More on Oliver Sacks

A posting yesterday, “Oliver Sacks and Sexuality”, about Jerome Groopman’s NYRB review of Sacks’s On the Move: A Life, with considerable discussion of Sacks’s homosexuality — and the stunning cover of the book, with a 1961 photo of a hunky Sacks on his motorcycle. Now, two more reviews, one with another hunk photo, the other with personal recollections from a friend.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (From Frank McQuarry.) “Neurologist Oliver Sacks describes his fascinating life in ‘On the Move'” by Jim Higgins on April 15th:

Hold on a minute: The young stud straddling the BMW motorcycle on the cover of “On the Move” is Oliver Sacks, the genial neurologist of “Awakenings”?

As this memoir makes clear, the Whitmanesque Sacks truly contains multitudes: The compassionate scientist who writes beautifully and travels to Mexico to look at ferns has also been a motorbike buff, competitive weightlifter and, in the past, a drug abuser.

(The drug abuse was connected to his homosexuality.) A photo of weightlifter Sacks in the 1960s (again with motorcycle):

Vanity Fair. (Passed on by Michael Palmer.) In the June 2015 issue, the piece “A Rare, Personal Look at Oliver Sacks’s Early Career” by Lawrence Weschler. (Prolific writer Weschler has appeared in this blog before, in connection with a piece of his on “convergences”.) Weschler met with Sacks for years, keeping extensive notes on their conversations. From this material, I pick out just one bit, from June 1982:

A phone conversation with Oliver, who is in California to meet with his old friend the poet Thom Gunn. “I met Thom through his poetry—his first collection, Fighting Terms, and then especially the next one, The Sense of Movement, appealed to me. Seeking him out was one of the things I had in mind when I came out to California.

“Let’s see. I arrived in September 1960, and we met some while after that. I saw much of him at the time. I did a lot of traveling on my motorbike, wrote many travel pieces.”

On Gunn, from Wikipedia:

Thom Gunn (29 August 1929 – 25 April 2004), born Thomson William Gunn, was an Anglo-American poet who was praised for his early verses in England, where he was associated with The Movement, and his later poetry in America, even after moving toward a looser, free-verse style. After relocating from England to San Francisco, Gunn wrote about gay-related topics — particularly in his most famous work, The Man With Night Sweats in 1992 — as well as drug use, sex, and his bohemian lifestyle.

… In 1954, Gunn emigrated to the United States to teach writing at Stanford University and to remain close to his partner, Mike Kitay

He then taught for some years at Berkeley. Taught during the day, indulged in drugs and orgiastic gay sex at night. The drugs eventually did him in, but not until he was into his 70s (about the age I am now).

The main title of Sacks’s memoir comes from Gunn’s 1957 poem “On the Move” (perhaps his best-known poem), about the ethos of motorcycle gangs.

(No, our paths never crossed, so far as I know.)

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