Cold Sweat

December 27, 2009

I like to collect random stories of Surreal Celebrity Encounters. (Technically I mean that the encounters should be surreal, but oftentimes the celebrity involved is as well, and that’s fine. Even better in some cases, in fact.) To date, my favorite anecdotes include one friend who got drunk with Frank Gorshin (aka The Riddler on the ‘60s TV version of Batman), an acquaintance who chatted briefly with Jimmy Stewart while both were awaiting their cars to be serviced at a Los Angeles garage, and another comrade who danced with Bob Hope at a golf tournament dinner in Alabama. I myself am blessed to have had one such unreal experience in that I once got to shake a figurative leg or two with the legendary James Brown.

This rare opportunity presented itself one bitterly cold January 1987 night in Detroit. The concert was comprised of Mr. Brown and five all-star musical guests, and was being filmed for airing on Cinemax later that year. Unfortunately for me, when I dressed for the evening I did not consider the presence of all the lights utilized for the filming, which, added to the heat generated by the capacity crowd, rendered Club Tabu a virtual furnace. Thus, I found myself in the very first row before the stage clad in gold and black leggings and a heavy black sweater that felt like a woolen sauna after just two songs, but could not be removed lest I give the event an instant R rating. Still, the atmosphere was so exciting and the tuneage so invigorating that I had little trouble bopping around and generally showing much enthusiasm as the director requested of us up in the front. I don’t recall clearly many details of this show, though. All I really remember of The Big Moment that night is this: during the instrumental break of “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, an amazing duet with the late, great Robert Palmer, Mr. Brown suddenly descended the stage steps, approached me and we began to dance. I was so stunned that all I could do was grin stupidly while staring at his teeth. After about 15-20 seconds, he kissed me on the cheek and was off to dance with someone else less dazed, less starstruck and basically less dorky. But I didn’t mind; I had my 20 seconds in the literal spotlight with someone I had seen on TV and in The T.A.M.I. Show and whose records I had been playing with my older brother since childhood. It was worth all the cold sweat, indeed!

Months later when Cinemax aired this show, I taped it and for decades this aging video was the sole memento of my personal Surreal Celebrity Encounter. But recently my significant other found and bought me a DVD copy of “James Brown and Friends”, and last night I finally decided to check it out. This was even more surreal, I think, than actually doing that quick, modified jitterbug with Mr. Brown: getting to see the younger me from my current perspective, the younger, living, breathing, laughing, dancing and, yes, perspiring me. I guess for people with home movies, this is not necessarily such an epiphany, but it was for me. For one thing, if I had it to do over again, I would never have bleached my hair so platinum it was just plain white…nor would I have worn it in that scary hair metal style (I confess to having gone through a thankfully brief such phase during this period). I also would never have owned a pair of metallic gold and black leggings that surely glowed in the dark, lol, much less a heavy black sweater that kept riding up embarrassingly at the most inopportune moments. I imagine that at the time I thought I looked smashing, but now when I see this footage, I kind of wince in pain. I look like a frightening cross between a redneck Wafflehouse waitress and a low-rent Whitesnake groupie, ha. I also stand out like a sore thumb in a crowdful of much more muted-attired fans, but I guess that’s how I managed to catch Mr. Brown’s attention in the first place? As for the Big Moment, it played out against the giant lights so really you can only see our silhouettes, and afterward he apparently didn’t dance with anyone else at all but instead bounded right back onstage to rejoin Robert Palmer. (Either my memory is even worse than I thought or else the other woman wound up on the cutting room floor.) But hey, it happened and now, thanks to L, I have the hard proof, as it were. And the music is every bit as fabulous as it was that January Detroit night.

Now, if I can only get over the trauma of that white Bon Jovi ‘do I so happily sported…ha.

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Beauty 3

September 7, 2009

Recently, my friend Alexis asked me to send him my impressions of Edie Sedgwick and it made me realize that I have never really considered this before. So I poured a glass of chardonnay and pondered it awhile…you know how some people walk into a room and seem to be leaving a trail of stars in their wake? As a gut reaction, that’s how I see Edie. In my mental Factory, she breezes in, all gamine, giggly and electric, and each time she moves, a little shower of mini-astral bodies issues from her and vanishes as if by magic before hitting the ground. Doesn’t she seem that way to you too?

So many of us love Edie; she is eternally glamorous and gorgeous, forever the Belle of the Ball, the flame to whom all of us mere moths flock. This is the Edie that first enraptured me all those years ago when I first picked up the Jean Stein book (Edie: An American Biography) at a friend’s house in Philadelphia. She was and is Charisma Personified and reading about her often troubled life only endeared her to me all the more. I needed to possess the Edie persona, so I began to wear t-shirts and tights on my nights out in homage to my idol, and the longest earrings I could find to accessorize. Despite the fact that our backgrounds were disparate, I only knew about her what I read, and our paths never crossed, I felt a bond with Edie where it counts, in the heart and soul. I still think of her as a fragile butterfly too beautiful for this world, and while I consider myself much more of a permanent caterpillar, I used to feel too sensitive for my own good. Like Edie, I battled with anorexia in my later teens. And, like Edie, I self-medicated frequently, though my weapons of choice were generally more liquid than pharmaceutical, with certain exceptions. It doesn’t matter, though. Trying to smother the pain is pretty much the same, no matter what your method. But I was lucky because I survived. Or was I? Sometimes I wonder, ha.

It’s a cliché but it’s also true that everyone loves a pretty, tragic figure. Edie, James Dean, River Phoenix and Heath Ledger (to name but a few) will never develop a need for Botox or hair transplants, never develop middle-age spread. The rest of us can admire their eternal beauty while mourning their loss. It’s almost like a trade in some ways for apparently having so much more than most of us: it’s as if the gods decided these people had too much and decided to take it all away far too soon, you know? It’s not fair but then a lot of life isn’t. Of course, in reality the gods had nothing to do with the drugs and the fast cars, but it’s nice to be able to assign blame somewhere safe, right?

So really, Alexis, I guess my basic impressions of Edie are that of a gorgeous, somewhat wounded bird whose wings were clipped before she could fly as far as she wanted, a tarnished angel with much more depth to her than many imagine, a talented artist in her own right but who ended up being celebrated far more for her surface fabulosity than her ability with ink and paint. Perhaps my ruminations appear overly romanticized, but I never had the chance to formulate any first hand. Like anyone else, Edie Sedgwick had her good and bad sides I’m sure, but it’s hard to resist the dimples and the long-limbed charm that continue to captivate thirty-seven years after her death, and the inner hurt simmering underneath.

Don’t You Forget About Me

September 5, 2009

August 6, 2009. John Hughes died today and I can’t sleep again. I don’t know if the two are connected because I have frankly not been sleeping well since I returned from Edinburgh nearly three weeks ago, but it doesn’t help. John Hughes was only 59 and he made some of my favorite films ever. I know that I’m not alone here; at the risk of sounding melodramatic, his movies are touchstones for an entire generation and then some. Who doesn’t think of the 80s without accompanying mental images of Anthony Michael Hall asking to borrow Molly Ringwald’s panties in Sixteen Candles, Hall again plus Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez doing the Madness dance in the library in The Breakfast Club, Jon Cryer trying a little tenderness (and failing) in Pretty in Pink? And then there was Macaulay Culkin holding his face and screaming in Home Alone, although to be technical that was a 1990 film but so what.

And then of course there was Bueller. Bueller. Bueller. Save Ferris! The classic day off that no one will ever be able to top no matter how hard they try.

I remember the first time I saw The Breakfast Club. By this time, I was no longer a teen but I still felt like one in many ways and all these years later, I have come to recognize that in certain ways I probably always will; I think each of us still has that inner sixteen year old lying dormant somewhere within, right? My friends and I all took this film so personally; it just spoke to us in a way that few had ever done before. We were all Ally Sheedy inside and out, complete with the overstuffed bags but minus the dandruff, lol (that was a great scene, wasn’t it?). Our single complaint was that Emilio Estevez only liked Ally after she was given a makeover by Molly Ringwald; to this day, I still maintain she looked better before. But whatever.

“When you grow up, your heart dies.”

“Who cares?”

“I care!” This little segment made me cry the first time I heard it, and it made me determined never, ever to let that happen to me. And somehow, so far it hasn’t.

Goodbye Mr. Hughes, and don’t worry, we’ll never forget about you.