The Haunted Heaven: Chapter Three: The War Crime
By Michael Moriarty
I've titled this chapter after a war crime of my childhood which I am still trying to decipher.
Basking in the unanswered questions and mysteries within Rachmaninoff's Vocalize as performed by Itzhak Perlman … and … well … the child … wandering … and lost … sent off into No Man's Land asking, "Where is home? Where, my God, is home?"
No longer with your mother, boy!
You are now a criminal!!
I realize that the "war crime" was committed by an 11 year old boy named Michael Moriarty.
The crime was "desertion". The war was divorce.
If there was a single, most searing moment in my childhood it was my mother's accusation that I was her "Judas". Hmmm … an 11 year old Judas.
We must lead up to this Biblical J'accuse with a description of life under the protection of an alcoholic.
My mother leaped into alcoholism with the indispensable assistance of my father, a functioning alcoholic. Whereas my mother was a decreasingly functioning drunkard.
The Days of Wine and Roses, eh?
I've actually just added to the … measure of a first movement a clip from an old ballad I'd written called "The Drama of My Life".
The lyric to it has a wonderfully shameless entrance:
"No one else would want the role, Michael!"
The lush sounds of an American Songbook, my efforts to insert my own idea of a classic American Standard?
Meanwhile Itzhak Perlman's own journey with Vocalize calls up my first glimpse of that genius onstage in a wheel chair … and … well … who am I to complain?
I, however, as my mother's Judas, did not know about an Itzhak Perlman nor the divine grace that must have been wrapped around him to overcome the challenges of polio hurled on him at four years of age.
Only in my seventies am I aware myself of what protection God has wrapped around me all my life.
In these years, leading up to the War Crime, Manhattan at night hung mysteriously on the covers of many of the 78 R.P.M. albums that entered our house.
The Central Park Casino, which, of course, I had yet to see, had only heard about.
Duchin playing over Itzhak Perlman!
It dawns on me now how the format of the melodic structure of the music I am writing now, not my First but my Second Concerto For Orchestra might eventually capture a similar chaos of Lovely To Look At driven unrelentingly over the cries of Perlman's Vocalize.
Of course the still underappreciated American genius, Charles Ives? He'd already done that in the late 1800's.
Could this memoir be a sporadic movie score of some sort?
Having proven my skill at composing pure music, although, as Leonard Bernstein described my Symphony For Strings, "impressive, albeit academic", now my jump-cutting pastiche of themes from distant periods of my own life and the infinite reaches of human history … well … critics be damned.
Listening to Eddy Duchin's Lovely To Look At blaring out over the painfully longing strains of the Perlman Vocalize. Odd how, just now, they both ended together.
But now, however, there is Errol Garner because of his incredibly musical influence on me … and listen to the wonderfully intentional dissonance … cutting through all of the predictable sentimentality of Watch What Happens!
Yet through all the pain of being black in America?
Errol Garner smiles and pores it on!
That is the infuriating thing about America: self-made men following the calls of distant drummers.
Here I am following the inner distant drummer of my character as Jimmy Quinn in Larry Cohen's Q, The Winged Serpent.
The growling dog is Larry's idea of my back-up singer.
The scat I'm singing in the background with an exact piano doubling?
That was not looped, but right off the original soundtrack.
Speaking of lost children, David Carradine was, at the time, a complete gentleman to work with. Later, here in Canada … well … that child had enough wanderings in his day. May God be with him.
In the face of my vast good fortune, I'm an undeniably self-styled man … with a rather German, sprechtstimme approach to song inspired by early bouts with Bertolt Brecht but actually necessitated by the ravages of smoking. This appearance is "post-heart failure" so my noticeably paralyzed right hand is … well … not at its best.
However, notice the knowing smile on my drummer, Arni May's face when he hears the words "touch too much" in the lyric. Nice set of ears he has, wonderfully human and humane.
I rather presumptuously wave for the applause because, we had never really ended the song that way … and … well … it seemed appropriate to the tough attitude in the lyric … well … the audience doesn't seem entirely confused.
They are becoming acquainted with my Haunted Heaven.
Then, of course, we reach for the haunted heavens in the highest of jazz piano standards: Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.
Here is Tatum with the one and only Ben Webster on My One And Only Love.
Webster's entrance puts an immediate smile on my face because, well, "We're Home!" Home and swinging gently to the Man's obvious state of grace.
Now listen to Tatum's reincarnation, Oscar Peterson on the same tune. Try to keep his version running till you come to the end of this chapter.
You must understand: what I have seen of life is worth a glance and a listen or two.
What will prove that?
Time has always been in my favor.
"Why does Michael go jumping from theme to theme?!"
Because I can.
The development of those "themes"?
After four or five major works for modern symphony orchestra, prayerfully at least nine, you will most certainly hear the development of almost all the themes I have to offer.
The war crime?
Or war criminal.
The deserter … or … "Judas"?!
Hard to think of with Oscar Peterson in the background, isn't it?
Now Peterson is weaving Someone To Watch Over Me directly into My One and Only Love.
Speaking of watch dogs, a Jesuit priest, one of many guiding lights in my life, said that all love songs can be sung to Christ!
Should be actually!!
My mother as Christ?
Hmmm … yes, I had heard enough about the Bible, as an 11 year-old boy, to know that Judas was … perhaps … the baddest bad boy in all of metaphysical history.
His story is one of the many reasons that during my life I increasingly cling to the Catholic Church which forbids suicide. The postponement alone has rewarded me with the most blissful years of retirement that a Greek God could be envious of.
There is no hope of redemption when you are dead! Think about that when you ponder abortion!!
Of course Christ forgave Judas!
He forgave us ALL from the Cross!!!
By the time my mother had seemed to have forgiven me, it was too late for both of us. Only in the next life.
I have been redeemed so many times during my life that I am now absolutely certain that God has kept a 24 hour, round-the-world, protective watch on me.
Now I'm certain that He actually enjoys the watch.
I compose for Him now within the Jesuit's Pledge:
There I go again, getting ahead of myself.
Oh, some Progressive Republicans think that when I left America, I deserted my Motherland in the same way I had abandoned my mother.
The more divine souls in my life call it "Tough Love".
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and 4Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at email@example.com.