Perhaps because of the public facelift he was given by Michael Sheen’s recent revival of his youth in Frost/Nixon, the announcement of David Frost’s mortality gave me a moment’s pause yesterday. Frost was another of many luminaries in the defining era to which my youth is anchored who are falling away just often enough now to form a slow pinging rhythm of Time’s homing beam, snapshots of time-space lit up as on a radar screen, revealing the changed ocean scape each time another vessel disappears.
Though I might have been aware of Frost’s existence before, all preceding impressions are eclipsed by his seminal career moments, which are burned into my memory by my father’s intensity, as he bucked and growled at the television during those interviews, like a sports fan on the yoyo of his team’s performance, and then like a gladiatorial spectator, lunging vicariously at Richard Nixon’s jugular, “Get him! Get the Son-of-a-B*&%#!” And finally my father’s almost incredulous euphoria, his thoroughly transported and ferocious delight, when Nixon tripped in the trap, arrogance dissolving into contrition and frailty, his truth told, his cover blown, evil exposed in the light– even the light of a hapless showman my father might have otherwise derided.
So, David Frost was a hero in the house. On equal standing with Dick Cavett, whose merits were equally nebulous to me as a child. He was just an intelligent television companion to my parents and me, whom I took for granted. I did later learn my father occasionally played with Dick Cavett as a child, when Dick came to visit his cousin Bud, a childhood chum of my father’s.
Anyway. These voices and faces from movie-reel of my youth are mostly dormant now, even if these people are still alive. And then an event, usually their deaths, will animate them in my memory, activating the smells and flavors of that era and of my own unchanging life essence and thread; the hope, the earnestness and the tensions of the 60’s and 70’s; the humming tones of my parents in their younger adulthood, before the betrayal of their fallibility; and a milieu of unquestioned membership in the world– connection and unconditional belonging. These folks are messengers, surfacing from the depths, re-dosing the new with the old, showing the contemporary its history, shaking the foundations of anyone forgetting we stand on the shoulders of our forebearers. This is the medicine of nostalgia.
And I savored the few drops I tasted on my tongue as I absorbed the few images and soundbites of David Frost in the wake of his passing.