On the Road and Off the Record with Leonard Bernstein:
My Years with the Exasperating Genius
by Charlie Harmon
Imagine Press. 272 pages, $24.99
In this tell-all book, Charlie Harmon—orchestra librarian, music arranger, and editor—recounts his four exciting, draining years as assistant to Leonard Bernstein. He describes his job as manager of Bernstein’s day-to-day life as a whirligig of phone calls, appointments, music scores, and traveling. But managing Bernstein involved a lot more. The maestro was demanding and prone to “bouts of fury and bratty behavior.” Harmon was given the job of monitoring Lenny’s “celebrated libido” for young men and keeping this information from reaching the press.
Bernstein’s manic behavior was exacerbated by the vast amounts of Dexedrine he consumed and, of course, the alcohol. These frenzied episodes were often followed by major bouts of depression, when Bernstein wouldn’t shave, shower, or sleep for days. Contributing to his frenetic behavior was grief over his wife Felicia’s death in 1978. According to Harmon, Lenny seemed haunted by her. He seemed at times to be pursued by demons—driven to exhaustion by a relentless schedule of conducting, teaching, and composing. He sometimes complained that no one cared about him as a person.
We get a good sense of life with Lenny from 1982 to ’86 through the lens of Charlie Harmon. We travel all over the world with the maestro, and we meet plenty of celebrities along the way. For Harmon, his time with Bernstein was a mixed blessing. He ended up suffering from severe exhaustion and depression. On the other hand, it provided him with an extraordinary education. His four years as assistant to a genius were a self-revelatory journal as well as a musical one.