“From Elvis to Trump, Eyewitness to the Unraveling: Co-Starring Richard Nixon, Andy Warhol, Bill Clinton, the Supremes, and Barack Obama” by Eric Rozenman. Washington: Academica Press, 2021. 196 pages. $39.95.
Are you bothered by authors’ lack of candor? Do you cringe when a writer presents the classic copout, “on the one hand … but on the other”? Is obfuscation a four-letter word in your lexicon?
If that’s a concern, you can rest easy when it comes to reading “From Elvis to Trump: Eyewitness to the Unraveling.”
Author Eric Rozenman — my editor for a short time when I was reporter/copy editor at Washington Jewish Week — is refreshingly frank. He tells it like he thinks it is. Period.
In his memoir, Rozenman writes of going to an art exhibition at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco in 2017. He liked the art but found the exhibition “intellectually defaced … by explanatory placards in curatorese. These repeatedly insinuated the various artists’ intentional or subconscious racism, cultural ethnocentrism, colonialist appropriation and/or other benighted attitudes… .”
Then, there’s Donald Trump. As to the former president, Rozenman writes that “historian Daniel Boorstin’s classic definition of a celebrity as someone famous for being famous would become flesh, one more such American example.”
The author is also perplexed by the obsession of some young adults with another former president, Barack Obama. Obama made a surprise appearance at the annual Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebration in 2008. When he appeared, it was as if a magnet had pulled the guests who were 35 and younger toward the stage, he writes.
He had seen something similar twice before — once at an Elvis concert in Toledo, Ohio, and a second time at a Beatles’ performance in Cleveland, when young females flung themselves at the adored entertainers.
This incident reminded the author of something comedian George Burns had said: “Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
As I said, you know where this author stands. No word mincer he.
Rozenman credits his parents with instilling in him his reverence for being forthright.
“I learned early that my father expected the truth,” Rozenman says in an interview. “If I broke that lamp, I’d better say I broke that lamp. Any evasion was going to cause me more trouble than telling the truth. My mother also did not tolerate not coming to the point.”
His unequivocal defense of Israel — one of his life’s passions — also probably honed his forthrightness, especially when he did so professionally as Washington director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.
Although retired, his relentless advocacy for the Jewish state has not diminished.
Certainly, he stresses, criticism of Israel is legitimate as long as it’s not used as a substitute for antisemitism or to help to weaken and ultimately eliminate the Jewish state. How to make that determination? Rozenman says he relies on former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky’s standard. Sharansky has posited three D’s — double standards, delegitimization and demonization. “If those three elements are involved,” the author says, “it’s not criticism of Israel, but part of a campaign to destroy the Jewish state.”
The act of writing the book has elevated Israel’s importance in Rozenman’s mind. “I came to realize that for the continuation of societies in which people can live freely, that the U.S. and Israel are the best models,” he says. “These are societies that bring together individualism and community.”
Rozenman concedes he’s no conventional optimist. We could have guessed as much; after all, “Eyewitness to the Unraveling” is part of the title of his memoir.
It’s no wonder. Being on the frontlines of defending the Jewish people and Israel — he not only worked for WJW and CAMERA but also for B’nai B’rith’s International Jewish Monthly and the Jewish Policy Center — has made Rozenman into the ultimate realist.
“There’s not an arc that bends inevitably toward justice,” the author opines. “Rather, if there’s any analogy, it’s a corkscrew that twists and turns and pulls up the good and the bad alike. So, maybe, I’m an optimistic realist or a realistic optimist.” Or maybe, he says, an “apocalyptic optimist.”
“I’m a Jew immersed in Jewish history. I’ve learned that things can always get worse. And periodically, they will.”
He reserves some of his harshest criticism for those working in his former profession — journalism. Today’s practitioners are remiss in not separating news and opinion, he believes.
Journalism began to go downhill in the 1960s, he writes, when, inspired by Tom Wolfe, journalists were seduced by the idea that what they wrote “could transcend the mere reporters’ craft” becoming literature that could “convey the ‘underlying truth’ instead of just necessary facts…”
But “From Elvis to Trump” is not all serious. Rather the book is alive with humor and stories about some of the most interesting people in American life interviewed by Rozenman — former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, comedian Bob Hope, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton, former Miss America Jackie Mayer and actor Charlton Heston, just to name a few.
It’s been an interesting life chronicled here in a fascinating memoir.
Aaron Leibel’s memoir, “Figs and Alligators: An American Immigrant’s Life in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s” (Chickadee Prince Books), is available for purchase online.