Friday, November 28, 2008

Eugene Fodor Used to Play Paganini In My Backyard

This was the Eugene Fodor I knew. His fiance was a student of my husband's in the mid to late 1970's. I remember entertaining them in our tiny apartment in the Cherry Creek section of Denver. She was a small, voluptuous, dark haired beauty and she and I hit it off immediately. I was not so sure about Eugene. He was more politically conservative than she, and if I remember correctly, an ardent gun enthusiast. And when we met them, he was already a virtuoso concert violinist, world famous, and with a certain rock star following of lovesick young women. So I watched him for signs of arrogance, but what I saw instead was inexperience with anything other than his doting mother and his ambitious father whose talent was not so great, but a fierce desire for his sons to have what he could not. Eugene was a boy who grew up on a large ranch with an older brother who was also a talented violinist. Eugene was both a young genius and a strutting cowboy. And then it came so early, this star stature. Underneath that wattage was a sweet, generous, romantic young man with great good looks, a bit of a rough edge and a monster talent.

We were invited to the family ranch for an engagement party. It was a Spanish style event with a Mariachi band. And a short time later we were invited to the wedding. They moved to New York and I remember working on a painting in a new medium to send to them for a wedding present a few months later.

Shortly after that we moved to Missouri, where my husband got a teaching job at one of the lovely State Universities. We used to see Eugene play now and then on Johnny Carson.

They wrote letters, called occasionally, and then we got a call that they were playing in a concert in another Missouri City and wanted to come stay with us the night and day before the concert and that we would be their guests for the event. We were both delighted and worried. I more worried than my husband. Eugene's wife, my friend, whose name I can no longer recall I'm embarrassed to say, was very pregnant with twins. I worried that the bed in the guest room wasn't big enough or comfortable enough. But they were both so sweet. We had a lovely afternoon. Fixed dinner at home. We ate simply, at their request. And when she went to bed, he wandered into the backyard and played. So under a cool autumn sky full of stars on the edge of the Ozarks, we listened to perhaps the worlds most famous Paganini virtuoso play Paginini. It was the most magical, transcendent musical moment of my life.

And again, late the next afternoon, he wandered the backyard and played for at least an hour. Then the black limousine came to pick us up for the two hour ride to the concert hall. When we got out of the limousine, hordes of girls began screaming. Eugene signed some autographs and then we were herded into his dressing room. We had champaign, caviar, cheeses, fruit. And then we were taken to the first box in the balcony to look down on the stage. Before he began playing he blew his wife a kiss, and people rose from their seats to look up at us, she looked around and smiled and then the concert began.

I had never been a fan of classical music. I grew up with jazz. Oh I'd certainly heard plenty of classical music. My dad's mother loved it. But not until high school had I gone to concerts or listened to classical music of my own accord, until I heard Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead did I find something other than Jazz that really moved me. Then I discovered Stravinski's Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. And then Vivaldi, and so it went. Yet still, I did not like Beethoven, or Motzart, or Wagner, especially not Wagner. Then later found Bach and that was the sweet spot, classically speaking.

After the concert in an unnamed city in Missouri, there was a reception. As we walked into the room, a wave of applause swept over us, Eugene's wife grabbed me by the hand, asked me to come with her, approached the nearest matron in a flowered dress, and asked her where the ladies room was, all the while tightly clutching my hand to her ample bosom. She dragged me to the crowded ladies and then, just inside the door to the packed room, put a hand to either side of my face and pulled mine to hers and planted a juicy kiss on my startled lips. And the room went silent for just a moment as most of the waiting women held their breath. Then my hugely pregnant friend spoke in her rich musical contralto and asked to cut in line, as her husband was waiting for her, and because she was so very preggers, she needed to pee so very badly. And we walked into the first available stall together, since she still held my hand. Once inside, she opened her little evening bag and pulled a tiny silver vial out, unscrewed the lid, dipped in her little finger and scooped out a nail full of coke. She snorted rather noisily, then giggled and kissed me again. She had me backed against the wall, leaning into me slightly as she bent back and scooped another nail full. She whispered, don't breathe or you'll blow it all around. Then she snorted another. She said, close your eyes and hold your breath. I did. She said, "breathe" and I sucked air in through my nose along with a powerful hit of coke. And again. Then she pulled a joint from her purse and hiked her skirt and sat on the toilet. I whispered, "Do you think this is wise in here?" Never mind, "You're pregnant, aren't you?" She lit it, and we giggled through a joint while the ladies room emptied.

That is my last memory of them other than a birth announcement and a couple of letters. His career was in full swing, and she was hanging around with the guys in Divo and going to all the hot clubs and parites. I heard she was studying Opera Singning. Then silence.

Then we heard they'd divorced. Then we divorced. I moved back to Salt Lake and then First Love/Last Love and I started living together. Then one night we saw something on TV about Eugene Fodor's arrest in the Hamptons for a break-in and a drug bust. And then nothing after that. Such genius and the demons that sometimes accompany extraordinary gifts. And today, while listening to Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg I thought of Eugene.


MRMacrum said...

Rock Stars, no matter what their tool, are all prone to the same pits we all are. But the pits can be so much deeper when they are fallen into from such heights.

I just read a very good bio on him here -

It is too bad he came into his fame during the "Studio 54" days. Too bad , as the article points out, his rising star rose too fast.

Your post was a wonderful perspective of all this from the view of a former friend and acquaintance.

The article was written shortly after his bust. I wonder what he is doing now?

Utah Savage said...

MrMacrum, I linked to the NY Times bio at the end of my piece. I was so sad to someone who seemed so sweet and to have it all, rise so fast, and fall so far. Neither talent, nor looks or the love a lovely woman nor his children could keep him from his plunge to the bottom.

D.K. Raed said...

OMG, he is breathtaking! I was transfixed. How sad to read that the classical establishment were not intrested in developing his talent.

What a sweet memory you provided of him playing to the heavens in your backyard. Stuff of dreams.

But somehow, after your experience, I kind of doubt his ex-wife's stmnt in your linked article that she was "stunned" about his drug use.

Anonymous said...

You have lived such an amazing life. I'm glad you're capturing these stories.

jmsjoin said...

Wow I love that stuff along with everything else it seems. Like everything there is a time for all of it.
Utah you never stop surprising me. You were very lucky and unlucky in your luckiness. the question I had when reading about the bathroom stall was how did the kids come out? Take care!

Utah Savage said...

These were the times when everyone smoked everywhere, and there was no one warning pregnant women about smoking. And as far as I know her babies were fine. No one ever spoke about a thing called, "fetal alcohol syndrome." Now they can lock you up to protect your fetus if you drink.

jmsjoin said...

You know, with all the crap you hear today you have to wonder how any of us had great kids or turned out normal? The crap we hear!

Liquid said...

Wow! That's really cool!

SaoirseDaily2 said...

Great story. It is amazing all the people that come and go in our lives. Some well and gone and some cherished and missed.

Mauigirl said...

What a fascinating story and memory - so sad about the outcome of his career. Let's hope he is able to at least beat his addiction and have a good sad that he wasn't able to fulfill his earlier promise as a violinist though.

Randal Graves said...

Veeery eenteresting.

Utah Savage said...

Eugene didn't have just "promise" he'd been a big time award winning virtuoso from the age of ten. He won all the big prizes and was a true "star." The world was his oyster. He was not only brilliantly talented, he was handsome,if a bit of a cowboy, but to have crashed so spectacularly... And also so ignobly is a tragedy. From where comes that impulse toward self-destruction if not in childhood?

Unknown said...

I loved reading this..even if it was sad. Gracias Senorita Savage..

Debra said...

I heard that Gene died last night. Such a sad ending. I knew him too. That he was charming and so self-destructive at the same time was difficult to watch.