Saturday, 25 February 2012

SECRETS OF ETERNAL YOUTH

Want to know?  Not Botox - 'though I'm amazed how many times a week I get asked whether I've had any. They never believe you, either. Not sleep, frantic exercise, veganism, abstention. Not a fit young boyfriend (never date anyone you could have given birth to). Not love, actually.

So I remember the Seventies.  I met Marc Bolan. I went backstage at Live Aid, and  on tour with Freddie Mercury and Queen.  I've made a significant chunk of my living writing about dead rock stars. For want of an elegant euphemism, I'm knocking on.

But at least what I have is my own. I decided against cosmetic surgery a couple of decades back, when I found myself sharing the Hollywood home of Raquel Welch. I got to know her during my tenure as a West Coast showbiz reporter. What young, opportunistic journalist eschews the chance of friendship, however fleeting,with a motion picture icon?  She was a fabled but faded drama queen old enough to be my mother. I was an upstart nobody, young enough to be in awe - which was the rub. Hollywood friendships are always symbiotic but rarely equal, never devoid of ulterior motive, always and inevitably short-lived. It is not the fond beginnings of former friendships which we tend to recall, but the sorrow provoked by their demise. The thin line which divides love from hatred, fantasy from reality, has never existed in Hollywood. All edges are blurred, and anything goes. Arguably the only town in the world in which a personality disorder is a distinct advantage. Some newcomers last a week, others get trapped for a lifetime. When I left, it was because I had to, before it swallowed me whole. Looking back, I still believe what I suspected then: that Tinseltown is nothing but its own facade, and no place for the sane.

A chance encounter with Raquel's manager in Atlantic City had led to her granting me an interview to promote her new fitness video – a big deal for Raquel, as she was about to turn fifty that year. I was looking forward to meeting her again when I arrived at her elegant home in Evelyn Place on the Trousdale Estates. Raquel wasted no time in playing to the camera, even though there wasn't one. Perched on the edge of a mustard leather sofa in her creamy drawing room, I found myself dealing with a real-life Norma Desmond - the over-the-hill silent screen idol played by Gloria Swanson in cult classic Sunset Boulevard, who is determined to make an against-all-odds comeback. Self-absorbed to the point of obsession, oblivious of the fact that the world had moved on from inflatable dolls in chamois swimwear, it occurred to me that Raquel would be the perfect choice for a remake.

Everywhere I looked, pictures of her gazed down at me. Two huge Warhol-style portraits sat one either side of her fireplace. A vast Revlon advertising print dominated her formal dining room. Her home was part museum, part shrine, paying homage to her then quarter-century as a superstar. Not that she had worked much in movies since her 60s/early 70s heyday, denounced by the industry as too high-maintenance. A brief spell on the set of Cannery Row had led to her sacking by MGM Studios and replacement by Debra Winger. Raquel sued so brilliantly that she banked $15 million and never had to work again. She did, though - Body and Mind videos, cosmetic endorsements, TV shows, stage work, a hugely successful line in wigs - for profile rather than remuneration, the usual thing that keeps a superstar at it. If fame is a drug, the addiction knows no cure. Raquel and her ilk would sooner be dead than has-been.

All-woman, sex-on-legs, her smooth, tanned complexion looked more Latin than in her photographs. But her personality revealed a perplexing Alpha Male-ness. Her language was ripe, her laugh straight out of a locker room. She called me 'sweetheart', 'darling', 'Baby'. I had a fictitious boyfriend up my sleeve, just in case.

Hours later, when I made to leave, Raquel insisted on driving me in her new Japanese car. She sang along unselfconsciously to Beatles tapes, getting the lyrics wrong – very Raquel - and played Peter Gabriel full-blast. 'We all have our musical era, Baby', she said to me.  'When it comes to what you listen to, you gotta know when to stop - or you'll get out of your depth'.

For what felt like years but was in fact only months, we seemed inseparable. At Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset and Doheny, we'd bump into her celebrity pals - Carrie Fisher, Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin. Jack In the Box drive-through was another fast-food favourite, as was The Apple Pan diner on Pico. She adored being seen at Le Petit Four on Sunset, and at Le Dome (now closed). During the day, with nothing better to do, we'd meet for lunch in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, then hang by the pool until dinner. When we weren't indulging in 'mani-pedis' in the hotel beauty salon, I'd sit chatting with her while she had her mane coloured and sculpted at Umberto's. 'She has to look like Sixties Raquel', she'd say, often referring to herself unnervingly in the Third Person. 'This girl has to stay the same with her looks. That's the way people expect her to look. That's the only way they know Raquel Welch!'

But how did she still look as fabulous as 25 years earlier in her only memorable picture, One Million Years BC (who can recall any other?) without ever having resorted to plastic surgery?

'That's the point!', she'd squeal, delighted that 'the work' was undetectable.

'The secret is, start having it before you need it! Raquel started getting things done back in the 60s. All it's taken is a tuck and tweak ever since. You're sitting inches away from her face, you can't even notice? Result! But look at Nancy (Sinatra): richer than Croesus and one of the worst face jobs on the globe - with HER millions! That's because she came to it too late. Take it from Raquel, go now before they notice you need it. By the time you really DO need it, you'll be ahead of the game. Mother Nature figures she has us licked with this ageing business. But Baby (her usual nick-name for me – hers was 'Rocky'), it doesn't have to be that way'.

I never took Rocky's advice - and I have never regretted it.  I couldn't help but admire her, though, for having the guts to admit to what so many in her shoes were denying back then, before surgery got respectable.

In the end, she had a terminal falling-out with her manager. Because he had introduced us in the first place, I found myself tarred with the same brush. It proved the perfect get-out. Regrets?  None, really. As a journalist, I'd had nothing but a walk-on part in Raquel Welch's epic drama. I doubt she's even thought of me since. I do think about her, and all her stitching.  Because of her, I stopped looking in the mirror too much. In spite of her - because I refuse to believe that you 'gotta know when to stop' - I have never grown tired of listening to new music.

I'm raving ad nauseam about so many gifted artists right now. 

Daytona Lights - Louis, Laurence, Sam, Matt and Dan - who are produced by the magnificent Steve Levine for his label Hubris. I can't get enough of  these boys and their 'This Modern Landscape'
www.hubrisrecords.co.uk 
www.daytonalights.co.uk

Beautiful Bulgarian-born singer Ilona, produced by another good friend of mine, Tony Moore, who is currently promoting her in America.  Check her out here at http://www.jtvgo.com/thebedfordlive/b/286660166

Antonio Forcione, the 'acoustic Jimi Hendrix' - an irresistible, formidable, ridiculously nice composer and guitarist, whose new album 'Sketches of Africa' will be released this summer.  Do not miss this.
www.antonioforcione.com

Another old friend, Rob Lee, as Robert Levinsky, has created a more-ish album called 'Sea Breeze Cafe' which I'd love you to hear.  Just Rob, his memorable voice, his acoustic guitar and a little drum machine.  Simple. Heart-stopping.  All the pain, survival and hope against hope of Rob's own life are in these songs. 
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/sea-breeze-cafe/id464269288

As for our magnificent The Dunwells - they don't need me now that prime American musicbiz mover-n-shaker Bob Lefsetz has discovered them.  'Utterly astounding', he called them last night, having just seen them play in Memphis.
'They sang about love, they sang about hope, and I'm electrified just thinking about it', he added.
Who Bob doesn't know in the music industry is barely worth bothering with.  He takes no prisoners.  He can't be bought.  He tells it from the hip.  He helped me tremendously with research and contacts on my recent biography of Freddie Mercury, to be published in the USA in July - but only because he wanted to.

Go with me on the cliche.  The Dunwells are fresh air.  You think you've heard this stuff before.  You think maybe it sounds a bit like Mumford and Sons.  It's folky.  It's country.  It's indie.  It's everything you've loved, it pokes around in your heart and pulls up the sun from the clouds of all your yesterdays.  Because it tells the truth, it heaves with soul.

The Dunwells' debut album 'Blind Sighted Faith' is out over there already.  It will be released in the UK on March 5th.
www.thedunwells.com

Get it. Get all of it.  These songs, these singers, these amazing, talented, kind and modest people, will sting your ears and light up your eyes. They will put the spring back in your skin better than anything by Estee Lauder or Creme de la Mer. They are the secrets of eternal youth.






















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