Monday, August 11, 2014
Back in 1980, I got a fever and the only prescription was John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Since then, I’ve wanted to go to Liverpool, the Fab Four’s hometown. It’s difficult to schedule a trip to Liverpool though. It doesn’t top most non-Beatlemaniac vacation lists, so every year, I’ve told myself, “Maybe next year.” Then I read Tune In, the first of a planned Beatles trilogy by Mark Lewisohn.
I’ve read dozens of Beatles books and this is my favorite by far because it is so well-researched. It follows the Beatles from their childhoods through the end of 1962, just before the band became a worldwide phenomenon. Actually, it starts before the Beatles’ childhoods, with an exploration of the history of the port city of Liverpool, which thrived on the slave trade in the 18th century. (There’s now an International Slavery Museum in Liverpool that tells this history.) In the 19th century, Liverpool attracted hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants who were fleeing famine in their homeland, as well as immigrants from all over Europe. Lewisohn places the Beatles’ families in context in the history of Liverpool, tracing all of them back to the 1800s. I was amazed by how many out-of-wedlock children there were back in the day: George Harrison’s maternal grandmother had seven of them between 1905 and 1924. And Richard Starkey — the future Ringo Starr — would have had the last name Parkin except his great-grandmother took up with a married man named Starkey. To avoid gossip, she changed her name, and that of her son — Ringo’s future grandfather — to “Starkey.”
Speaking of Ringo, I never before understood what harrowing childhood health problems he had. First, his appendix ruptured shortly before he turned 7 in 1947. As he was wheeled into an operating room, Richy, as he was known, asked a nurse for a cup of tea. Lewisohn writes: “‘We’ll give you one when you come round,” she answered — by which time ten weeks had passed.” During that time, his mother was warned on three occasions that he wouldn’t survive the night and, even after he came out of that original coma, he spent as many as 16 weeks in and out of consciousness. He didn’t get back home until the summer of 1948! After a few decent years, in May or June 1954, he came down with pleurisy and then tuberculosis, and didn’t get out of the hospital till the end of 1955. It was during that second hospital stay that he first got his hands on a drum, thanks to the the visits of a music teacher who came with a selection of percussion instruments. Richy had coveted a drum seen in the window of a music shop early in 1954, and refused to participate in the music class unless he got a drum instead of the other options of tambourine, cymbal, triangle or maracas. Good thing the teacher gave in to him, eh?
The book was also very enlightening about John’s family, adding a lot of color to the standard black-and-white story that paints John’s mother, Julia, as a ne’er-do-well hussy who abandoned him when he was five years old to his strict, but noble, Aunt Mimi, and who didn’t see her child again till right before her accidental death. Julia certainly was a rebel, but not much wilder than the Harrison and Starkey ancestors earlier in the century. In 1938, when she was 24, she married John’s merchant-seaman father, Alf, “for a dare, a lark,” writes Lewisohn. John was born in 1940, after which the longest time Julia, Alf and child spent together as a family was probably two months. Alf was gone on voyages for long periods of time — during one 18-month period, Julia stopped receiving letters from him, and didn’t even know that Alf had been imprisoned for stealing cargo. When he finally showed up, he found her pregnant with another man’s baby. (That baby, a girl, was, indeed, voluntarily given up for adoption and her name changed from Victoria Elizabeth Lennon to Ingrid Pedersen. Her identity was made public in 1998. She never met her mother or half-brother John Lennon.) After that, Julia took up with another guy, John Dykins, and moved to a small flat in which there was only one double bed to share with her new man and son. Mimi called social services and John ended up with Aunt Mimi and and her husband, George Smith. One day Alf came to the Smith house to take John out and fled with him to a friends’ place in Blackpool. This wasn’t the first time Alf had absconded with John. Julia, now pregnant with a child by Dykins, fetched John back and turned him over to Mimi. Julia visited at first, but Mimi encouraged distance between them, wanting John to be in a less turbulent environment. Julia never lived more than about two miles away and she and John resumed a close relationship in the summer of 1954, when he was 13. Julia shared John’s sense of humor, bought him cool clothes, taught him to play the banjo, encouraged his interest in new music and bought him his first guitar (Aunt Mimi famously told the teenage Lennon, “The guitar’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a living at it.”) He would spend weekends and then a week at a time at Julia’s house — enough time that her daughters with Dykins, another Julia and Jacqui, thought John was their full brother. John was at Julia’s house on July 15, 1958, when Julia went to visit Mimi at her house, known as “Mendips.” Walking to the bus stop from Mimi’s, Julia was struck and killed by an off-duty cop who was driving unaccompanied although he only had a learner’s permit. Later, John would say:
“It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. We’d caught up so much, me and Julia, in just a few years. We could communicate. We got on. She was great.”
But even more interesting to me — no, inspiring! — were the details of the Beatles’ challenges, hard work and persistence. Recently, I heard someone say that the Beatles didn’t accomplish anything all that radical musically. That they’re kind of middle of the road. It reminded me of the old story of the ignoramus who sees Hamlet and declares that Shakespeare is full of cliches. No! The originals only sound ordinary now because they were so influential that the entire culture imitated them. They SET the new standards. It’s the same progression that clothing designer Charles James described in the fashion world:
“A great designer does not seek acceptance. He challenges popularity, and by the force of his own convictions renders popular in the end what the public hates at first sight.”
Or as I say, “Never Is the Next New Thing™”!
The Beatles really were special, but they weren’t preordained for fame as it often seems in hindsight. They busted their asses for their success. From the start, they did their research, always open-minded to new music from America — especially music by black performers — and adding rare songs that other groups didn’t perform to their repertoire. (Years later, while inducting the Beatles into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mick Jagger recalled, “England was a real wasteland. England had nothing really to offer as far as pop music was concerned.”) Early on, as teenagers, John Lennon and Paul McCartney started experimenting with writing their own songs. It was unheard for musicians to do this at that point. There were songwriters and there were performers; never the twain did meet. All the Liverpool groups developing at the same time as the Beatles did entire shows of covers. (Even Elvis, a great early influence on the Beatles as well as on the whole rock genre, only has a few songwriting credits, and then just because his hard-ass manager, Colonel Tom Parker, demanded them, not due to any real contribution.)
The Beatles also put in Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” of hard work. Any serious fan knows about the shows they played in rough bars in Hamburg, Germany, before they became big. (My grandfather Sam once got me the bootleg Hamburg sessions on vinyl that I begged for. I’m hoping I’ll find that in storage somewhere.) Their lunchtime shows at the Cavern Club in Liverpool generated a fierce local fan base. That kind of work leads to “luck” — in this case, the interest of a furniture-and-record-store executive named Brian Epstein, who became the group’s devoted manager, undeterred by discouragement including the record label Decca’s infamous 1962 rejection of the band. The way Lewisohn writes it, that move made as much sense as a large number of corporate decisions I’ve witnessed first-hand:
“Logic … cannot explain why Decca rejected a group who’d won a newspaper popularity poll, had a fan club and were the biggest band in Liverpool and Hamburg, playing 350 bookings a year, sometimes to as many as three thousand people a night, but then signed and issued records by several semi-professional, non-performing nonentities during 1962, one of whom they promoted as a singing decorator. And … Decca spent more money treating Brian Epstein to lunch to tell him they weren’t signing the Beatles than it would have cost to sign them.”
LOLZ. Of course, part of the problem was the snobbery that London-based companies had towards Liverpool, which they considered a hick town, still struggling to rebuild the ruins from heavy bombing during World War II. So what did those fans matter? Then there was Decca’s belief that “guitar groups are on the way out.” Guitar groups were barely getting started, of course — it was the Beatles who would popularize them — but there had been a little blip of interest which the suits believed would be as short-lived as fads for calypso music and the Twist. I could go on, but I’ll just say that if you’re in any creative industry and frustrated by running up against the Establishment’s lack of vision and imagination, this book has a lot of lessons for you.
This is the book that finally got me to Liverpool. Yep! After finishing this, I told MrB: “I’ve always wanted to go to Liverpool ‘someday.’ ‘Someday’ has arrived!” So, last month, we did it. We flew into nearby Manchester Airport — not Liverpool John Lennon Airport, sadly — and within hours were on a ferry on the River Mersey, listening to a recording of Gerry & the Pacemaker’s hit tribute to the area, “Ferry Cross the Mersey.”
The waterfront was beautiful.
But, naturally, the big excitement was following in the footsteps of the Beatles. I enjoyed the Magical Mystery Tour — and it was a bonus that the tour guide was the brother of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Holly Johnson (“I saw your brother at the Ritz in the ’80s!” I told him.)
We saw all the important sights, including St. Peter’s Church, where John and Paul met as teenagers. There was also Penny Lane …
… the Strawberry Field gate (well, it’s a reproduction, but a very nice one!) …
… and all the Beatles’ childhood homes, plus Brian Epstein’s.
We went on a separate tour to go inside John’s and Paul’s houses. Those houses are now owned and operated by the National Trust, which does several tours a day to both houses with just 15 people per tour. Those tours are the only way to get into the houses, so make sure you book early! You’re not allowed to take photos inside, but here is one of me and my real husband lurking outside the door of my almost-husband Paul McCartney’s old house on 20 Forthlin Road.
Sylvia, the woman giving the tour at Paul’s house, has occasional interaction with Paul’s brother Mike, who has visited the house. He passes along all kinds of interesting trivia as he thinks of it. There are also a lot of Mike’s photos in the house, which are a huge asset. You can sit in Paul’s small living room and look at a picture of Paul and John writing a song in that very room. I particularly liked a picture of Paul climbing up the drainpipe, which he would have to do to sneak into the house after staying out too late. We went out in the back, looked at the drainpipe, then came back in and looked at Paul climbing the drainpipe. Now I have this new fantasy about being extra-creepy to my almost-husband should I ever meet him. Like … I want to speak at a normal tone so everyone can hear and say things like, “Great to meet you! Are you enjoying this party?” and then lean really close and whisper so only he can hear, “I’ve been in your bedroom.” Right? It’s like the episode of Will & Grace where Jack is stalking Kevin Bacon and says, “If you need me, I’ll be in your hamper.”
Colin, Sylvia’s husband, did the tour for Mendips, where John lived with Aunt Mimi. There were some old drawings by John and other memorabilia but it would have been nice to have some photos of him in the space like we had at Paul’s house. Still, I had a great moment standing in his tiny bedroom and looking out the window and thinking, “John looked out this window!” Someone else who did that on a tour years ago was Bob Dylan. Yep, Bob did the fan-boy thing and took the National Trust tour, which I found interesting because Bob knew John. In fact, Dylan was the one who introduced the Beatles to pot in 1964. (In 2012, The Atlantic called the Dylan-Lennon relationship weird and one-sided, but maybe it wasn’t as weirdly one-sided as thought.) I also checked out Aunt Mimi’s room, walked out, then ran back in so I could fluff my hair and check my lipstick in Aunt Mimi’s mirror, just so I could say that I primped in Aunt Mimi’s mirror. Clearly Bob Dylan’s not the only weird one here.
Of course, we went to the basement-level Cavern Club, where the Beatles played so many of their Gladwellian 10,000 hours to hometown fans who, long before the band went on to huge success, would stop by Paul’s house to hang with the boys and get served tea by his dad, Jim. The Cavern has been rebuilt and improved after being closed in 1973 and it was still pretty dank, so imagine how it was before there were laws about fire exits and ventilation. I love the fact that people used to cram into this place with sweating walls on their lunch hour, rock out, get all smelly and go back to work/school. I’ve never done anything like that!
I can’t remember if the photo above was taken before or after I threatened MrB with divorce because I discovered he didn’t know who Stu Sutcliffe was. Stu was an artist, John’s dear friend and the original bass player for the Beatles. He died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 21. Any true Beatles fan knows who he is. Meanwhile, MrB saw the Beatles live at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1966 — his first wife won tickets in a radio contest. After I learned that MrB didn’t know who Stu was, I had a bad feeling about the concert issue. “You do know that Candlestick Park was the last official live concert that the Beatles ever did?” I asked. Nope, he did not! OMG! It was just like the time on Family Guy when Lois is pretending to be a big KISS fan to make Peter happy, and when he finds out, he’s bitterly disappointed in her, but then, to quote from the Family Guy wiki …
“Peter stops at a Denny’s on the way home, where KISS happens also to have stopped. Lois recognizes Chaim Witz, who she dated before he changed his name to Gene Simmons; Gene introduces her to the rest of the band, who have heard Gene’s stories of “Loose Lois.” Peter’s faith in Lois is restored, and he proudly shares the news on public access television that his wife did KISS.”
That’s exactly what this was like, except my faith hasn’t been restored by a sexual nickname.
Now the Cavern has live music starting around noon and going all day. Plenty of Beatles tributes, of course. You’ve got the guys specializing in John and the guys specializing in Paul and so on. I always feel kinda sad for the guys who realize they have a Ringo voice, even though Ringo is awesome and the Beatles wouldn’t be the Beatles without him. When it comes to voices, you want to have the John or Paul voice. That’s just how it is. Sorry, Ringo. We stayed at the Cavern for a couple of hours but I could have stayed the whole day.
Plenty of other great bands played at the Cavern, including the Who …
… and Queen. Can you believe this factoid? This is fabulous.
We were only in Liverpool for about 2 1/2 days, and I would definitely go back and do the tours all over again, and then try for more obscure things, like the pub where Ringo used to go and so on. Also, we didn’t get to check out the museums, including a branch of the Tate and the Maritime and Slavery museums because there was a museum strike on the day we allotted for that. We did squeeze in Speke Hall, a beautiful, well-preserved Tudor house.
Our July trip didn’t end with Liverpool. Our next stop was London, but I’ll save that for the next post.
Note to Mark Lewisohn: Thanks for writing the book that got me to visit Liverpool at last, but your work really needs a discography of all the records that inspired the Beatles, from pre-World War II tunes to the Donays. I only realized when I got to the end of the book that I should have been writing those down so I could have a mega-Beatles-related playlist. Have someone organize that on iTunes for us, please! Kthxbai.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
If you missed the great Charles James exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, at least you won’t have to wait till next spring for a new fashion-related show. For the first time in seven years, the Costume Institute will do a fall show: “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire,” will run from October 21 through Feb. 1.
I’m very excited by this theme because my 18K gold jewelry line started with an interest in mourning jewelry, in addition to the more familiar memento mori jewelry. They’re not the same thing. Although “memento mori” is Latin for “remember you will die,” that category of jewelry refers to mortality in general, while mourning jewelry pays tribute to a specific individual.
I’ve always been especially interested in mourning jewelry that incorporates a deceased loved one’s hair, which was popular in both the Georgian and Victorian eras. The “woven” look of the cap of my 2008 acorn locket, for instance, was inspired by acorn designs woven from hair. (Acorns were associated with immortality and the circle of life, as an oak tree grows from an acorn, then lets fall a new acorn from which emerges a new oak.)
The source of my locket design caused me some amusement years later when a large catalog company knocked off my necklace. When I called to confront them, they at first tried to argue that the similarity was coincidence. I asked, “How did you get the idea for the woven look of the acorn cap?” The dude in charge was like, “Um ….” “Have you heard of Victorian hair jewelry?” I asked. The answer was no, of course, and the copy was pulled from the catalog.
There are a few more examples of my mourning-inspired jewelry in this portion of the monthly newsletter I sent to press and retailers last Tuesday. Lockets were a very big thing because you could put hair or an image of the deceased inside.
One ring that didn’t make it into the newsletter was my Victoria buckle ring, which was inspired by a particular antique mourning ring that opened to reveal a name inscribed inside.
I made this ring in 2006 for the original purpose — as symbol of mourning for my late Pekingese, Mr. Chubbs. In the photo above, you can see his name inscribed. This particular ring went on to have some interesting adventures, courtesy of Lindsay Lohan. Click here and scroll down to read that story. And click here for National Jeweler’s brief story about the coming Met exhibit.
If you’re a member of the press or a retailer who would like to receive the monthly newsletter, email your request to info at wendy brandes dot com.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
Tomorrow is the last day to see the Charles James exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, and if you can squeeze it in, it’s definitely worthwhile. I went today and realized that photos of James’s uniquely structured ballgowns do not the work justice. That didn’t stop me from taking my own iPhone photo of one of the Clover Leaf dresses.
I also enjoyed the many quotes from James that adorned the mirrored walls of the exhibit. This was my favorite.
In other words, “Never Is the Next New Thing™“!
UPDATED TO ADD: How did I forget the picture of this killer dress?
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Our gorgeous friend Jolie Hunt invited me and MrB to the launch party for her marketing and communications firm, Hunt & Gather, earlier this week. (Is that a great company name, or what?) The event was on a former Navy ship named the Baylander, which was docked at Pier 5 in Brooklyn for the night. This gave us a beautiful view of downtown Manhattan.
I didn’t particularly care for those shoes with the dress, but I was running so late that I decided not to change them, especially because wedges are always a safety-conscious choice for boat parties. But one of the many arguments in favor of punctuality is “better shoe decisions.” I have to keep that in mind next time I am dawdling.
The only other photos I have of this dress are from 2006, when we went to a Cinema Society screening and party for the movie The Night Listener. I previously posted a photo from that night of me with wonderful actress Toni Collette, but here’s another for Throwback Thursday.
I don’t remember what made us so giggly, but I’m glad we had such a good time! It seems like I laughed like that all night, judging from this photo that was in the New York Sun. I think I would have laughed myself to death if I had seen Toni jump into the pool, fully dressed, later that night, but I must have wandered off to the beach at that point. The party was held at the Hamptons house of the legendary advertising executive Jerry Della Femina. He’s one of the inspirations for Mad Men.
MrB and I didn’t deliberately coordinate our outfits that night — it just happened, I swear. And look at the difference in my hair between the first photo with Toni and the second photo with Jerry. The humidity gave me a whole new look. One more style note: That dress takes a lot of Hollywood Fashion Tape to stay in place. Every time I wear it, I find tape on me for days after!
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
OG 1990s rapper Lil’ Kim is angry — and not for the first time — because she feels newer girl Nicki Minaj is biting her style. Kim, also known as the “Queen Bee,” has been a busy bee this week, putting out two diss tracks, and the week ain’t over! Today’s track makes the cause of Kim’s angst crystal-clear. The song is called “Identity Theft,” and includes the line, “Anything you tryna do, I done did it.”
Admittedly, it’s not as in-depth as the similarly themed, 15-minute-long, anti-Nicki video called “Carbon Copy” that Kim put out in 2011, but it gets the message across. One of the things freshly annoying to Kim is Nicki’s provocative squatting pose for her single, “Anaconda,” which, even though it is shot from the rear, puts Kim too much in mind of her own iconic squat for the art for her 1996 debut album, Hard Core.
It’s all in the eyes and the snarl! Nicki’s Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve & Talent (or, for short, C.U.N.T.) clearly owes something to the queen bee of drag queens.
It doesn’t end there, though, because, as the Bible says, there’s nothing new under the sun. RuPaul’s expression, in turn, put me in mind of Faye Dunaway’s crazy-ass portrayal as actress Joan Crawford in my sister’s favorite movie, Mommie Dearest.
Faye’s career was pretty much destroyed by the criticism of her performance as Crawford. It was derided as too camp. Of course, it was totally camp, which is why it’s such an awesome movie! But we can’t blame all the campiness on Faye. Look what she had to work with. This was the real Joan Crawford.
If the real Joan and Faye’s Joan had had a camp-off, I think the real Joan might have won. (By the way, RuPaul deliberately “did” Joan for the RuPaul’s Drag Race show a few years ago — and in still shots, the portrayal DOES look less camp than Faye’s version.)
My question now is: Will RuPaul, Faye Dunaway, and Joan Crawford’s estate band together to do a Nicki Minaj diss track? And whose side will Crazy Eyes — the character portrayed by Uzo Aduba in the television show Orange Is the New Black — take?
I’m going to grab some popcorn and wait for all of this to go down.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
MrB and I recently had dinner with friends at Ouest, a good restaurant on the Upper West Side. If you’re in New York City, I recommend that you check it out. It’s not too formal; you can definitely wear jeans. However, I dressed up a little bit, just because it was one of those days when I felt I should make an effort. This dress was a good choice for a breezy night. I had a few minor Marilyn moments, including the one captured in the photo below.
What Wendy Wore
Dress: Possible vintage Michael Vollbracht (2005-ish?)
Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti (2014, recently seen here)
I’ve had this dress for many years — possibly close to a decade — and have worn it on many, many occasions, but I have very few photos of it for some reason. The only one I could find on the blog was from 2010.
A few weeks after I wore that dress for that photo in 2010, I overdressed for a dinner at Ouest in a Black Halo dress. I guess Ouest brings out my best! That time I had the pleasure of seeing former Law & Order SVU stars Chris Meloni and Richard Belzer dining together. Alas! No such luck this year.
Monday, August 4, 2014
How I decide when to add a new word necklace to my line? This is how I explained it last year.
” … the overuse of a word/acronym tells me when the time is right to add that word/acronym to my pop-culture-inspired WENDY by Wendy Brandes diffusion line. An expression has reached critical mass when I’m ready to cut the next bitch who uses it!”
I guess I should now say “overuse AND misuse” because the misuse of “literally” has been on my last nerve (figuratively — I believe I have the normal number of nerves and therefore can’t identify a “last” nerve) since before I wrote that explanation. I admit that, long ago, I was charmed when my sister Terri Berry would use “literally” to excess. She did it when she got heated (figuratively — I mean, she was angry, not that she was running a fever). It was funny because she would always realize what she had said and we would both laugh and digress into a silly conversation, like, “That guy looks good for his age considering he’s literally 2,000 years old! What’s his secret?” Because, as I’m sure all of my brilliant readers know, “literally” means “actually” or “without exaggeration.”
But, nowadays, I’m not sure if folks know that “literally” means anything other than “very.” A couple of examples stand out to me. For instance, checking my Twitter feed once, I made this extreme WTF expression …
… over this simple message: “I am literally so cold.” Um. Er. WUT?! In the context of previous and following tweets, it was clear the writer was talking about the severe winter weather, not a chilly and remote personality, so there was no need to use “literally” in order to prevent us from thinking this was an admission of being dislikable.
At the opposite temperature extreme are the emails I get from Tumblr, which tell me, “Your dashboard is literally on fire.” I keep expecting to see this …
… but Tumblr is merely trying to tell me that there’s a lot of interesting content that I should look at.
A year ago this month, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary caved in (Not literally! There was no building collapse!) to popular usage and gave “literally” a second definition. While the preferred definition is still “actually,” the secondary definition is “virtually.” Merriam-Webster explained:
“Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.”
An example of that latter point is my Twitter example, “It is literally so cold.”
For its version of the popular meaning of “literally,” the MacMillan Dictionary went with, “used when you are describing something in an extreme way that cannot be true,” offering as its example the Tumblr-esque, ” When I told him the news he literally exploded.”
Google’s definition recalls my sister’s (long-discontinued) usage: “Used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.” Meanwhile, the Cambridge Dictionary offers, “Literally is also used to emphasize a statement and suggest that it is surprising: I literally (= really) had no idea you and Sophie were coming.”
My LITERALLY necklace was finished this March, and I gave the design a sneak preview on Facebook the following month. It also has appeared on my blog, but without any special (figurative) fanfare. I’ve always regretted that I didn’t introduce my LITERALLY necklace with the literal fanfare it deserves, so I will now properly present it as August’s Jewel of the Month, with help from trumpet player Randy Dunn.
If you buy this one, I guarantee you will literally enjoy the shit out of it. Hmmm. I don’t even know what enjoying the shit out of something entails on a literal basis. Let’s agree that it’s much more pleasant than it sounds!
Sunday, August 3, 2014
I like to look over the obituaries in the print edition of the New York Times — there are a lot of interesting stories there. Today, I couldn’t help noticing this beautiful face in the paid death notices section.
Figuring this lady had to have been an actress, I glanced at the information: died aged 90 in Santa Barbara, Calif., cancer, nothing about acting. I didn’t really register the name, just turned the page. Then I turned back, thinking, “No, no, she was someone I need to know about.” I’m glad I did because this lady was Pamela Courson‘s mother! Every true Doors stan (and viewer of Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic, The Doors) knows that Pamela Courson was the petite redhead who was Doors lead singer Jim Morrison’s common-law wife and “cosmic mate,” with him in Paris when he died in a bathtub, aged 27, on July 3, 1971.
I’ve written before that the Doors were THE big band when I was in high school, even though by then Jim was dead 10 years. That was due to the best-selling Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive, which came out in 1980, with an extremely well-chosen cover photo. By the following year, Jim was such a phenomenon that he made the cover of Rolling Stone with the cover line: “He’s hot, he’s sexy and he’s dead.” I still have my original copy of the book.
I think I was as fascinated with Pamela as I was with Jim. I always identify with the women more and it seemed her story got short shrift, though she obviously mattered a lot to Jim.
For a lot of people, Pamela was a polarizing figure — the Yoko Ono of the Doors. Jim Morrison fanatics are like other music fanatics who tend to blame any convenient female for the downfall of their beloved male idol. Pam supposedly encouraged Jim to be a poet in Paris rather than a rock star, though if you read anything about Jim at all, you come away with the impression that he was impossible to steer in a direction he didn’t want to go in.
Even worse, to Pam haters, were the contradictory accounts she gave of the last night of Jim’s life.
If Jim died of a heroin overdose — which is a widely held theory — then Pam’s detractors say it had to be all her fault because heroin was her drug of choice, not his. If she didn’t give it to him herself, then maybe one of her dealer friends murdered him. I’d argue that she couldn’t force him to take anything he didn’t want to take. Jim was a massive alcoholic who had used other drugs — just because his friends thought he didn’t use heroin doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. He wouldn’t be the first person or the last to claim that he didn’t touch that stuff. If only the French authorities had performed an autopsy! But with no evidence of foul play, no autopsy was done, leaving the door open for Pam’s enemies to spin their stories, as well as the conspiracy theorists who claim Jim didn’t die at all, but faked his death in order to get away from the hectic rock-star life.
After Jim’s death, Pam moved back to California, where she had both grown up and lived with Jim. By all accounts, she was devastated, often living with friends who took care of her. Jim’s will left everything to Pam, with the stipulation that if she died within three months of him, the estate would pass to his brother and sister. She didn’t get any money for a couple of years because she got tied up in lawsuits, but she settled everything in 1973, only to die of a heroin overdose — like Jim, at the age of 27 — on April 25, 1974, leaving no will. It was less than three years after Morrison’s death, but more than the three months mentioned in Jim’s will, so, interestingly, after her death, her parents, as Pam’s next-of-kin, inherited Morrison’s entire estate. Jim’s parents then sued the Coursons. From what I can tell online, the court reaffirmed the Coursons’ rights, but some arrangement was reached with the Morrisons so that the two families shared in the estate.
In a story that Rolling Stone ran about Pam’s death in its June 6, 1974, issue, attorney Max Fink, the co-executor of Jim’s will, claimed that the entire Morrison estate was worth $350,000 to $400,000 at the time. I wonder how many millions it is worth now?
Pamela’s parents hoped to bury her next to Jim in Paris, but it proved to be too complicated to get her body overseas, so she was buried in California under the name Pamela Susan Morrison — Pam had referred to herself as Mrs. Morrison after she and Jim took out a couple of marriage licenses, although they never sealed the deal.
You can glimpse a few seconds of Pamela in motion starting at 2:06 here, apparently from 1972, but keep the volume off because it’s some weird shit. Turn the volume back on for this brief audio of Jim and Pam speaking (Jim orders out for food; he doesn’t know the address because they’re at a friend’s place). The full conversation with Rolling Stone’s Ben Fong-Torres is here. For more Pamela pictures (and style inspiration), check out Pamela Courson Inspirations and She dances in a ring of fire.
Speaking of rock stars and their relatives, the New York Times also ran a long obituary on Cafe Wha? founder Manny Roth, who died at 94. It is worth reading. I, for one, was amazed to discover Roth was the uncle of my close personal friend David Lee Roth, lead singer of Van Halen. It turns out that David Lee used to visit the club when he was a kid. No wonder he got into music! Cafe Wha? played an important part for other musicians in New York in the 1960s. Bob Dylan got his start there. Bruce Springsteen and his band the Castiles played afternoon sets for teenagers for two months in 1967. Jimi Hendrix played regularly before he was Jimi Hendrix: He was Jimmy James, leading a band called the Blue Flames. Other performers who hit the Wha? stage early in their careers were comedians Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen.
Manny Roth gave up the club in 1968 because it wasn’t making money. It was a restaurant for a while, but it then re-opened as Cafe Wha? and you can still go there today. I highly recommend it. There’s always a rocking house band — I had them play at my wedding in July 2001. We obviously had such a good time with them that there was a Cafe Wha? outing in February 2002. Just this week, I stumbled on the photos from that night while looking for Throwback Thursday material.
I took a selfie of me and MrB about 10 years before the word “selfie” came to exist. I love pre-”selfie” selfies.
My selfie technique has improved a little bit since then, fortunately.
UPDATED AUG. 5, 2014, TO ADD: When I first wrote this, I should have called out the obituary’s request for donations to the Jim Morrison Film Award at UCLA, just in case anyone missed it! The Coursons really did work to support Jim’s legacy.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
Folks often ask me, “Do people REALLY buy fine jewelry online?” And I answer, “Hell, yeah!” As a matter of fact, online sales are what have kept my business going since 2005.
For more stories about online jewelry shopping, check out the this story in the Wall Street Journal. The piece by Lauren Sherman notes the success of fine jewelry on The Editorialist, Net-A-Porter, Ylang 23 and Moda Operandi, among others. The Editorialist wins the prize for priciest item sold: A set of David Webb jewelry for $78,000.
I think my existing customers would agree that the best thing about shopping from my personal site is that you get to chat with the designer directly. I’m always happy to answer your emails and help you choose between two earring styles or decide what length chain to order. (I’ve even advised guys on how to propose!) In addition to doing big, pricy custom jobs — creating one-of-a-kind luxury designs, such as engagement rings — I do little customizations on the regular. If you want to turn one of my emoji studs into a ring or necklace, all you have to do is ask. Want it in rose gold instead of silver or yellow gold? Ask! Wishing for a special word necklace? Holla at me!
To get in touch with me, email:
info at wendybrandes dot com
wbjewelry at hotmail dot com.
You can also shop other websites for designs that aren’t on my site. I like to do a few exclusives here and there. Right now, Nylon Magazine’s online shop is the only place to get gold-plated versions of those best-selling emoji earrings. Earlier this week, I posted the amazing gif Nylon did for its newsletter. I love it so much that I’ll post it again!
Broken English Jewelry is a brick-and-mortar store in Santa Monica, Calif., where you can try on my designs in person, but if you’re not in Cali, you can still buy select of one-of-a-kind pieces online. This rose quartz/diamond/gold/silver Edburga poison ring is the one that inspired my friend Lori’s unique engagement ring.
If you have any questions about the pieces at Nylon or Broken English, I can answer those too. Happy shopping!
Friday, August 1, 2014
As I previously mentioned, I went to Katy Perry’s concert at Barclays Center last week. I had a rough day so I threw on whatever was at hand/on the floor. When I got to the venue, I was disappointed that I hadn’t come up with a concert costume, or at least a pink or blue wig. Neon wigs were the hawt look. I also felt weird that I didn’t have a small child in tow. Those were practically mandatory! I’ve never before seen such a young crowd at a concert, though admittedly, I never went to see Britney Spears during her heyday. That’s something I regret. After I got over my surprise/amusement, I realized Katy is probably a better influence on the younger set than Britney was. Despite her past habit of shooting whipped cream out of her bra and the fact that her breakout hit was “I Kissed a Girl,” those things somehow feel like, “Ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent,” as Katy sings.
But, seriously, these kids were young — significantly younger than the ones at the Miley Cyrus concert, even though former Disney star Miley is 21 and Katy is almost 30.
Here’s my casual concert look, right after the show ended. There’s a lone piece of confetti at my feet.
What Wendy Wore
Navy top: Bella Luxx (2013)
Ivory top: Maggie Ward (2013)
Shorts: Current/Elliott (2014)
Shoes: Opening Ceremony (2014)
I don’t know how I got such great tickets, but I highly recommend section 125, row 3 (or better, of course), at Barclays. We had an excellent view.
The inner photojournalist that awakens in me at concerts was very satisfied with my real camera/iPhone results. This is one of my favorite shots.
I like this one too. Look at how sharp it is!
There was some MAYJAH set production here: that life-size horse puppet in my first photo, elaborate costume changes, emoji balloons, huge confetti showers, Katy soaring through the air … hell, there were guitar players flying through the air with sparklers shooting out of their guitars! (You can see the latter in my “I Kissed a Girl” video above.) I’m always impressed by how hard female pop singers work to put on a dazzling show. (Most female pop singers. I’ve seen a few exceptions.)
You can see the rest of the best of my Katy photos on Flickr here.