4 AUGUST 1984, Page 30

High life

Great failures


T didn't think it possible, but I have just 'finished reading yet another book about F. Scott Fitzgerald, this one by Andre Le Vot, and once again the disintegration that poor old Scott went through managed to keep me up throughout the night. I guess what I can't get enough of is the atmos- phere of permanent carnival that Fitz- gerald chose to develop the themes of his novels. Although every scholar that has written about F. Scott insists he dissipated his gifts by drinking and carousing, this scholar knows it ain't so. If it weren't for the drinking and the night-clubbing, stories like The Crack-Up, The Rich Boy, The Beautiful and the Damned and, needless to say, Tender is the Night would never have been written. People who tell us such things say that writers must write, but Talki knows that, first, writers must live.

I first read Tender is the Night, the haunting novel of the moral disintegration of Dick Diver through idleness and the corrupting influence of his wife's money, when I was 14 years old. I had been expelled from the first of many schools for getting caught out of bounds with a bottle of booze and a couple of teenage hookers. My father had literally locked me in a hotel room while he roamed the New England countryside looking for a school that would accept me. So, while my fellow 14-year- olds studied to become stockbrokers I was dreaming about going to the French Rivi- era and joining up with the likes of Dick Diver. The fact that Diver and the rest of the Fitzgerald heroes were great failures didn't bother me. On the contrary, even at that tender age I knew that failures, like blondes, not only have more fun, but are more fun, especially, when one compares them with what Modern society considers successes.

Which brings me to the point I want to make. I'd rather read a failure than a success any day. The former is somehow more exciting. Just look at my old friend Jeff Bernard. He's been proclaiming that he's a failure — and making a living from it _ longer than I've been living off the old man. And his talent in evoking self- loathing week in, week out, makes his column compulsive reading. Compare Jeffs work with, say, that of a proclaimed success like one of those idiotic and over- paid women who write for American magazines and you'll see what I mean. (We recently saw an example of what American women writers are like when a letter full of undeleted expletives by one such female was published in the Spectator.) Yes, failure is to good writing what a double bed is to a hooker. Indispensable. Because by failing one expends one's talent

in living, which makes for lively writing, rather than becoming a more accomplished writer through tricks of the trade. And speaking of failure, I failed to get through the customs at Heathrow last week, but despite the humiliation of having put my- self in the same position as all those cretinous rock stars who habitually get busted, I feel no self-loathing as yet. And why should I? The harm I did was to Myself, someone I've been abusing for a long time, and whose capacity to take abuse from me is legendary. In the meantime, a sanctimonious turd in the New York Post wrote a story vastly exaggerating the offence, thus making it seem like something else. Well, all I can say is my three editors — Mr Moore, Mr Tyrrell and Ms Brown — obviously believe me and not him, so I'm still employed and looking forward to discrediting two people Who came to my aid when the proverbial shit hit the fan at Heathrow last week. I am referring to both the fattest and the thin- nest man in England. One is Charles Benson, a man known to try anything for a profit; the other, Sir Nigel Dempster, diarist, confidant of royalty, and an expert on the British peerage. To see these two gentlemen in court trying to extricate their friend from la merde was like seeing Khomeini giving away pardons. Extremely uncharacteristic. Benson arrived with the deeds of his house in order to provide bail (not asked for due to my honest counte- nance) and Sir Nigel stopped trafffic while giving autographs to the children of the various magistrates and providing the advice I needed. As I said, unfortunately my failures do not help make my column as Much fun as Jeff's but at least they provide a rare insight into the character of the English. They are suckers for failures.