Every Good Boy Does FinePosted: January 20, 2023 Filed under: Books Leave a comment
Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons
Random House (March 22, 2022), 370 pages
Kindle edition $12.99, Amazon hardcover $18.79
All of a sudden I am reading (or listening to) books about classical music. Recently I listened to the audiobook version of Declassified by Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch. This week I finished the Kindle edition of Jeremy Denk’s Every Good Boy Does Fine. You might look at these books as mirror images of each other. Warsaw-Fan Rauch is female, a violinist, and straight. Denk is male, a pianist, and of ambiguous sexual orientation. Warsaw-Fan Rauch gave up her career in music while Denk still teaches and performs. Both books interweave autobiographical material with interludes of musical instruction.
While Warsaw-Fan Rauch’s book is more of a memoir, Denk’s book is an autobiography. He recounts his life from childhood to getting his PhD. He describes his childhood on the East Coast and how that was uprooted when his father opted for a more stable and less stressful job as head of Information Technology at the University of New Mexico in Las Cruces. This was fortunate for Denk in that as a youngster he was able to get piano instruction, something he began before moving west, from the professor of piano at the university, even though he did not normally work with kids Denk’s age. Denk’s parents, though, were not keen on listening to him practice and put the piano in the opposite end of the house from where they spent most of their time.
Denk writes about his life in New Mexico and the challenges he faced there. His mother had a serious drinking problem which complicated his attempts to practice the piano. As a reader I was wondering how long his mother would last, but she eventually got sober and lived to see her son perform in major recitals during his college years.
The author was not only talented musically, but academically. He graduated from high school early and arrived at Oberlin College at age sixteen, where he declared a double major in music and chemistry. From there he headed to Indiana University (IU), where there was a teacher with whom he wanted to work, and then on to Julliard for his PhD (though he had begun doctoral work at IU).
Denk describes his teachers who were terribly demanding and very finicky about how he played certain passages. Frustratingly, he sometimes received what seemed to be contradictory instruction from different instructors. He is candid about his somewhat awkward social skills, and although he had relationships with two different women, he hints at an occasional attraction to men, and directly recounts the attraction of a couple of men to him. About his junior year he writes, “Somewhere in there I lost my virginity,” although he does not provide the gender of the person with whom that happened. Denk is also honest about his alcohol consumption, admitting to arriving for important events where he was to play while hung over.
The title of the book refers to putting words to the letters on the musical scale. Denk, in his own telling of it, despite a lot of irresponsible behavior, in the end does in fact do fine.