Video from 1.34.11
20 April 2012, Vanity Fair Memorial, Cooper Union, New York, USA
I'm Martin Amis, or 'Little Keith', as Hitch always called me. 'My dear little Keith', he used to call me, and I used to call him, 'my dear Hitch'. The most salient and striking thing about Christopher is how widely he was loved. Not just by us, family and friends, but by you. And one struggles to think of a public intellectual with a following half as passionate.
I wonder why this is? There are several elements in it I think, before I reach for the central one.
First -- very handsome. In a phrase that he used to like using, 'handsomer than a man has the right to be'. And we were both very fond of Humbert Humbert's self description in Lolita where he says about halfway through the novel, “I wonder if during the course of these tragic notes, I have sufficiently stressed the sending quality of my striking, if perhaps somewhat brutal good looks”.
Hitch wasn't, his good looks weren't brutal, they were sort of full and friendly. And my middle daughter, Fernanda, was once in the kitchen, age 5, and she said “it look's like Hitch”, and the man on the screen was the handsome actor, Sam Neil.
I also think that his voice was very important. It was a perfect voice, without any mannerism or any kinds of poncy intonations, that I can't seem to purge my own voice of. And as I said, contributing as I told you, to the charisma of The Hitch.
“The Hitch has landed”, he used to say on the phone when he landed at Heathrow. And when we did Charlie Rhodes the other night, when we remembered him, I and others. Charlie, I think, was surprised and a bit alarmed to learn that Hitch often referred to himself in the third person.
This is not a habit consonant with cloudless mental health in most cases. Though, The Hitch was one of the sanest people I've ever known -- not always rational, and by no means always prudent, but penetratingly sane. He knew who he was.
He was also something of a self-mythologiser. 'The Hitch has landed'.
When he took up the Cypriot cause, partitioned Cyprus, he told me, “I'm such a good friend of the Cypriot people, that when I arrive, it says in the headlines of the Nicosia Morning Post, it says “Hitch Flies In”. I said, “what does it say when you leave?” he said, “Hitch Flies Out”.
Very early on, in our early twenties, I said, “Does that girl like The Hitch?”, and he said, “She loves The Hitch, she wants to marry The Hitch”.
Another time he said, “Martin, you're always coming out with phrases like this,”, he says, “Whenever there is injustice, immiseration or oppression, the pen of The Hitch will flash from it's scabbard.”
I've got several stories where Hitch comes out with a great line, and he didn't like this one, he said it was anti-climactic, but I'm very fond of this story. And it seems to crystallise something, and lead us to what was perhaps the heart of the charisma of The Hitch.
He and I were in South Hampton in Long Island having driven that far from where we were staying, in search of the most violent possible film on the Island. This was our idea of happiness, it was to take a bottle of whiskey into a film like Dirty Beast or Scum. Nothing could top that, anyway we were pathetically reduced to Wesley Snipes. And trudging rather grimly towards the cinema, and I said, “No one's recognised The Hitch for at least ten minutes”. And usually he is, every few, ten or twenty yards he's stopped by someone, and then he has a long and friendly conversation with them. And if you ever signed books with The Hitch, he would have a long and friendly conversation with everyone in his queue. Anyway, I said ten minutes must have gone by, and he said, “Longer.” He said, “Much longer -- at least fifteen minutes.” And he said, “And I get more and more pissed off, the longer it goes on.”
He said, “I keep thinking, what can they feel, what can they care, what can they know if they don't recognise The Hitch.”
And as we approached the cinema there was a elderly party rather awkwardly perched on a hydrant, and as we were entering the cinema, he said, “Do you love us, or do you hate us?”.
What he meant was, America, and Americans, he didn't mean him and his wife.
And Hitch said, “I beg your pardon?”
He said, “Do you love us or do you hate us?”.
And Hitch said, “It depends on how you behave.” he said, and went straight into the cinema, rather than sort of curling up with him for half an hour.
I thought that was very good, but also slightly misleading, as if what Hitch did was calmly appraise American behaviour, or whatever reality you presented him with, and give it his judicious appraisal, but he wasn't like that. And we wouldn't have loved him so much if he'd been like that -- there are plenty of people who are like that.
It was more, I think that he was bored by the phrase contrarian, but, what he was was an auto-contrarian. He contradicted himself. As if Christopher felt the only person really worth really arguing with was The Hitch. So we see him tie himself up in knots with supporting Ralph Nader, Bush-Cheney in 2004, collusion in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and Iraq of course.
And what people don't see, but I think sense, is that he suffered very much from those isolations that he brought on himself.
After the Clinton business, I rang him up, and I'd seen him on television looking not well, and I said to him “How are things?” And he said, “Man, I'm living in a world of pain.” he said. This was two or three weeks after he'd broken [the story].
And he suffered very much I think about Iraq, he didn't talk about it, but you watched him watching the news, and when the vote, when the first democratic election took place in Iraq, the excitement was sort of suppressed excitement, it showed; and the misery during the civil war period of 2005/06.
He was like a Houdini, where he was right most of the time, but every now and then he would go out on a limb, and he would shackle himself so dramatically, that had he escaped, or partially escaped, it would have been all the more amazing.
And that was why he was loved, I think.
He made intellection dramatic with this argument with the self.
I'll just end now with one of his favourite phrases was, 'what could be more agreeable', he used to say. It was one of his very English remarks. He would say it while he, I and others settled down for sixteen or seventeen hours of food, drink, tobacco and conversation. And I just want to ask, who could be more agreeable than The Hitch?
To end on a wishful note, what could be more infinitely agreeable, imagine what it would do to your heart, if The Hitch had landed, and he was on his way to join us here, at Cooper Union.