Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tara Browne: a little life rounded with a sleep

...our little life...
rounded with a sleep...

Guinness Heir, 21, Is Killed In London Sportscar Crash

LONDON, Dec 18 (1966) - Tara Browne, 21-year-old heir to the Guinness brewery fortune and a leader of London’s “mod” social set, was killed early today when his sportscar smashed into a parked truck in the South Kensington district.

- New York Times

There are some people whose purpose in life — in a cultural sense — is to offer context to the lives of their contemporaries. They are rarely catalysts for action; rather, they provide a kind of mood music or a subtext for movement. Tara Browne (1945-1966) was like that.

The short, happy life of Tara Browne survives in print and pictures for what he represents, not what he did (although his twenty-one years were not without merit and accomplishment). And what he represents is that burst of color and noise and fashion that ran amok through the Carnaby district of London, from about 1964 – 1970, give or take.

Melted into thin air
Perhaps he represents a little more. By its very nature, ‘Pop’ doesn’t do anything, doesn’t feed the hungry or house the poor. It just is, like Tara. No creativity required, no mesmeric eloquence or moon-lit beauty: you just have to be there in the right place in the right clothes. That’s it – but it’s not that easy because we only know where there is in retrospect. Tara seemed to know.

Browne  spooned some of his inheritance into a fashion store called Dandy (on King’s Road) which sold clothes made by his tailoring business. He also had a failing marriage, kids and girlfriends.

A brief, happy life
He was a little bit Edie Sedgwick, a tiny touch of Porfirio Rubirosa, a dash of David Bailey, a pinch of Sir Guy Grand — with a lime wedge of poor-little-rich-kid. He was well liked. When Tara died, John Lennon wrote about it in ‘A Day in the Life’ and the Pretty Things recorded the more literal Death Of A Socialite’…Every little bit counts.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air…
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

It’s been suggested that when Shakespeare wrote those words — almost the final words he ever wrote — he was saying that all art is ephemeral, nothing more than thin air. He was wrong of course (as his own longevity proves — and he knew in his heart): art, just like a person, endures if it — or they — touches the Truth.

Whatever smartly-dressed Tara Browne discovered long ago - under a white Mary Quant umbrella -dancing in a warm rain down Kingly Court - is a mystery - but it must have been some wonderful, deathless, fashionable Truth.