious time.
Arthur was great to the actors and musicians and they all loved him as a soulful person as much as they admired him as a true artist. He often talked about how he had been a crooner when as a teenager he lived in Brooklyn and worked at the Navy Yard during the Depression.
When I visited him at his farm, we used to take stuff to the town dump in his old Land Rover, and all the people we ran into there talked to him and liked him, because he never was pretentious or snobbish to them. He loved to do farm chores as well as carpentry and cabinet making, and was proud of his studio which he built by himself for his wife Inga, in an old abandoned silo which he reconstructed.
He also showed me the much more modest tiny studio which he also built for himself by hand, where he wrote every day for hours.
"This is the same size as the tiny cabin which I rented when I wrote 'Death of a Salesman "in six weeks. I realized then that didn't need that much space or luxurious surroundings in order to write. I still feel that way."
We used to go to Chinatown and Little Italy when he would visit the city, and sometimes he just rang the doorbell and came by my old one and a half room apartment on Sixth Avenue in the Village. We would go next door to the old Art foods delicatessen, owned by Igor Sudarsky and his wife, both Holocaust survivors, and Igor and he would talk about old country values and World politics and search in America for reconciling old world values with the American wide open possibilities of being whoever you wanted to be and the pitfalls of the go-getter philosophy.
He was happier visiting New York rather than living there, because all the frantic pace made it hard for him to concentrate on his writing, which he did every day. but he often talked of how he loved the old remaining neighborhoods of New York, even though by the 60's and 70's you could see that they were all being decimated by gentrification. He was concerned about this, because he really cared about people, and his plays reflect his understanding of what we all go through every day.
Like Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, and Dizzy Gillespie, his public self was a 100% reflection of what he was like in real life, alone in a room, even though his shyness in public usually was present because he was essentially a modest person, and understandably upset when beset by strangers and journalists who were only interested in speaking to him in order to obtain gossip info about Marilyn Monroe, rather than addressing him in the same honest respectful way that he addressed everybody.
And he loved and was very proud of his kids and his wife Inga Morath.
Twenty-five years ago, when my first daughter Alana was only a few months old, he insisted that I bring her to a very elegant book launching party where he and his wife Inge were being honored.
"Inge and I want to see her, as well as you and your wife" he said over the phone. "And we need a little Amram to liven things up at the publishers duplex on Park Ave.'
We were last in touch when he e-mailed me on Dec 22 about not being able to attend my 74th birthday party celebration in the Village.
This is what he wrote.
Some impostor has sent me an invitation to a 74th birthday party over your name. This is a likely story but of course it's impossible since the last time I saw you, you were I believe twelve. I am currently a bit under the weather so I can't make it but I wanted to congratulate you and wish you wonderful times ahead.
A few days later, his health took a serious turn for the worse.
It was a blessing as well as an inspiration to know him. He always walked the walk he talked for 89 years, and will be remembered long after we are gone for his enduring work and shining spirit.
We will all continue to have our own lives, as well as those of future generations, enriched by studying this amazing man's own life, as well continuing to read and reread his work
And he continued to write serious dramatic works for the theater, even when Broadway rejected him for years, writing plays and books which will now all become rediscovered, when he could have become a trillionaire writing trash for movies and TV, using his good name to help sell trash, while others actually ghost wrote for him, which he described to me with a sense of wonder, not believing that any writer would care so little about their work or themselves that they would allow this to happen. Selling out was never an option for Arthur Miller
He felt he should set an example for dreamers and visionaries, to burn with a hard and gemlike flame, as Walter Pater said all of us should do, and he did throughout his long and productive life.
In a time of confusion and doubt, all of us can think about Arthur Miller with pride, because we can see how America was honored throughout the world by one of our own.
He spent his life as an artist who spoke up and out about human rights, the dignity of everyday people, civil liberty and justice for all, and the importance of being an honorable person in all you do in your own life every day.
When we spent time together, he often talked about his own struggles during his boyhood after his family lost everything during the Depression, and how he always was told by his elders who, in spite
of their desperate circumstances, told him of the importance of working even harder, always being kind and loyal to your friends and family, and that when you reach for the stars you must always remain down to Earth.
Arthur Miller's legacy is built on values of a time that will always be with us. and ones that we must all continue to strive for in 2005.
As Ron Whitehead, the founder of Insomniacathon, has said so often in his own poetry and in all his programs he has done and continues to present everyday of his own life, in order to energize young and old to keep on keepin' on and always excel in what you do...... Never give up and never bow down!!
Arthur Miller never did.
We will all miss him.