Astrid Kirchherr, Photographer, Phenomenon, Friend to the Beatles

She Came in Thru the Bathroom Window

Clad in all black with a pixie haircut and a camera in tow, she was probably the coolest chick ever to walk in to the Kaiserkeller in 1960’s Hamburg. She was a German photographer, the first to do a formal shoot with the Beatles, and largely responsible for what later became their world-wide “image.” She was a practitioner of Sartre’s Existentialism, an art student, and as it turned out, a great cook. She lured Lennon, mesmerized McCartney, hypnotized Harrison, and later became engaged to then-band-member Stuart Sutcliffe.

 Astrid Kirchherr was born on this day, May 20, 1938, in Hamburg, Germany. Her father worked for the German branch of the Ford Motor Company and her mother was a homemaker. Like all European children during World War II, Astrid witnessed its atrocities. During the bombings of Hamburg, her family evacuated to the Baltic Sea, where Astrid remembered seeing dead bodies washed up on the shoreline. It was perhaps this knowledge of the frailty of life that later attracted her to Existentialism.

John Paul Sartre, John Paul & George

The Existential crowd believed in “life defined by one’s experience.” Nowadays this sounds pretty obvious, but up until around the 19th century, people believed more in Plato’s philosophy of “Essentialism”. In brief, Essentialism says that we are given “essence” at birth, a role defined for us — assigned by god, society, or institutions. Existentialism posits that we must “create our own essence”, defined by ourselves and our experiences.

In practice, being an Existentialist meant Astrid was running with the cool kids. Those that dressed in black, smoked cigarettes and wore sunglasses at night. John Lennon dubbed them “The Exis”. If America had its Beatniks, Europe had its Exis. (I attribute both groups to the dire consequences of WWII and society’s questioning the meaning of life. )

According to Astrid, they were “trying to be French.” (Germany got a terrible backlash after the War. France was considered a more fashionable place.)

Klaus Voorman, Astrid and Stuart Sutcliffe in 1960

 Astrid studied fashion design and photography at Meisterschule für Mode, Textil, Grafik und Werbung, a school in Hamburg. She later worked as an assistant to photographer Reinhard Wolf.  

Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, John Lennon, also an art student, was gathering his musicians. The very early Beatles consisted of Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison, drummer Pete Best and John’s friend, fellow art student Stuart Sutcliffe. Although Sutcliffe could not play an instrument, John wanted him in because of the way he looked – a cute boy with great cheekbones who could rock a leather jacket. “He looks good, that’s all that matters,” John would say.

Stuart reportedly had no interest in being in a band, but John convinced him to do it. Astrid would later say, “John Lennon could convince anybody to do anything.”

Astrid’s photo of John. Stuart in the background

When the chance came for the Beatles to play in Hamburg – a city ravaged by war and considered the seediest place in Germany, rampant with drugs and prostitution – the boys jumped at the chance. Paul’s dad and John’s Aunt Mimi were reluctant to let them go. John somehow convinced the adults that the money they would make would surely be worth the risk.

It’s Only Rock & Roll

In Hamburg, Astrid’s then-boyfriend Klaus Voorman, also an artist, was living with the Kirchherr family. The story goes that one night, Astrid and Klaus got in a fight. Klaus stormed out of the house and found himself wandering through the Reeperbahn – the city’s red light district, which was by far the sleaziest section of already sleazy Hamburg. Klaus stepped into a bar called the Kaiserkeller. There, he heard the most amazing music, being played by the most amazing band. Forgetting all about the argument, he couldn’t wait to get home and tell Astrid about his discovery.

It took Klaus three days to convince Astrid to go to the Kaiserkeller. For one thing, she wasn’t eager to mix among the Reeperbahn’s prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers. For another thing, she had never even heard of Rock & Roll music. It was true — the Existentialist crowd that Klaus and Astrid ran with were into jazz and classical. A sedate coffee house would have been more her style than the sweaty, beer drenched Kaiserkeller. Nonetheless, Astrid was finally persuaded.

Astrid said, “When I walked down the stairs and looked at the stage, I was just amazed at how beautiful these boys looked… It was a photographer’s dream. And then when I heard the music, it was even more fantastic.”

L to R, John, George, Pete Best, Paul, and Stuart Sutcliffe at Kaiserkeller

Astrid went to see them every night. When she asked – in very broken English – if she could photograph them, the guys eagerly agreed. As a new band, they had never been photographed except for some amateur snapshots. Astrid had the idea to take them to a deserted fair grounds. There she used a lorry truck and open fields as the background. She produced photographs that critics still consider as some of the most sensitive ever taken of the Beatles, showing both their toughness and vulnerability.

L to R, Pete Best, George, John, Paul, Stuart

Astrid was not only their photographer, she became a great friend, too. She often brought the guys to her mother’s house and cooked for them, thus relieving them from their Kaiserkeller diet of beer and amphetamines.

He Got Hair

Down

to His Knees…

Of course, no one really had hair down to his knees, but in an age of buzz-cuts and conservative short hair, the Beatles few extra inches were considered an outrage. Astrid was partly responsible.

Having studied fashion design, Astrid was hip to innovative trends. She is credited with changing the band’s clothing and hairstyles. Leather jackets were swapped for turtlenecks and Nehru collars. Brylcream and ducktails were replaced with the mop top.

Astrid is famously attributed with styling the band’s hair. It was actually Klaus Voorman’s hair she styled first. According to Astrid, “Klaus was the most beautiful boy the world had ever seen, but he had these big, sticking out ears. I had the idea to just grow the hair over them, which he then did, and it looked absolutely beautiful.”

Klaus Voornan with Astrid’s haircut

Stuart saw the haircut, liked it, and asked Astrid to do his hair the same way. Months later, George followed suit. John and Paul stubbornly kept their rockabilly ‘doos, but then on a trip to Paris they were convinced to try longer hair. Tellingly, Pete Best never got the haircut. He left the band soon after. Enter new drummer Ringo, who was game. By the time they hit the Ed Sullivan Show in 1963, all four Beatles were wearing the mop top as if they had invented it themselves.

You might be wondering what happened to Stuart Sutcliffe. His story is the most tragic of all.

Would You Believe in a Love at First Sight?

In a 2010 interview, Astrid said, “Maybe it sounds sentimental, but when I saw Stuart for the first time, I knew: That was my man. He was then, and still is, the love of my life.”

Astrid and Stuart

Stuart felt the same about her. He wrote of their first meeting “I could hardly take my eyes off her.” Stuart claimed he tried to talk to her during the break but much to his dismay, she had already left. Luckily, she came back the next night.

Klaus Voorman, realizing you can’t stop true love and overactive hormones, graciously backed out of his relationship with Astrid. There was apparently no jealousy. Klaus and Astrid remained good friends all the way till her death in 2020. (Klaus, a talented artist, maintained his relationship with the Beatles. He did a lot of artwork for them including the Revolver album cover, which was a masterpiece.)

After the gigs at Kaiserkeller were finished, Stuart quit the Beatles, moved in with Astrid, got engaged to her and pursued his painting. They should have lived happily ever after, a perfect couple in a perfect world.

Sadly, that was not to be.

“I Know What It’s Like To Be Dead”

Stuart began to suffer severe headaches and weakness in early 1962. In February he collapsed in the middle of an art class in Hamburg. Astrid’s mother had German doctors come to examine him, but they were unable to determine the cause of his illness. The condition got worse and Stuart’s health deteriorated. On April 10, 1962, Stuart collapsed in the Kirchherr’s kitchen. Astrid’s mother, in a panic, phoned Astrid at work and called an ambulance. Astrid hurried home, arriving in time to ride in the ambulance with Stuart. He died in her arms on the way to the hospital.  He was only twenty-two years old. The cause of his death was most likely a brain tumor.

Astrid went on to work as a freelance photographer. In 1964, she and her colleague Max Scheler took “behind the scenes” photographs of the Beatles during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night as an assignment for the German magazine Stern. She published numerous collections of work, including a volume of the Beatles called Hamburg Days and another called Liverpool Days and her last, When We Was Fab, published in 2007.

George, John and Stuart and Hamburg Fairgrounds

Astrid never got over Stuart. She married twice, divorced twice, and never had any children. She once said, “Many people say their prayers at night, praying to god. I say my prayers too, but I pray to Stuart.”

Spoken like a true Existentialist.

Astrid Kirchherr died of “a short but severe illness” in 2020 at age eighty-one.

I like to think she has finally been reunited with Stuart.

Happy Xmas by John Lennon

 

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Today, December 8th, marks the 36th anniversary of the death of John Lennon.  A man who strove for peace, both in his personal life and world wide, he ironically died a violent death by gunshot.

John taught us that instead of protesting  war we should try to live our daily lives in peace, celebrate peace and even advertise peace!   His vision of world peace was never far from his heart. I am posting this video in honor of John Lennon and U.S. Troops everywhere, with hopes that my government, the United States of America, will END its GREEDY AND INSANE  war mongering.

Imagine Peace. Pray for Peace. Live in Peace.

Blessed Be 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Give Peace a Chance

 

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Today, September 21, 2016 is the official International Day of Peace. However, if we really want peace (and rest assured, many DO NOT!) then we must be acting in terms of peace in our every day lives. This means:  Breathe peace, think peace, BE peace.

My county, the U.S., has been at war for 13 years. My government spends about a trillion-billion-gazillion dollars on war. (Really, I daresay most economists could not even keep track of it. The numbers are too humongous for any human being to actually fathom.)   So I come to the conclusion that my government must like war. Otherwise why spend all that money promoting it?

This perplexes me. I mean really?  Really??

(PLEASE BE WARNED! Graphic pictures  will follow! It ain’t pretty but it is REAL.)

 

They choose war. Therefore they choose this.

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And this.

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Not to mention THIS.

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And of course THIS.

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(Jeez, good thing I’m not being censored by Zuckerberg, eh?)

War is ugly. Nothing sleek nor stylish about it.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that war has never done any good and never will. Just study history and you will find this is true.

No one in their right mind would choose what I have just shown you. (Unless of course you were a Wall Street crony, far removed from such violence, and war was a guarantee that your stocks in Haliburton would shoot up and make you a gazillionaire.)

There is, however, a difference between being pro-peace and being anti-war. Pro-peace means putting our focus on PEACE. Anti-war means actually putting the focus on war, and therefore (inadvertently)  creating MORE war. (That is why the ‘War on Drugs’ has created more drugs and the ‘War on Terror’ has created more terrorists. Have you noticed?)

Each of us, in our daily lives can choose to be peaceful. We can be more accepting, more patient and kinder. This may mean taking a step back. It may mean learning to accept someone who has a different belief system or lifestyle from your own. It may mean tuning out the snarky media who likes to promote hate and intolerance. It may mean getting more sleep, eating healthier food, learning to breathe, learning to love.

In the end, I trust that  humankind do not really want to blow each other’s faces off.  In the end, I trust that our planet has enough resources to go around with many untapped and more being discovered each day. If a trillion gazillion dollars can be spent on War, then the same amount can be spent on Peace. Gardens are cheaper than bombs. Serenity is cheaper than PTSD.

When John and Yoko did their commercial for peace, they called it ‘Bed Peace’ and spent a week in bed talking to the press about peace. (Note guitar, flowers and, oh yeah, hair 🙂 )

bed-in_for_peace_amsterdam_1969_-_john_lennon__yoko_ono_17

The idea was to get the media to actually focus on Peace (also music, love and nature) rather than War. To this day, I do not think the world has understood this concept — focusing on what we want, rather than what we do not want.  John and Yoko urged us to ‘Give peace a CHANCE.’  Just step back and give it a chance. This is not some airy-fairy, hippie sh*t. Nor is it some pie in the sky dream. This CAN BE OUR REALITY.

I do not think humankind has given peace a chance. I think we are too busy believing the lies and the hype promoted from those that would like to control us.

But we can begin now to change our thinking and shift the paradigm that insists upon war.

Peace further explained:

Orlando

 

give-peace-a-chance

My original post was going to be an angry rant.   I had a picture of that very disturbed young man and my title was:  “Who the f*ck sold him a gun?”

I am still wondering that.  I mean —  the guy was questioned by the FBI (more than once!) plus he was  a bona-fide racist, homophobe, anti-Semite, misogynist, wife beater, connected to ISIS and the Boston bombers, a  veritable powderkeg of terror… And they sold him a gun??  Really??

Really??

But I will contain my angry rant.  It seemed as good a time as any to post this video, to remember this lesson, to actually take these words seriously:

 

Breathe peace. Know peace. Live peace.

Be the solution, not the angry rant 🙂

Orlando, we stand with you.

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