Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

A Sense of Life
by Derek McGovern

Author's note: This is a revised version of an article I wrote for a 2000 edition of The Free Radical. Its reappearance couldn't be timelier. Just as I did five years ago, I submit this essay without the knowledge of its subject.
"I [initially] had my doubts about you, feeling that you were too much [of] a Linz acolyte," a poster recently wrote here to Andrew Bissell. On reading this, I immediately smiled to myself thinking, "Little does this fellow understand Linz." For an "acolyte"—especially in the sycophantic sense that the poster was seemingly implying—is the last person that Lindsay Perigo would want as his editor, or indeed as his friend. This is, after all, a man who cherishes individuality, not the hideous spectacle of conformity. But then I thought about it again and it struck me: what this poster was really objecting to was not the notion of groveling followers, but the idea that someone might strongly admire Linz. "Such a thing is preposterous," I could imagine the poster spluttering. "I mean, the man has so many obvious faults!" 

Well, yes, he does, but rarely do any of them actually matter. And when they do, the man usually owns up to them. But to obsess about his foibles when he has so many redeeming qualities is perverse in the extreme. So detractors be damned, for this essay is not going to be another hatchet job on Lindsay Perigo. Instead, I offer an unrepentant celebration of the man.

I first met Linz in 1978. Just 26 at the time, yet already an established TV and radio broadcaster, he struck me as an intense beanpole of a man with a face of extraordinary alertness. The occasion was a gathering of the NZ Mario Lanza Society, a club that Lindsay had formed to celebrate the lusty American tenor and other singing legends. 
Here was someone quite different. For one thing, he focused on the speaker—and he really listened—a trait this gauche teenager found both scary and flattering. Later I was struck by his complete involvement in Lanza's singing. Sitting there, eyes closed, his body moving with the flow of the music, he was in his own private state of rapture. "Christ, he likes his music!" whispered my father, intrigued that his son was not the only Lanza "nut" in New Zealand. 
Linz led a Bohemian life at his Wellington home. Arriving at the first of countless musical evenings, I remember being overwhelmed by the gallery of colourful characters, more richly varied than anything out of Dickens. There was Linz himself, a generous host with bottle ever at the ready; Lillian, a wonderfully demonstrative soprano of seductive tone; Armando, an equally seductive Italian of roguish charm; and the late Jessica Weddell, broadcaster and human being extraordinaire.

Watching Lanza movies—often procured in bizarre circumstances in this pre-video period—was great fun. "Oooh, the bitch!" Jessica would call out whenever Joan Fontaine's malicious character appeared in the musical melodrama Serenade. As always, Linz would thrill to the supercharged romanticism of Lanza's singing. To borrow from Rand, when Mario sang, this was life as it could be and should be. Not that Lindsay restricted his musical pleasures to Lanza. He was passionate about any singer or composer who lifted life from the clutches of mediocrity. And so the voices of Callas, Wunderlich, Carreras, Moffo—and yes, even Elvis Presley—would soar as well, alternating with doses of Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.
Occasionally, he would touch on political subjects. By now he had moved away from the leftish period of his youth. The catalyst was possibly the then-Prime Minister of New Zealand, Robert Muldoon, whose rampant anti-individualism appalled Lindsay. One of Muldoon's remarks was particularly loathsome. Boat builders, he announced with a characteristic scowl, were yet another group whose achievements were "crying out" to be taxed at a higher rate.

"The bastard!" Linz exploded. "Who does the little prick think he is, claiming the right to other people's productivity?" Shortly afterwards, Lindsay stunned his radio audience by using the Christian-flavoured Morning Comment slot to denounce Muldoonism, mysticism and every other iniquity he could identify in the brief time allotted. Listeners gasped. From now on, whether he wished it or not, Linz was a political animal. The era of Perigo the activist had begun.

In March 1982, a tribute to Ayn Rand appeared in a Wellington newspaper signed by Lindsay Perigo, William Weddell, Jessica Weddell, and others. I was intrigued. Who was this woman? Lindsay provided the answer on my next visit. Literally throwing The Fountainhead at me, he ordered me to go away and read the novel at once.

Its impact on me was immediate, and Objectivism changed my way of looking at the world. My initial reaction, as Lindsay had warned, was one of outrage at everything around me, as well as frustration with the "second-handers" and "social metaphysicians" whom Rand had captured so perfectly in her book. In New Zealand, this was a period of wage and price freezes, of carless days and massive government spend-ups without accountability. Beyond New Zealand, a more overt form of communism was still being enforced in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. They were appalling times. Now I understood Perigo's fury.

Philosophically, Linz has never looked back, and his achievements since the early 1980s have been enormous. He was the philosophical conscience behind New Zealand's first and only libertarian radio station, Radio Liberty, which in turn led to the formation of the Libertarianz Party. His Politically Incorrect Show was the only radio programme of its kind in the world, while The Free Radical journal, now in its twelfth year, is testimony to his determination against all odds. And then there is SOLO, a site that many of us could not imagine being without. 
Financially, he has paid a high price for his beliefs, most famously when he could no longer stomach the banality of TVNZ's "news" programmes and walked out of a lucrative career. (The final straw was the Orwellian directive, from TVNZ's then-Head of News, that newsreaders should alternately smile or frown—according to the nature of each news item—in order to give viewers "guidance as to what they should feel.") But then Lindsay has never given a toss about money. Philosophy, music, and friendship are what drive the man. And yet he remains an enigmatic figure to many. So what's he really like? Let me try to untangle the myths from the man.

The usual complaint I hear is that he is arrogant. This is a facile accusation, usually levelled by those who prefer their celebrities humble. Perigo merely has the audacity to know his own worth. "He could at least pretend not to know! Who does he think he is?!" his detractors whine. What they fail to give him credit for is his complete lack of phoniness. Not only is there no false modesty about the man, but his praise, when offered, is genuine—an attribute that is much rarer than most people realize. As one might expect, his sense of fairness also extends to his opponents, and he will readily acknowledge a consistent argument, regardless of whether he agrees with it or even likes its proponent. Would any of his enemies have the courage to reciprocate? In New Zealand's culture of envy, Perigo stands apart.

There is another aspect to his "arrogance" that is often overlooked. Linz is shy. People laugh when I say this, yet time and again I have witnessed his desire for anonymity. Being recognised is the last thing on his mind as he walks along a busy Wellington street; the only recognition he desires is for the philosophy he espouses. 
Yes, he can be choleric, and there is no one grumpier than Perigo on a bad day. When truly angered, his outbursts—as many on this forum can attest—are devastating. What makes him angry? I would say, dishonesty and mysteries. He loathes people not being straight with him, and is mystified when he discovers he is not on speaking terms with someone he has unwittingly offended. "Why didn't they say something?" he asks. "By all means, tell me what I've done, or why I'm wrong—and argue a better case—but don't just walk away!" 
His temper also arises from sheer frustration with apathetic "sheeple," and friends are not immune to the occasional tongue-lashing for passively accepting the latest dictate from the government. This has led casual observers to declare Linz permanently angry, but again their perception is way off the mark. It may seem like a cliché to say so, but his anger is merely an offshoot of a much grander passion for life. For his closest friends tell the story of another Perigo, an uproarious and romantic man who takes friendship very seriously, as his many tender attachments have shown.

I've always imagined Lindsay as a Renaissance figure, lustily carousing in taverns with the great figures of the day, wine glass in hand. Or in a later age, crossing philosophical swords with Hegel or Rousseau, demolishing their arguments with one thrust of his razor-sharp intellect, then repairing to Voltaire's for supper. Perigo is not a man of his time. He should have been born in an age in which ideas mattered, and individual achievement was nurtured and celebrated.

Back in 1995, I was working at Radio Liberty when a colleague encountered a well-oiled Cabinet Minister at a private bash. "Thank God for Lindsay Perigo," the politician foolishly confided to my colleague. "That man dares to say what the rest of us secretly believe!"

And so he does. While others duck for cover, Perigo presses on regardless, "a prophet without honour in his own country," as Jessica Weddell described him in her final broadcast. Thank Galt the man is indefatigable.

"We are all in the gutter," Oscar Wilde once said, "but some of us are looking at the stars." If anyone exemplifies the cheerleader of the latter group, that person is Linz.
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