Saturday, January 14, 2017

In Memory of Julian Silverman

Julian Silverman: 12-5-1936---12-26-2016

A farewell from Roger Silverman.

As we have heard, Julian was a musician of rare talent and originality. But he also had a penetrating insight into so many other fields: politics, history, literature, anthropology, psychology, science, philosophy… He could potentially have been a towering figure in any of them. He was the nearest I have met to a renaissance polymath; or maybe a classical figure, like Terence, a North African slave who became a playwright in the Roman Empire, and who expressed Julian's approach to life more perfectly than anyone else: "nothing human is alien to me". (This was Karl Marx's favourite quotation.)

The tragedy is that he didn’t make his mark in any of these fields. Instead, Julian left little trace behind him except indelible memories. Recently, with his encouragement, I wrote a book which was published; Julian could and should have written twenty. He wrote agitational pamphlets, contributions to online discussion lists and fragments of brilliant theoretical analysis… but he hardly ever finished anything substantial, whether in music or in words. Even his music now risks vanishing without trace, unheard.

What is the explanation? Certainly not laziness! Right up to the very day he entered hospital, he showed an energy which put most of us to shame. For instance, in the last few years he threw himself body and soul into tireless campaigning against local council cuts here in Barnet which he rightly considered barbarous. No, Julian's fatal flaw was his modesty, his self-effacement. It was not that he wavered for an instant in his convictions and his firmness of principle; his political opponents and rivals found him unyielding, not to say utterly infuriating. No, his flaw was a genuine absence of any trace of personal ambition.

Julian never even had a proper job. He worked for a year or two here and there: taught at a South Shields technical college or later at Morley College music classes; played for a year in the Haifa Symphony Orchestra in Israel; taught for a few years in Switzerland; wrote a music review column for a while at Time Out (where he showed enormous pride on one occasion at being quoted in Private Eye's Pseuds' Corner); composed incidental music for amateur drama productions; gave piano lessons at local schools or to private pupils… How can we explain this pitifully peripheral marginal role for someone who had such amazing talent and energy?

The answer is: by the fact that Julian was above all a revolutionary. Not just an agitator or a dissident, but a revolutionary in the most complete and comprehensive possible definition of the word. He had utter honesty, the purest integrity of anyone I have ever known. He was not prepared to compromise with the demands of bureaucratic or corporate employers, and it never occurred to him for an instant to even contemplate doing so. This is a fundamental family trait that we all share (I can give examples for all three of us) - the same characteristic that made our father Sydney Silverman such a rebel and such a tireless campaigner against injustice.

Julian spent his last hundred days or so lying helpless in hospital. At first, despite suffering a complex syndrome of chronic health problems, he remained optimistic, dreaming of plans for future projects and travel. Gradually he came to realise, perhaps before any of the rest of us did, that he was never going to leave hospital alive. On the day of his death, the doctor assured us that he had died peacefully. But that is to overlook his days and weeks of sleepless nights, of unbearable and agonising despair as he contemplated his impending death. On Christmas Day, the day before he died, he told us in a barely perceptible whisper that he couldn’t live like this. It was not a plea for help but a simple statement of the hard brutal fact. I remember one conversation a few weeks earlier in the intensive care ward when for the first time ever he bitterly reproached himself for his failure to make anything of his life. In the end we agreed that, if nothing else, he had been a uniquely interesting and original character, and that that in itself was a rare achievement.

Julian knew how privileged he was to enjoy Erika's constant companionship for almost half a century. He loved his children Anna and David and his grandchildren Louis and Ruben. He also had far more friends than he realised. Condolence messages have flooded in through Facebook and in e-mails and text messages to me from all over Britain, and also from the USA, Ireland, Pakistan, Canada, Sri Lanka, Israel, South Africa, France, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and India. His humanity touched everyone he met.

To me, Julian was a brother I grew up with from my earliest childhood memories, my closest political comrade and ally, and my best friend. I would regularly call him up to exchange ideas, opinions and news, knowing that he and I would instinctively share almost uncannily identical attitudes, insights and humorous reactions. There have been several occasions even since his death when I have felt a sudden yearning to have another such conversation with him. I'm going to appreciate all the more now the company of my other brother Paul, and of Rina and Erika and Anna and David and Manu and the rest of the family, as well as of my many political friends and comrades. But I'm going to miss Julian enormously: a unique human being.

4 comments:

AB said...

What a beautiful tribute to a rare individual. I'm sorry to hear of his passing Comrade. I have fond memories of discussions we had online and when I visited London. Allyson

Richard Mellor said...

It's a beautiful tribute. Roger is a great writer in my opinion and one of the reasons is he has an important quality that he attributes to Julian, and that is modesty. He does not write for self promotion.

Harry Hutchinson said...

For the time l knew Julian, l only witnessed his passionate dedecation to building a socialist movement nationally and internationally. I attribute to those comrades who recognised and informed me of Julians many gifted talents, one of which was his music.This knowledge has enriched my memory of one who projected genuine friendship.

Richard Mellor said...

Thank you Allyson and Harry for your kind words about Julian. I was in England last March visiting friends and family. A visit back home is not the same if I can't make it to see Roger. I stopped by and we went and had a meal at a local Indian restaurant. Julian came a little later, driving all the way down from Barnet. After we all ate and talked it was a two hour trip for me back to Enfield. I had to go in to the city then back north. Julian offered me a rid, maybe up to Seven Sisters or Finsbury Park where I used to live.

He ended up taking me all the way back to Enfield. He asked me about my health, my heart attack and how I was in general. Then he told me about what he was going through. Tis was before he went in to hospital but I could see he was a bit weak. Nevertheless he took me all the way home, it would have been a tiresome drive for a young man never mind and older and quite sick one. I had a chance to talk to him that night especially as we had had a few nasty words some time ago. Last time I met him in London we were leaving a pub and as he walked out he hit a few blues bars on the piano. He knew I liked the blues and play the harp a bit. We were OK in our relationship. I won't forget him taking me all the way home on that night. Wish I'd gotten to know him better. I won't forget him.