Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jackie is Just Speedin' Away

The weather this morning is, well, atrocious. Damp snow swirling in all directions. When I took the dog out this morning and walked east on Westbourne Grove, it was right in my face. So when I got to the end of the row of glitzy shops at Ledbury Road I turned around and walked west...and it was right in my face. I could not win. Olga didn't seem to mind it as much because it's snow, as opposed to rain, and she just shakes it off. But we came home anyway.

Last night I went to a film at the Victoria & Albert Museum called "Superstar in a Housedress," about the short life and career of Andy Warhol drag queen Jackie Curtis. I remember Jackie from the film "Flesh," and honestly, his presence and Joe Dallesandro's beauty are the two most memorable things about the movie. (Here is a brief clip of Jackie sitting with Joe, feeling up Geri Miller's breasts. Ah, the '60s.)

Apparently he was known for his own drag style, involving ripped pantyhose and stained, tattered cocktail gowns, and was just as likely to turn up dressed as a man a la James Dean. Hence the lyrics to that Lou Reed song we all know.

It got me thinking about fame and early death. Why is it that dying is the surest way to cement one's celebrity? Would anyone have made a movie about Jackie Curtis if he had not died of a heroin overdose in 1985? Maybe there are similar films about other Warhol stars who didn't die, I don't know -- and granted, Curtis seems more accomplished than many in that circle. But it also seems certain that our cultural reverence for Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, for example, would be less if they had lived and merely grown older like the rest of us. Is it just that dying young suggests they really weren't ordinary, that they lived an alternate, and perhaps more fascinating, reality?

(Photo: Vacant shopfronts in Islington on Thursday.)


  1. Of course they come in sizes. Doesn't everybody know that? :)

    Maybe the hoopla around dying young started with Jesus. We do tend to elevate those whose lives ended abruptly in what promised to be a good career path. True of a lot of musicians, classical and otherwise.

  2. I'be been thinking a lot about death and celebrity myself. I used to be fascinated by Edie Sedgewick, also of Warhol's circle, and in fact the book "Edie" might be interesting to you if you never read it. Maybe part of it is we imagine they died at the height of their beauty, their powers intact, and they seemed so fearless and audacious about life. In fact most were restless tortured souls, deeply unhappy. In some way their early deaths are felt as both tragic and envied by the rest of us who muddle on through the slog of life, the glory of youth behind us. It part of why I love the Rolling Stones. They stayed around. They didn't exit the easy way. They're the real deal. Just musing out loud here. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  3. *I've

    Please forgive kindle fire typos!

  4. I don't know. I think of John Lennon and I don't think his early death cemented his celebrity- it was already there and forever BUT the fact that he died so young and was at the beginning of so many new things, new stages in his life- that made it so much more tragic somehow.
    Interesting topic, Steve.

  5. I think if they die young, we never see them fall. We never see them become un-godlike. But then there's Christopher Plummer, who has managed to maintain and perhaps enhance that shine late into his life.

  6. Your link sent me on an hour and half clicking video jaunt. The book EDIE is an amazing read,a look at the real deal and not so much the visual glamour. They were all so tortured, unloved, breaking out of the oppressive fifties mentality - misguided into heroine and meth big time. Burned brightly momentarily and then fried. If they all hadn't been so physically attractive and bold they would not have been immortalized, I'll bet. Pretty people get too much of the attention ,even when they are disasters, even when they are dead. Thanks for the link, I know how I will spend the next hour and a half...they do intrigue...

  7. I think maybe it has to do with our recklessness in youth. when we die young, that's the whole story. when you live and grow older and more mundane, then the story is boring.

  8. B: Usually not different sizes on the same person, though, right?!

    Angella: I've never read "Edie," but indeed she is another example of this phenomenon. Maybe we're just drawn to the drama, the unhappiness. It's fascinating as long as we can look in from the outside.

    Ms Moon: I think Lennon's assassination did elevate him, in some ways. What would it have been like to watch him age and weaken like Paul McCartney? He remains the youthful rebel in our minds, and that lends a mystique to his music.

    Vesuvius: I think that's it exactly. They die in their prime and we never see them slip. There's another kind of extreme reverence for the very old, like Christopher Plummer or Betty White, especially if they're still working.

    Linda Sue: Glad you went on a clicking spree! YouTube is definitely addictive! They were a tortured crowd.

    Ellen: Exactly. Easing into middle age is so anticlimactic, isn't it?!