Thursday, June 10, 2021

Amanda Lear: A Riddle inside an Enigma Wrapped in a Sequin Gown


Was she born a man? A woman? When? 1939? 1941? Where? Saigon?  Hong Kong? Singapore? Switzerland?  And why is her voice so deep?

Who was/is/will be Amanda Lear? 

Questions without answers. Yet there she is – beautiful, vivacious, easy to laugh, rushing to the next party, posing for Salvador Dali, hanging with the Beatles and Stones. She models for prominent designers. She’s a cover girl on fashion magazines.

David Bowie pays for her singing lessons and off she goes to become a big star in France and Germany. A disco queen. A professional muse.  She paints canvas. Dali paints her. She poses for Playboy.

So easily bored. Amanda writes songs. She has lovers. She is a gay icon. She doesn’t belong in the 1960s/70s/80s/90s because she has no use for time. 

The real Amanda can only be seen by moonlight in a patina of pixie dust, sprinkled by a wayward nymph on her lazy way to nowhere.  

The best mystery enjoys unending immunity.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Sophia Loren: Of Strangeness in the Proportion


“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.” - Edgar Allan Poe

We have millions of Monroe and Bardot lookalikes, but there are few, if any, women who remotely resemble Sophia Loren. What is it about her beauty that it should be restricted to one face only, ever?

The eyes, the nose and the lips – the proportions are odd, yet together proffer an allurement more supplication than seduction. If sound took form we would see harmony.

Her face remains more in memory than on a screen – for that’s where she belongs amid timeless shadows and sighs, the candle-lit embrace under a windswept moon with everything drifting out to dawn.

She could only come from an old land of sun and sea where the past is bemused by the present, knowing the love of life leaves you untouched by time. You can see it in her smile and the way she swirls her skirt. When she’s around, you don’t need a clock.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Stuart Sutcliffe: Those We Leave Behind


"[He is my] alter ego ... a spirit in his world ... a guiding force.” – John Lennon


It would be cosmically ironic if Stuart Sutcliffe (1940-1962), an original member of The  Beatles, ever wanted to be a famous musician. But he quit the group early on to begin a life behind an easel, not a guitar. Anyway, he had the eyes of a painter, not a musician.

The universe-wide divide between the anonymous solitude of his death and the raucous, global fame of the Beatles leads us to question the role of those we leave behind. Does their essence – like static, temporal monuments - demark the progress of our lives, or are they as unchained as the wind, always with us, changing but unchanged?

 So Stuart Sutcliffe, a leather-clad, pale face angel, ghostly and delicate, decides to emerge on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – called the greatest rock album of all time. There he is, a silent sentinel, defiant but reassuring, imparting that wisdom shared only by the departed – nothing dies if remembered, nothing leaves if loved.

Just listen to the way he sings Love Me Tender with an ethereal, driving determination - like a playful prayer - sure to leave footprints in the sand. 




Friday, January 22, 2021

Jerry Lewis: Show-stopping Banality


To many of us,  his talent isn’t obvious. Too much noise always gets in the way. Ego. Insecurity. Immaturity. Neurosis. Some performers are empowered by their deficits; Jerry Lewis’ took him just so far, and then left him stranded and exposed, swooning in self-pity or foaming over persecution by an illusory cabal of envious insiders.

It wasn’t long after the war and the advent of television. America was ready for a new clown. And there he was, no Emmett Kelly, but somewhere between a schlemiel and a schlimazel. Whatever, it worked pussycat, and together with his partner, Dean Martin, he had the world at his feet. And then the ground began to tremble.

With few exceptions, most of his work has chaotic noise that cracks the fourth wall, through which he shrieks to the audience to appreciate his efforts, to applaud his genius, thereby sacrificing character for personal adulation. Jerry can’t seem to help it. He really wants you know, damn it, how f’n hard he’s sweating for your smiles. The self-loathing is palpable.

His talent was one of daring invention, of wild kinetic energy, unregulated by taste or refinement. He didn’t follow orders or regulations. He did it all himself. Jerry Lewis had guts and stamina that pushed him to the front of the crowd – but once there, he so easily followed the path of least resistance.

His style of humor was destabilized as the 1960s progressed. Not even Vegas saved him. He retreated into charities that eventually disowned him. Nowadays, his albums are rarely played; his films, unwatched, whereas his boozy buddy, Deano, just keeps burbling along.

Much of Jerry’s humor had him portraying a man of inferior mental faculties. That hasn’t aged well. It doesn’t matter because, in the end, it was all about Jerry anyway. That’s the lesson, pussycat.

Jerry Lewis joins the immortals with the wondrous, show-stopping breadth of his banality.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Neal Cassady: Drive He Said


King of the Road

“Twenty years of fast living - there's not much left, and my kids are all screwed up. Don't do what I have done." - Neal Cassady

If he was just a clown, a hyperactive dunce, a celebrity buddy, he would have been abandoned by  American literature. But Neal Cassady always makes into the footnotes. He’s always there, On the Road with Kerouac or On the Road with Kesey or wherever – he always seems to be moving, vibrating, jabbering and anxious to devour Life just before it devours him.

Cassady & Kerouac: Hit the road Jack

He drives the beatniks. He drives the hippies. He drives a neon-noir zeitgeist into the perfumed arms of flower power. He belongs to mid-century America (I like Ike but I dig Kennedy), a post-war Huckleberry where the Mississippi meets macadam. And like all travelers who know the real purpose of moving, he never takes baggage because the game is about escaping, not finding.

- 1968. His last breaths of life fog cold metal of a railway track at night. There he is, under a Mexican moon, hanging on, alone, the Holy Goof slowly slips behind the wheel for a velvet drive to the stars.

Always keep moving

Monday, November 23, 2020

Donald Crowhurst: Just Like You


Looking beyond the vanishing point

An error in judgment or a weakness in character such as pride or arrogance helps bring about the hero's downfall. – Characteristics of Greek Tragedy, Quizlet

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport - Shakespeare

Wealth. Fame. Status.
Under similar circumstances, perhaps you would have done the same. That’s what makes Donald Crowhurst a family member. He wasn’t outrageous or evil. Nor was he cruel or violent. He was just like you, a tightrope walker mercifully unaware of the ever-present chasm. Just a slight breeze, just enough to puff out a jib, is all that’s needed to slip.

In 1969, he slipped into the living hell of a dark mind; at first, intellectualizing his behavior, and then, when the center would no longer hold, diving into the womb of salvation and peace, a hundred miles deep in the North Atlantic.

End of the Voyage

He needed the money for his family, for his dreams, and The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a singled-handed, round-the-world race, offered everything. Wealth. Fame. Status. Yet, he had to win. It would take near genius-level cheating, but we all have different talents.

Wait, here’s an idea to draw less attention: what about a hail-fellow-well-met second place? The gods must have been bemused to let such a forlorn, sad man drift and bob across the whirling waves. What a character this Crowhurst was. Let’s blow his bark into first place. And that was it - the tipping point.

Gone was a father, a husband, a kind heart and a good sailor. How fragile and weak and courageous and strong. Exactly like you.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Mike Nichols and the Rarity of Entertainment IQ


                          Mike Nichols directs Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. 

If we don’t accept the possibility of genius, it’s difficult to explain how consistently – if not contiguously - successful Mike Nichols was on screen and stage.  One person can’t direct that many hits; one can’t win that many awards.

Part of the mystery is no mystery at all: Mike Nichols had an odd talent which cannot be learned, copied or modified. He could sense material that had hit potential and was able to dust his work with a patina of artistic refinement. It had quality, not just fame. Very rare.

Nichols, Taylor, Burton on the couch in Virgin Woolf

Beginning with the films Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) and The Graduate (1967), he rarely took a false step. Same thing with theatre. Barefoot in the Park (1963) kicked it off and he just didn’t quit.

Born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky, in Berlin, in 1931, Nichols developed supreme survival instincts. He seemed to know what people wanted, what they liked, what they wished to see – and especially, in the beginning, what made them laugh. Similar to many funny people, he suffered depression, but he endured, and perhaps made the illness an unwelcome attribute.

Mike Nichols: Thinking it out

Regardless, when someone is so good at a difficult job, we must take note of the high-water marks, as if to say, we were lucky that such an artist touched down. Our prayers illume the illusion of life as we watch people - like Mike Nichols - paint in the dark, fifty feet high.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Janis Joplin: Freedom's Just Another Word

“On stage, I make love to 25,000 different people, then I go home alone.”

― Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin became famous because of her incredible singing voice. That’s the essence of her appeal. She had no stylists or wardrobe assistants, no dry ice machines or back-up dancers, no lip syncing. That stuff doesn’t keep you around 50 years after you left...No, just a few guitars, drums, maybe a keyboard...and Janis. That’s it.

Don’t let her early death distract you from the raw talent – and her talent was as raw as it gets. She knew how to sell a song, the same way Sinatra did or Judy Garland or Aretha Franklin or any of the greats. Listen to her sing Me and Bobby McGee and you’ll hear it. ( It’s the phrasing, it’s the pitch control, it’s that cosmic alchemy of spirit, personality, experience, physicality, hope, defeat, love and loathing.

She was strong but could seem weak, a leader that followed others, laughed with a cackle but sad beyond belief. She needed heavy drugs to do what? Calm a restless soul? Obliterate despair? Help her to remember to forget? No answers, only convenient asides. Perhaps she wished for escape from her self-made cell. Maybe freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, maybe not, but Janis never played with a strong hand.

She molded her appearance to coincide with her persona – all feathered boas and junk jewelry and owl sunglasses and psychedelic cars. But a persona is, well, just a persona.

There she is jamming with sex machine Tom Jones or rapping with the impossibly beautiful Rachel Welch. Few other celeb hippies had the guts – and brains - to shake off the tie-dye and patchouli and just follow their hearts.

Like Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin did not commit suicide and wasn’t fated to die young. That’s morbid and sloppy. It was a series of dark, unresolved private issues and plain bad luck that led her away. That said, those who knew her well would tell tales, years after her demise, of her darkness and isolation.

They still find it hard to say farewell to Janis – because she always seems to be around, just one head-thrown-back-shattering-cry-for-love that swells it all back to life one more time.

“The first time I heard Janis Joplin’s version [of Me and Bobby McGee] was right after she died. Paul Rothchild, her producer, asked me to stop by his office and listen to this thing she had cut. Afterwards, I walked all over L.A., just in tears. I couldn’t listen to the song without really breaking up. So when I came back to Nashville, I went into the Combine [Publishing] building late at night, and I played it over and over again, so I could get used to it without breaking up.” - Kris Kristofferson

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Ann-Margret: The Allure of Energy

Ah, her chin. Just the way she held it – defiant, confident, with Attitude before everyone had Attitude. 
Anne & Elvis: Doppelganging

If energy alone could convey sexual allure, then it would look like Ann-Margret.

She had it... The body – hard but curvaceous, the hair long and electric. The voice, either soft sensual or direct and laughing with an invitation to roll.

You could cover her in paint (The Swinger) or beans (Tommy) and it only enhanced what was obscured.

Ann-Margret met her match with Elvis Presley, two of them so ridiculously alike that there was a doppelganger effect tripping along the XX/XY chromosome axis.

Always on the move
And when it wasn’t hip to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam, she went anyway, shaking for boys – just farm boys dazed by fear and heat.

Always ambitious, so eager to confront challenge with an inviting grin - more hip than hippy chicks - empowered by her untethered spirit.

That day she left Elvis’ funeral, head up, keening overcome by forward thrust, to be alone in the desert on a Harley thundering toward Viva Las Vegas. For years ago she discovered that only movement itself could calm such a restless soul.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Glenn Gould and the sacred gift of silence

A musician so outrageously gifted that he worshiped silence, listening to the notes as if small, restless friends. 

He shied from human contact yet always embraced Bach.
 Head-flung-back ecstasy

Genius does not go unpunished. There were the obvious eccentricities, the quirky cadences, the sotto voce, preternatural humming that came as a prayer to gods others could never know.

Weighted with awareness

Always alone, even with people, communing with that music of dark space wherein you risk deafness by the awful beauty of solitude. So Canadian: it is the distance between us that pulls the soul upwards.

You can see it in the hunched back, weighed with awareness, in the hands that were always beautiful white wings, and the head-flung-back ecstasy as music holds him as a lost lover.

Glenn Gould, when in the deep trance of talent, gave us whatever music always meant to reminded us of.
The awful beauty of solitude

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brigitte Bardot: The Attraction of Detachment

Brigitte Bardot had a talent for beauty.  But it wasn’t the ridiculously perfect face of Catherine Deneuve. Or the seductive, interwoven curves of Raquel Welch. Bardot’s beauty was never cheekbone-dependent.

Indeed, she had an attitude that somehow forced her appearance to the wings, an insouciance that made her surprisingly relevant to the 1960s, where her sex-symbol sisters seemed increasingly absurd. It was a rebel streak, not a come-hither. The slight overbite. The updo cascade of blondeness. And a detachment that didn’t stop with the people in her room, but included everyone.

Bardot. Picasso. Beauty. Beast.
You just knew she was going to handle this film gig like last night’s lover, with a soft adieu and a pout and then out the door; that she didn’t care about character nuance or plot development.

It was her pilgrim spirit, an easy laughter than had more to with exits than entrances. You followed her into the next scene just to see if she showed up.

And then she left. No facelifts. No excuses. Seeking the 60s sunshine all golden over Cote d'Azur, alone with animals and others without guile.

What to make of her oeuvre? All the insubstantial films. The wasted time. Doesn't matter. She's not listening, caring as much about them as she does for you, held somewhere between a Gallic shrug and a seductive playfulness that comes so easily to those with no past.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Brian Jones: Born Under a Bad Sign

“Yes I want to be famous, and no, I don’t want to live till 30.”  - Brian Jones

Brian Jones, the founder – and the best musician – of ever-popular The Rolling Stones - didn’t know how to handle fame. He was destroyed by popularity. The more fame Brian gathered, the more drugs he ingested, until...
Jones: Leader of the Pack

He gave The Rolling Stones its name, booked its early gigs, made up set lists, led the way in its rebellious attitude and style – and was fired by the other members.

With his beautiful, angelic golden pageboy haircut, his dandy suits, his just-above-a-whisper voice, his obvious fragility, who would have known he sired and abandoned eight children and beat women?

He wanted The Rolling Stones to remain as a rhythm & blues band, not a rock n’ roll group, and battled the others to control the artistic vision. He was ignored. In a brief time, The Rolling Stones became known as the world’s greatest rock band.

Brian Jones was the first international pop star to embrace – what became known as – world music with his production of the record Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka. Released in 1971, it failed to sell. World music went on to explode in the 1980s.

He met and lived with actress/model Anita Pallenberg. (It’s been said she was the only woman he ever loved). She left him for Keith Richards whom she left for Mick Jagger, kind of…
Two J's: soon gone

He was the only Stone to appear on a Beatles song, performing a great, meandering sax solo for You Know My Name (Look Up the Number). He also played on Baby You’re a Rich Man. He never received credit.

When he died, he owed debts amounting to over 200,000 pounds – which was finally cleared in 1982. Today, his sister receives about $21,000 annually in royalties. Sir Mick Jagger is worth about$360-million dollars.

Jones: The coolest Stone of all
It’s likely that he was drowned in his pool by a handyman whom he had just fired. Due to Brian’s lifestyle, the suspicion was never pursued.

He was the first big rock star to be admitted into the ’27 Club’, followed by the three J’s - Jimi, Janis and Jim.

Appropriately, the sad soundtrack of Brian Jones’ life is his beloved Blues:

Born under a bad sign
Been down since I could crawl
If it wasn't for bad luck
You know I wouldn't have no luck at all

-       - Albert King

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Sam Cooke: We’re talking Faith

It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
Cause I don't know what's up there, beyond the sky
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
- Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke: He was perfect
He came from the church. Listen to the Soul Stirrers. But hold on. Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe never made to American Band Stand. Sam Cooke (1931-1964) did. 

It was always about Faith – in himself, in his talent, in the Lord that first heard his voice. You can’t fake faith. It’s immune to fraud. He must have known that Faith = Magic = Soul. And Sam Cooke had soul.

Artistic truthfulness is tricky. It can’t be rehearsed.  Sinatra – no slouch on straight talk – said, “When I sing, I believe… I’m honest. If you want to get an audience with you, there’s only one way. You have to reach out to them with total honesty and humility.”
Wonderful World

Somehow, nudged by a holy ghost, Sam Cooke brought the Church to pop radio.

So even when he sang an ostensible teen-sell-out ditty, like Havin' a Party, it somehow had that pixie dust of faith sprinkled everywhere.  Same thing with Wonderful World.  There’s a warmth, perhaps a background sadness to his work, where other artists raised double-tracked, chrome-plated paeans to youth’s transitory glory.

A change gonna come
Voice. Looks. Moves. Songs. He was perfect for his chosen profession, as if bespoke by an unstable though perceptive Entertainment God. To end it all drunk and naked,  bleeding to death on the floor of a midnight hotel, a bullet in the chest – to end it that way, to lose the Glory, to let the Faith slither through his hands with warm blood – it just wasn’t possible. Sam Cooke was never, ever to die that way at 33 years old. Justifiable homicide?

So he returned to where it all began, beyond the sky.

If there is indeed a Heavenly Choir, it sounds a lot like Sam Cooke.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Truman Capote: The Most Perfect Writer

Norman Mailer called Truman Capote “the most perfect writer of my generation.” Perhaps he was. The simplicity of his prose is deceiving. Like Hemingway, there often seems to be another tale - one of greater importance – hidden behind the one you’re reading.  Such a skill cannot be learned. It flows from the deepest realms of the soul and often, it seems, bespeaks trouble.

Truman Capote at his peak 
Capote termed his great work, In Cold Blood, a non-fiction novel.  In my many ways, his life followed the precepts of this genre: fact was hidden as fiction, and fiction was presented as fact. In the end, no amount of drugs and alcohol could meld the fact/fiction parallax, and grief became too severe.
Party (and host) of the Century

He said: “No one will ever know what In Cold Blood took out of me. It scraped me right down to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me.”

Perhaps his greatest creation really was the Party of the Century. For the event, such as it was, came forth from Capote’s imagination, passion, and ambition.  Never before had there been anything like it. It’s as if The Party was a living, danse macabre of his psyche.

And after it ended and the last guests left, he was forever spent.

He was spent forever
Capote filled the ensuing years with sad, public displays of debauchery and rare, incomplete offerings of former brilliance, his talent eroded by pills, sophomoric disputes, mendacity, and disappointments.

The strange story of Truman Capote certainly wasn’t written by him. There’s an unimaginative coarseness to his declining years; a too-obvious narrative not found in his words; a hopeless, drunken weave toward darkness that engenders cliché. No, whoever wrote it has no talent at all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Of Peripheral Celebrity and Collateral Damage: The ballad of Suki Potier

Suki Potier: Collateral
You’ve read the news, oh boy: December 18, 1966, Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, plows his Lotus into a van on Redcliffe Gardens, South Kensington. Dead. He is 21. John Lennon hears about it and writes A Day in the Life…something about a lucky man who made the grade but blew his mind out in a car.

Browne’s passenger that day? Model and all-around It Girl Suki Potier.

If ever someone walked under a rain cloud through the rarefied world of 1960s popism, it was poor Suki.

What to make of peripheral celebrities who suffer collateral damage? They appear as secondary characters, necessary to turn the pages of history.

Brian Jones. Suki. Tara Browne.
Bad karma
It wasn’t long after Browne’s death that Potier surfaced in the arms of Rolling Stone Brian Jones. Given what we know now about Brian Jones and women, this wasn’t going to turn out well.

July 3, 1969: Potier leaves Jones’ country house just thirty minutes before he drowns. Not quite in the passenger seat this time, but close.

Jones/Potier: Blonde on Blonde
Then, after Jones’ death, she marries wealthy Hong Kong business man Robert Ho.

And it’s now that the rain cloud bursts. June 23, 1981: Suki and husband die in a car crash while on holiday in Portugal.

Fate can be cruel but rarely is it so aggressively personal.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Talitha Getty: Beautiful and Damned

 “Things are sweeter when they're lost. I know--because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly… and when I got it, it turned to dust in my hand.” 
-          F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

Talitha: Through a grate darkly
I knew the youthfulness of the '60s: Talitha and Paul Getty lying on a starlit terrace in Marrakesh, beautiful and damned, and a whole generation assembled as if for eternity where the curtain of the past seemed to lift before an extraordinary future.

Yves Saint Laurent

Last night Paul and Talitha Getty threw a New Year's Eve party at their palace in the medina. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were there, flat on their backs. They couldn't get off the floor let alone talk. I've never seen so many people out of control.
-          John Hopkins, 1968

[Talitha] arrived like a gust of wind, bringing a tornado with her when she married John Paul Getty Jr. She brought something new to that family and that whole world. She was a very beautiful woman who had never even thought about being dressed by a haute couture house, despite having the means to do so; she dressed a bit like a hippie. She was very touching, and she was very pretty. Yes, she was all of that. But, above all, she was a completely free character, and that, that was very important.
Party on...
-          Pierre Bergé, L’Officiel, 2016.

A ‘free character’? It didn’t work out that way…

In the late 1960s, the term ‘beautiful people’ came to be applied to a wealthy, indolent crowd of perpetual party-goers, most often found in exotic locations, who enjoyed a robust pursuit of alcohol, drugs and sexual liaisons. They differed from the ‘jet set’ in that they gravitated more toward counter-culture trends and fashions. And no one was more beautiful than Talitha Getty (1940-1971).

The photo on the Edge of Forever
Her wealth, her fame, her money, her films…all conspired to evoke a lifestyle that belonged more in celebrity fanzines than in a world of real-life consequences.

And why shouldn’t her boyfriend at one point be French aristocrat Count Jean De Breteuil, a dreadful man who seemed adept at using heroin to kill rock stars and other celebrities.

She held court in Morocco where a thin line etched in the cool sand of a midnight dune holds death at bay, but somehow the wind always breathes the lovely sweet-tang perfume of decay.

We leave Talitha Getty on that Marrakesh rooftop in blue moon aspic, her forever face both curious and fearful, with that thousand-yard stare that looks so intently at absolutely nothing.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Pierre Trudeau: We just watched him

“[Pierre Trudeau] has certain animal leadership properties — as a zoologist, I’m tremendously impressed with Trudeau. He has an intellectual virility which is exceedingly important . . . His anatomy, his gestures, his facial expressions are animal qualities that set him apart and bring him to the top of the heap.” - Desmond Morris

Trudeau-mania kicks in
A handsome millionaire, bachelor, law professor. Pierre Trudeau was a godsend to Canada’s version of the Swingin’ 60s. He even had a sports car.

The electorate tend not to trust intellectual candidates, but somehow Trudeau, empowered by the cultural zeitgeist, slalomed through the sluice gates.
Pierre with Barbara Streisand

It was the first time any Canadian politician had inspired mania. Jolted by the success of Expo 67, the conservative people of this northern country voted him in as their 15th prime minister. He was Canada’s John F. Kennedy.

His shining moment came on October 13, 1970 (during the October Crisis) when a reporter asked how far he would go to shut down a terrorist group. “Just watch me,” he replied, and Canadians sat up in their seats. The arrogance. The confidence. Who was this guy?... And they certainly watched him.
Canada's JFK

They watched him date glamorous celebrities. They watched his marriage to a beautiful, younger woman... then watched her party with the Rolling Stones.

Trudeau was a wonderful anomaly - to paraphrase one of his adversaries – representing ‘not what we are, but who we could become.’

In the end, who wouldn’t mind that said about them.