The release of Ira Sachs’ film Keep the Lights On to DVD in Australia is likely to stimulate interest in Bill Clegg’s addiction memoir, which was published a few years back in 2010.
Bill Clegg was the long-time boyfriend of Ira Sachs and their troubled relationship inspired the story that is told in the film. Bill Clegg was a young, handsome, wealthy literary golden boy who seemingly had it all. He set up a Manhattan literary agency with a friend, achieving enviable sales and successes. He lived in a glamorous Fifth Avenue apartment with his filmmaker boyfriend (named Noah in the book).
Yet Clegg became addicted to smoking crack and could not stop, even though it would cost him his relationship, his business, and all of his money. He also upturned the lives of others − notably Noah’s but also his pregnant business partner, his employees, and the authors he represented. Clegg’s downward spiral is portrayed extremely candidly and he documents several shameful scenes. Late in the book, Noah has tracked him down to a hotel where he is holed up with bags of crack and a Latin escort. Yet even the presence of Noah is not enough to stop or even inhibit Clegg. He gets high and has sex with the escort. Noah weeps and clasps Bill’s hand while the escort does his job. In another almost farcical episode, Clegg fails several times to board a flight to Berlin to join Noah there at a film festival. Too strung out and paranoid, and in thrall to the thought of another hit, instead he invites the taxi driver taking him to the airport, back to his hotel to ‘party’. Clegg is constantly checking into various glamorous New York hotels to get high, but his personal rock bottom comes when two hotels refuse to sell him a room. He realises that he has begun to look like a crack addict and the thought devastates him. In an interesting counterpoint, Clegg narrates episodes from his childhood, focusing in particular on a devastating inability to urinate which tortured his youth. Young Bill had to seek out private or safe places to urinate and there is a clear parallel with the safe places he finds to get high as an adult.
This memoir is thoroughly gripping, extremely frank, and an utterly unflattering portrait of a young man who seemingly had it all – and smoked it all away.
A sequel documenting Clegg’s recovery Ninety Days has just been published in paperback.