I have seen on television large productions of musicals or plays and never thought about all the extra work that goes into making those productions successes. It never crossed my mind how many people are standing behind the scenes, helping with every little detail of a conductors life. Then I read On the Road and Off the Record with Leonard Bernstein by Charlie Harmon and I realized all the extra things someone of Leonard Bernstein's status requires. The amount of travel and everyday little things that made Leonard Bernstein's life manageable was very overwhelming. At some parts, my head was spinning from the constant travel and maneuvering of the luggage, and I was only reading about it, not living it.
The novel written by Charlie Harmon describes his job title of the assistant to Leonard Bernstein from 1982-1986. Harmon gives accurate; if overwhelming, detail of the day to day life that he was thrown into with little preparation. Dealing with the manager and the other people involved with Bernstein's life would be enough to make even the most tough-skinned people move on, but Harmon stuck it out for four years. The longest any of Bernstein's assistants lasted. Harmon's everyday life of fetching towels and drinks to editing music was written with grace and extravagance. It was a beautiful glimpse of life on the road with the American musical composer of West side story, and his extravagant lifestyle. Maestro's love of music is shown by how passionate he could be if a little aggressive. "He go with God" was how Bernstein's Housekeeper describe his daring driving and living. He never seemed to stop, sleeping weird hours and throwing himself entirely into his music, but living life to the fullest.
This novel was a brief look at the interesting life of a musical genius. Harmon had an experience of a lifetime, meeting great composers and opera singers, actors, and actresses. The novel is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish, as I found myself hating Bernstein at some points, then thinking of him like a fatherly figure to Harmon.
This novel shows us that everyone has demons that they must face, how they deal with them is up to the individual. It never hurts to talk about anything that is on your mind, opposed to keeping all bottled up. The novel briefly talks about homosexuality, the Aids epidemic, and mental illness while showing people that The Maestro was human just like everyone else.
Intriguing, compelling and fast-paced, you won't want to put it down.
I would like to thank NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.