Friday, September 30, 2005

The Rogue Less Trampled

R.I.P., M. Scott Peck, author of "The Road Less Travelled," as memorialized by the London "Telegraph."

Its opening sentence, "Life is difficult", introduced a tome which argued, uncontentiously and sensibly, that human experience was trying and imperfectible, and that only self-discipline, delaying gratification, acceptance that one's actions have consequences, and a determined attempt at spiritual growth could make sense of it. By contrast, Peck himself was, by his own admission, a self-deluding, gin-sodden, chain-smoking neurotic whose life was characterised by incessant infidelity and an inability to relate to his parents or children. "I'm a prophet, not a saint," he explained in an interview earlier this year.

In 1983 he began a bid for the presidency in order to be "a healer to the nation", but was forced by health fears to abandon his ambitions. Recently he had written in Glimpses of the Devil (2005) about his experiences of conducting exorcisms and had embarked on a new career as a songwriter. The voice of God asked him to be objective about the merits of a song he had written on the subject of faithfulness. "I went into a sort of guided meditation and I imagined there were a million people around the globe, Japan, Ethiopia, Brazil, America, what not, all with headphones on listening to this thing and that their consensus would somehow be objective… I played it for the 62nd time and I said: 'Holy s***! It's not good. It's great.' "

What a character! The obit unfolds in a style that only a British newspaper can accomplish. Along the way, we pass such gems as, "By his own account, he was a tiresomely brilliant child. Like all the others, his ambition was to write the Great American Novel."

Through all the permutations and evolutions of his long life, the "Telegraph" reassures us, "he remained unfaithful to his wife."

I hate to give away endings, but this one is too good to sit on:

Latterly he suffered from impotence and Parkinson's Disease and devoted himself to Christian songwriting, at which he was not very good.

He married Lily Ho in 1959; they had three children, two of whom would not talk to their father. She left him in 2003. He is survived by his second wife, Kathy, an educationalist he picked up, while still married, after a lecture at Sacramento, and by his children.

The line that begins "Latterly" might be the best I've ever seen in an obituary.

[The best deliberate line, I mean. The newspaper where I work now once ran an obituary for a guy who was, according to the text, "the longest confirmed male member of his church." Of course his name was Dick something.]