In response to:
Let's Face the Music from the April 22, 1999 issue
To the Editors:
In his review, a most curious essay, of my Irving Berlin—American Troubador [NYR, April 22] Brad Leithauser makes the startling statement that it was writ-ten merely because I had “the urge to write another book.” I wrote it because Iwanted to and because Holt asked me to; Iknew Berlin from August 1961 until his death in 1989. I drew upon my work with him, interviews, and chats for my book, as well as my writing in the field of American music, concert as well as popular, throughout those years. I spent over two years on the writing because that’s what I do for a living, not just to churn out another book.
Nor did I set out to attack Lawrence Bergreen’s, in my view and others’, flawed book. Though Leithauser feels Idid not deliberately try to “amend any shortcomings,” my copy of the Bergreen book is filled with marginal questions, errors, and distortions (I have a problem with biographers who inform me of the thoughts and motives of their subject, despite the fact that they may not have been born when said thoughts and acts occurred). Although Idid not see Berlin often in his declining years, we talked a great deal via phone and I saw no point in reporting the same event for pages on end; the man was old, ill, and worried about the health of his wife, for the love of God.
Incidentally, though I have no idea why your reviewer raised the issue, in fact the Enola Gay was based with the 509th Composite Group, and took off to bomb Hiroshima from Tinian, an island in the Marianas group. I refer Leithauser to Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, Vol. V, pp. 717-719 (University of Chicago Press, 1953). I could cite other sources but this one is definitive enough, Ithink.
Your Mr. Leithauser recalls a comment made by G. Stein to E. Hemingway, “Remarks are not criticism, Ernest.” At least she could have, but who knows?
New York City
Brad Leithauser: replies:
Having taken my shot at Mr. Jablonski, Ifeel little urge to have another. Besides, Iadmire his taste in music. I do want to say, though, that I find bizarre his fussing over the Enola Gay. To set the record straight, Ididn’t criticize Mr. Jablonski for misidentifying Guam as the island from which the plane took off; rather, this was Mr. Bergreen’s error. Mr. Jablonski seems intent on clearing his name of an accusation that was never made. Incidentally, I don’t need his citation to Craven and Cate. Having twice been to the Marianas Iknow firsthand that Guam is a long way from Tinian.