Anastasia Screamed in Vain

I stuck around Saint Petersburg

When I saw it was time for a change

Killed the Tsar and his ministers

Anastasia screamed in vain.”

Rolling Stones fans will recognize the song as “Sympathy for the Devil”, Mick Jagger’s lopsided tribute to the Prince of Darkness. The event in question was the slaughter of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family, an execution so horrendous that it could only have been orchestrated by Satan himself. (Or Vladimir Lenin.)

The Killing Fields

It was brutal and diabolical. Eleven people died. Some were killed by gunshot, but the more stubborn and slow-to-die teenagers (who actually seemed bulletproof) were carved up like raw chickens, stabbed until their blood-drenched bodies finally expired. Some historians call it the “most horrific” execution of the 20th century, but that would be an exaggeration, since the 20th century, like all centuries, contained an uncountable amount of horrors. The Nazis, as well as the Communists, were known to massacre families whole, whether it be in gas chambers, or by working them to death in Siberia, or by simply shooting them in the middle of their farm chores, land to be divvied up for the “common good”.

Nonetheless, the Romanovs loom large in our imagination, because they happened to be the royal family of Russia, a dynasty that had been in power for three hundred years, until the Bolshevik takeover. The family killed were: Czar Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their daughters Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia, and their son Alexey who would have been heir to the throne. The servants killed were: Eugene Botkin, Anna Demidova, Alexei Trupp and Ivan Kharitonov.

Romanov Family

Anastasia, the youngest daughter, was just seventeen years old. She was killed last. She is said to have screamed so heart-wrenchingly it was rumored for decades that the more soft-hearted guards may actually have spared her. (They didn’t, but more on that later.)

Sugar & Spice But Not Everything Nice

 Anastasíya Nikoláyevna Románova, the Grand Duchess of Russia, was born on this day, June 18, 1901. Her father was Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia and her mother was Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina and Empress Consort, aka Princess Alix of Hesse, granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

It’s a pretty impressive pedigree, and you would think the Tsar’s children would have been extravagantly spoiled, but apparently the Tsarina believed in the same sparseness and discipline favored by her grandmother, the no-nonsense Victoria. The Romanov children slept on hard cots, took cold baths, and were made to do their own housework. The girls were required to produce needlework that was later sold for charity.

Anastasia doing needlework

Anastasia was a feisty and spirited child. According to her governess Margaretta Eager, Anastasia had ”the greatest personal charm of any child she had ever seen.” Her nickname was “Shvybzik” which means “merry little one” or “little mischief”. Apparently she liked the nickname, because well into her teen years, Anastasia would sign her correspondence as “Shvybzik”, rather than her real name. She was also a bit of a tomboy, known to climb trees and get in snowball fights. One observer reported that the young duchess couldn’t be bothered to remove her long white gloves while eating chocolates at the opera house. She was also fond of practical jokes.

Anastasia joking around with false teeth. Picture taken by her father.

During the first World War, the older Romanov women worked as Red Cross nurses. Anastasia and her sister Maria, both too young to for nursing, instead visited wounded soldiers at the hospital in Tsayskoye Selo. To lift the soldiers’ spirits, they played games like checkers and billiards. Some of the soldiers recalled them fondly, especially Anastasia’s contagious lough.

No matter how well-intended these charitable works from the Romanov family might have been, there was no denying the fact that Russia, at the beginning of the 20th century, was a mess. It was one of the most impoverished countries in the world. And many blamed Tsar Nicholas and the aristocracy for that mess.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Modernization and new, labor-saving inventions had not really made their way to Russia yet. Farms were in bad shape. People in the countryside had really rough lives. The harsh Russian climate made for poor crops in general, and the monarchy had failed to implement modern tools of farming. Russia was falling way behind the rest of Europe. In the cities, things were just as bad. There was massive unemployment, and those who were employed worked mostly in dangerous factories, laboring long hours for little pay.

Finally, everyone had had enough.

On Sunday, January 22, 1905, peasants stormed the Winter Palace, home of the royals, in protest. However, that rebellion was squashed by the palace armies, resulting in massive deaths. The rebellion was known as “Bloody Sunday”. Riots then broke out all over the country, but they did no good. The life of the average peasant remained the same, pretty unbearable.

When Germany attacked Russia in 1914, things get even worse. Tsar Nicholas was unprepared for war. (Tsar Nicholas was actually unprepared to rule. His father had died unexpectedly and Nicholas took over the monarchy in 1894 at age twenty-six. Not really young, but he had expected his father to be alive for a few more decades, so he had not given much thought to statecraft.)

Armies, made up largely of the peasant population, were sent to fight. They suffered from lack of everything — from bullets to fuel to food. Millions died. Revolution became inevitable.

Russian soldiers in WWI.

On March 8, 1917, with the men away at war, Russian women decided to take matters into their own hands. Thousands stormed the streets of Saint Petersburg (then called Petrograd) in yet another protest. Their banners said things like, “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland,” and “Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace.”

Female protesters in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) on 8 March 1917.
Women protesters in Petrograd, 1917

The Tsar ordered his army to shoot them – however, by this time even the palace army was fed up with their horrible conditions. In the end, Tsar Nicholas had no choice but to resign and give up his crown.

Dead Man Walking

The Romanov family was put under house arrest and moved around to several locations. At first it wasn’t so bad. They were in palaces and comfortable environments. They still had a certain degree of freedom. But as the Bolsheviks gained more power, there was less regard for the royal family. Finally, they were sent to the dreaded Siberia, in a train with covered windows where they were denied food. Their new residence was in a town called Yekaterniburg. There they lived in a five-room dwelling that was ominously called “The House of Special Purpose.”

In the meantime, things were getting worse in Petrograd. A makeshift government had been put in after Nicholas’ abdication, but the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, were not happy with it. They staged another riot in October, 1917. This time full scale civil war broke out.  On one side were the Bolsheviks – the Red Army. On the other side were the aristocracy – the White Army. Eventually the Bolsheviks, fearing the Whites might gain power and try to reinstate the Tsar, decided it was simply too risky to allow the Romanov family to remain alive.

In the wee hours of the morning of July 17, 1918, the family were awakened and told they were to be moved to another location, as more fighting had broken out in the area and it was no longer safe. They were told to gather their things and go to the basement of the house, then wait for further instruction until their transport arrived.

It was, of course, a lie.

In reality, the Romanovs were going to the basement where they would be executed.

Commandant Yakov Yurovsky, head of the secret police, told the family they must be positioned for a photograph. He brought in chairs for Tsarina Alexandra and also for son Alexey, a hemophiliac who was in bad health. He then told them he was going to get a camera.

Yakov Yurovsky

Instead of fetching a camera, Yurovsky came back with eleven guards, all armed with pistols.  But there was a problem — the assassins were not sober. Before their boss summoned them, they had been sitting in another room downing vodka. Yurovsky was furious, but the mission had to go on.

Yurovsky then informed Nicholas that he and his family had been sentenced to death.

An astonished Nicholas simply replied, “What?”

Historians are not sure whether Nicholas had figured it out. When the family were first escorted to the basement, he had said to his daughters, “We are finally getting out of here.” This could be interpreted as him knowing the execution was inevitable, and “getting out” simply meant dying. Or perhaps he was truly taken by surprise.

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend

At any rate, Nicholas was lucky. A guard shot him point blank in the chest and he died immediately. The others would have much messier deaths.

One of the assassins aimed for Alexandra, but, half drunk, he missed his aim and shot her in the side of the head.  Next, Maria was hit by a bullet in the thigh. She lay bleeding until a guard stabbed her repeatedly in the torso finally ending her life. Olga was shot in the jaw and Tatiana in the back of the head. Bullets aimed at Anastasia seemed to bounce off.

What the guards would not have realized was that the sisters, and Alexey too, had sown diamond jewelry into their underwear. (They had taken it from the Winter Palace and intended the sell it once they regained their freedom.) Diamonds, being the hardest substance in the world, now became their bullet proof clothing.

Unfortunately, this meant the guards resorted to bayonets. The Romanov siblings were eventually stabbed to death. What should have been a quick, clean execution had turned into an orgy of killing.

The last to die was Anastasia. A guard lunged at her, but, being drunk, kept missing with his bayonet. Finally, the sober Yakov Yurovsky took his gun and shot her in the head.

The entire ordeal was finished in twenty minutes. What had been a three hundred year reign of the Romanov family ended in a bath of blood and clouds of gun smoke. The drunken guards checked pulses to make sure the victims were really dead, then wrapped them in sheets and carried them to the pits where they would be buried.

Fun Facts

  • The Romanov sisters were very close. In fact, they referred to themselves collectively as “OTMA” – meaning Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.
  • Young Anastasia, ever the “little mischief” was seen sticking her tongue out at Yurovsky behind his back.
  • OTMA were reluctant to marry and suspicious of foreign princes.  When they were sent to meet Prince Carroll of Romania, a potential suitor, all four girls went to the beach and got sunburns on purpose. Having a sunburn would render them “unmarriable” in the royal circle, as only a peasant or a gypsy would stay out in the sun.
OTMA in 1913
  • Ironically, while staying in Yekaterniburg, Maria became romantically involved with a young Bolshevik guard named Ivan Skorokhodov, who smuggled in a cake for her birthday.
  • When Maria and Ivan were caught “in a compromising position” the boy was dismissed from his job and sent away to prison.
  • Apparently, many of the young Bolshevik guards found the sisters attractive. Before the assassination, three of them admitted they would not be able to kill the sisters. They, too, were sent away to prison.
  • After the Bolshevik government took over, the name “Romanov” was forbidden. The mere mention of them, or keeping their picture, would result in imprisonment or death.
  • No one ever knew the burial place of the family. This resulted in rumors that they had not really been killed, and especially that Anastasia had been allowed to remain alive. Over the years, many imposters claimed to be the lost Princess Anastasia.
Anna Anderson of Poland (left) claimed to be Anastasia (right) years after the execution.
  • The bones of the Romanov family were discovered in 1979, but they were reburied because it was illegal in the USSR to mention their name!
  • In 2007, long after the fall of the Soviet Union, the bones were dug up again. DNA tests proved that they were indeed the bones of the Romanovs, thus ending the rumors that Anastasia was still alive.
  • A monument to Tsar Nicholas and Prince Alexey was unveiled in Siberia in 2017. Monuments to Nicholas were also erected in St. Petersburg, Kursk, Kaluga, Yekaterinburg, Sochi, Sevastopol, and in Serbia’s capital city of Belgrade.
  • In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra, Prince Alexey, and Princesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia as New Martyrs for Christ.
The Sainted Romanovs

The Romanov dynasty is still highly respected around the world, and loved by the Russian people. The Bolsheviks fell. So, in the end, we could say the Romanovs gained victory over the Devil. (Or Joseph Stalin.)

Happy Birthday Anastasia! You brought love, vitality and a little mischief to your country, and you will never be forgotten.

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.

Josephine Baker: Dazzling Dancer, Charming Chanteuse, Secret Spy

She was a singer, a dancer, an ex-patriot American, a member of the French Resistance, a Civil Rights activist, a four time divorcee and the mother of twelve adopted children. Her performances on the stages of New York and Paris were legendary. Today we celebrate the life of the fabulous Josephine Baker!

Bleak Beginnings

Her birth name was Freda Josephine McDonald. She was born on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Her mother, Carrie McDonald, once had dreams of becoming a dancer, but gave them up and earned her living as a laundress. Her father is listed as Eddie Carson, a vaudeville drummer. (Her father’s identity, however, has been challenged by many, including Josephine’s son, who did extensive research on the topic.) If indeed Eddie was her father, he abandoned her so quickly that Josephine never met him.

Carrie McDonald eventually married a man named Arthur Martin, with whom she had several more children. The family were poor — so poor that Josephine was sent out to work as a maid when she was just eight years old. But housekeeping did not suit Josephine, and she was abused by her employers. Soon she was living on the streets of St. Louis, dancing on corners for money, and dumpster diving for her dinner. Reportedly, she and her mother had a strained relationship and Josephine preferred to live away from Carrie.

At the tender age of thirteen, Josephine met a man named Willie Wells and married him. The marriage only lasted a few months. Josephine left Willie but continued dancing and had some success as a member of a troupe called The Jones Family. In 1921, at age fifteen she met another Willie — Baker this time — and married him. That marriage was also short lived. Later that year, when Josephine was given a chance to perform in New York City, she ditched Willie # 2. Josephine would legally divorce him in 1925, but she decided to keep his name for her professional career.

Angel of Harlem

The Harlem Renaissance was in full bloom. Josephine had success as a chorus girl on Broadway.  She starred in a revue called “Shuffle Along” and in another called “Chocolate Dandies”.

Despite those rather exploitative names, Josephine became the highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville. But she was unhappy. The claws of racism were always around her. Of her time in the Big Apple, Josephine said:

“I didn’t get my first break on Broadway. I was only in the chorus in ‘Shuffle Along’ and ‘Chocolate Dandies’. I became famous first in France in the twenties. I just couldn’t stand America and I was one of the first colored Americans to move to Paris.”

Viva La France

In 1925,  when she was just nineteen years old, Josephine was given the opportunity to travel to France and she jumped at it. In Paris she opened in a show called “La Revue Nègre”.

Josephine was an overnight sensation. Her dancing was erotic and exotic. She famously wore a skirt made only of bananas. She wore little else on stage, often appearing semi nude.

As Josephine’s success grew, she eventually purchased a pet cheetah, which she brought to the shows! She named her big cat “Chiquita” and clothed him in a diamond collar.  Chiquita was known to hang out in the orchestra pit and terrorize the musicians.

Although “Chiquita Bananas” do not admit to it, I am pretty sure they got their logo from Josephine. The Chiquita logo was not created until 1944, supposedly the brainchild of comic strip artist Dik Brown. But take a look. The logo has Josephine all over it.

Josephine quickly became the darling of the “Lost Generation”, hobnobbing with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  She was a favorite of Pablo Picasso, who sketched her, and director Jean Cocteau helped her get started in the movie business. She starred in Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934)  Princesse Tam Tam (1935) and Fausse Alerte (1940).

In 1937, at age thirty-one, Josephine married the French industrialist Jean Lion, and became a French citizen. This marriage would last three years.

Josephine Baker dancing with Jean Lion

Ah, Paris in the thirties! It was all so idyllic and romantic! Then the Nazis came.

“All the Boys Think She’s a Spy…”

France declared war on Germany in 1939, after the Nazi occupation of Poland. Josephine was then recruited by the military intelligence agency known as the Deuxième Bureau. Her job was to socialize at parties, which were held in embassies and government ministries, all the while gleaning information about German troop locations. Apparently, her charm, wit and “je ne sais quoi” were perfect elements that enabled her to rub elbows with high ranking officials. She would then report back her findings.

This whole scenario begs the question, why Josephine? It seems a little odd. Can you picture undercover agents at the  Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, recruiting a half naked banana girl? But this was years later. Josephine had matured. America had not yet joined the war. Maybe the French military intelligence figured a black American ex-patriot could sneak around, without raising suspicion. Plus, Josephine had acquired a lot of street smarts from her hard scrabble days in St Louis. She was, no doubt, able to bluff the best of them. She also had to be super smart, and a master of disguise,

Josephine performed her services well. When the Germans invaded France, she left Paris and went to her home in the south of France. There, she housed people who were helping the exiled French government, and supplied them with visas. As an entertainer, she had an excuse for moving around Europe. She secured and transmitted information about airfields, harbors, and German troop concentrations in the West of France. She kept her notes written in invisible ink on her sheet music!

How’s that for some cloak and dagger genius?

After the war, Josephine received several medals of honor for her service. She was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (the highest order of military merit) by General Charles de Gaulle.

Know Your Rights

In 1947 Josephine married the French conductor Jo Bouillon.

This marriage would last fourteen years. Jo happened to be white (as was her other husband Jean Lion.) 

Throughout her life Josephine had been a victim of racism and was an advocate for human rights. In the 1950’s, although still living in France, she was an important part of the American Civil Rights Movement. When she and Jo traveled to New York they were refused accommodations at 36 hotels because of racial discrimination. (Inter-racial marriage was then illegal in the US.)

Josephine began to write articles about segregation in the United States. She gave a talk at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, on “France, North Africa And The Equality Of The Races In France”.

Throughout her career, Josephine had refused to perform for segregated audiences. In the US, she refused a $10,000 offer to perform at a segregated club in Miami. (Roughly about $150,000 in today’s money.) The club eventually succumbed to Josephine’s wishes, allowing people of all races to enter.

Josephine spoke alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1964 March on Washington for Civil Rights. Josephine, along with Rosa Parks, was one of the few female speakers. It is a powerful speech, and one that is seldom mentioned.  Josephine states:

“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ’cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world.”

Listen to the whole speech here. (About 3 minutes.)

She’s A Rainbow

Josephine had suffered several miscarriages in her life, finally undergoing a hysterectomy in 1941. While married to Jo Bouillon, adoption became her passion. Josephine wanted to create a family of children based on how she thought the world was supposed to be. This meant people of all races, religions and nationalities living peacefully side by side. She set about creating this family, adopting children from all corners of the planet. She called her children “The Rainbow Tribe”.

Josephine took the children on trips all over the world, but mostly they lived at her home in the south of France, the Château des Milandes.

En images : souvenirs de Joséphine Baker, la première icône noire, au château des Milandes, en Dordogne

Josephine actually opened the chateau to tourists so people could come in and see kids of all races playing and interacting. She even deliberately raised the children in different religions.

The children were:  French-born Marianne, Moroccan-born Stellina, Korean-born Jeannot, Japanese-born Akio, Colombian-born Luis, Finnish-born Jari, French-born Jean-Claude and Noël, Israeli-born Moïse, Algerian-born Brahim, Ivorian-born Koffi, and Venezuelan-born Mara.

Wow! And you thought Angelina Jolie was eccentric?

Unfortunately, all these adoptions took a toll on her husband Jo. They separated in 1957, after Josephine took in her eleventh child. They officially divorced in 1961.

The Show Must Go On

Josephine began performing again in 1968 at age sixty-two. She still wowed audiences, touring throughout Europe. Her last performance was on April 8, 1975. She was starring in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, celebrating her 50 years in show business.

Josephine Baker 1950

The show received rave reviews. As usual, Josephine attracted top celebrities.  Members of her audience included  Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.

Sadly, the review was cut short. On April 12, Josephine suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and went into a coma.  She was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where she died, at age 68.

Fun Facts

  • Grace Kelley, aka Princess Grace of Monaco, was Josephine’s BFF. Oddly, they bonded over civil rights when Josephine was refused service at the Stork Club in New York. Grace, a patron, saw the discrimination, took Josephine by the hand and stormed out.

  • In Paris, during the Banana Dance years, she received 40,000 love letters and over 1,000 marriage proposals.

DIY HALLOWEEN COSTUME- JOSEPHINE BAKER & THE BANANA SKIRT — KRYSTLE DESANTOS

  • In 1951, the NAACP declared May 20 to be “Josephine Baker Day”. 
  • Josephine’s adopted son Jean-Claude Baker wrote a biography about her, published in 1993, titled Josephine: The Hungry Heart. In it he poses theories about Josephine’s true father —  a rich, white, German man.
  • To be fair, Jean-Claude seems a bit snarky. He claims that her many adoptions were because “she wanted a doll”.  He also claims his mother had “slept with most of the Nazi soldiers” before she became a spy.
  • Hemingway thought she was sexy, but he also admired her mind. Reportedly they spend hours in serious conversation.

  • Coretta Scott King asked her to take over the Civil Rights Movement after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Josephine pondered it for several days, but declined because of her children.
  • In later life Josephine went bankrupt. (Yeah, that Rainbow Tribe was expensive!) It was BFF Grace Kelly, by then the Princess of Monaco, who came to the rescue, giving her a villa to live in and financial aid.
  • Husband Jo is buried next to her at Cimetière de Monaco.

Happy Birthday Josephine! You will never be forgotten.

The Mysterious Melody of Taurus

 

April 20 through May 20 marks the astrological sun sign of Taurus.

I have always loved Taurus. Represented by the bull, individuals born under this sign bring in the best of both worlds. They have a powerful (and stubborn!) earth sign ruled by the beautiful and feminine planet Venus. These people are go-getters, manifesters, and serious goal setters. But they do it all with such a lovely artistic flair you will scarcely notice how driven they actually are.

Prone to sensual pleasures, they are experts in culinary delights. Some of the best chefs are Taureans. They are great artists, animal lovers and fashion trend setters. They often have musical ability. Taureans are great with designs, decorating and fabrics.

They are also sexy! Although Scorpio (the polar opposite, or inverted Taurus) usually gets credit for being the “most sexual” of all the signs, it is the horned men and women who really stand out in compelling ways. The bull is a spellbinding presence, full of quiet charisma and unusual traits.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at a few famous Taureans.

Michelle Pfeiffer, born April 29, 1958.

She was Madame Marie de Tourvel of Dangerous Liaisons. Also Catwoman, among other things. She claimed playing the cat was natural for her, as she was very athletic.

Film Critic Roger Ebert said of her: “She is not just a beautiful woman, but an actress with the ability to make you care about her, to make you feel what she feels.”

In her film The Fabulous Baker Boys, Michelle performed the song “Makin’ Whoopie” while strewn on top of a piano. Ebert said of it: “Whatever she’s doing while she performs that song isn’t merely singing; it’s whatever Rita Hayworth did in Gilda and Marilyn Monroe did in Some Like It Hot, and I didn’t want her to stop.”

Audrey Hepburn, born May 4, 1929.

Audiences fell in love with her sweet, unassuming presence and her sense of style. To this day she is a fashion icon. She is best known for her performance as the street wise but vulnerable Holly Golighty in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

She sang and played a ukulele too!

Jessica Lange, born April 29, 1949.

This Minnesota native has been wowing audiences ever since King Kong swept her off her feet in 1976.  She received two Academy Awards and several Emmys. Her roles include Frances Farmer, Blanche DuBois and Joan Crawford. Most recently she played several notorious femme fatales on the series American Horror Story, including a psychotic nun, a freak show emcee and a New Orleans witch.

Elusive and wispy, yet strong, Jessica seems forever young.

Henry Cavill, born May 5, 1983.

He was the Man of Steel, the Man From U.N.C.L.E, and King Henry VIII’s bestie, Charles Brandon. Entertainment Weekly named him the “Most Dashing Duke” and praised his work on The Tudors for displaying “charm, depth and a killer bod”.  In December 2013, Cavill was named “World’s Sexiest Man” by British Glamour magazine. The same year, Empire magazine placed him third on their list of “The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars 2013”.

I can see why.

Jack Nicholson, born April 22, 1937.

He played a werewolf, a Joker, a madman, a serial killer and a concert pianist.  No one can deny the sinister power of Jack “you can’t handle the truth” Nicholson. He is the recipient of several awards including Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe. He has had one marriage, several affairs, and five children.

Film critic David Thompson said of him: “Nicholson is the Hollywood celebrity who is almost like a character in some ongoing novel of our times. He is also the most beloved of stars—not even his huge wealth, his reckless aging, and the public disasters of his private life can detract from this … For he is still a touchstone, someone we value for the way he helps us see ourselves.”

But remember when he asked the waitress to hold the chicken? And he clarified, “I want you to hold it between your knees.” She threw him out of the restaurant.

Cher, born May 20, 1946.

She was once half of Sonny and Cher, but she quickly surpassed Sonny and carved a solo career for herself.  She is a singer, an Academy Award winning actress and of course — a fashion icon! Cher is quick witted, multidimensional, and a beautiful chameleon.

And don’t forget, she basically put dress designer Bob Mackie on the map.

James MacAvoy, born April 21, 1979.

This Scottish lad first captured hearts as the faun known as Mr. Tumnus, in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Before fame and fortune came his way, he considered becoming a priest and worked in a Glasgow bakery. With a brogue to die for and his intense blue eyes, he quickly caught the attention of critics. James starred in several movies including The Last King of Scotland, Atonement and Macbeth. He has won several prestigious awards including a Golden Globe.

But I like James best as Mr. Tumnus. The horns are a natural.

William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564.

In addition to being a great writer, the Bard must have been a pretty great lover as well. At the tender age of 17 he impregnated 26 year old Anne Hathaway. He married her and fathered two more children before making his way to London where he wrote and acted in plays.

Some historians believe he had numerous affairs with numerous people, including the elusive “dark lady” and “fair youth” of his sonnets. The Dark Lady (who may or may not have been Venetian poet Emilia Bassano) is portrayed as an older and temperamental woman.

The Fair Youth (who may or may not have been Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton) is portrayed as a handsome younger man.

No one will ever know the truth. But the Bard had an intimate knowledge of human relationships, a penchant for crossdressers, and a real knack for tales of forbidden love.

Fred Astaire, born May 10, 1899.

He was possibly the most influential dancer in history. Astaire had a career in Broadway, television and the Silver Screen that spanned over 70 years. Michael Jackson claimed to emulate him and copied several of his dance steps, including the flexibility that led to the “Moon Walk”. He is best known for his partnership with fellow dancer Ginger Rogers and movies they made in the 1930’s and 40’s.

What is sexier than knowing all the right moves? And Fred could really pull off a top hat!

Bettie Page, born April 22, 1923.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Bettie was an actress, model and Playboy centerfold. She gained a significant profile in the 1950s for her pin-up photos which often portrayed BDSM. (Bettie claimed she had to pose for at least one hour of BDSM or the photographer would not pay her.) Paradoxically, she was also an evangelical Christian, and worked for the Reverend Billy Graham.

Historians say she was best known for her bangs and vivid blue eyes. (I suspect folks were looking at other things as well…)

Apparently, Bettie played the ukulele too!

Moon Magic

Tonight, April 22, at approximately 10 pm Eastern Standard Time, the new moon will enter Taurus. Any new moon is a good time to set intentions, but this particular new moon is rife with meaning.

In the northern hemisphere we are celebrating spring and it is a great time for planting. In the southern hemisphere they are celebrating the autumn harvest. Whether we are planting or harvesting, it is a day closely related to the Earth. April 22nd is also International Earth Day. With Taurus as an Earth sign, we should set intentions for manifesting things to benefit the Earth.

The past few weeks have been stressful for all of us. The Covid virus has brought our planet to her knees.  We have been locked up, hospitalized, laid off from our jobs, quarantined and kept from our loved ones. Many have suffered illness and even death. It is an unprecedented tragedy in human history.

But somethings gotta give. And soon.

Regardless of where anyone stands politically on the matters, we can all agree on one thing. We want the Earth and her people to be happy, healthy and prosperous.

Let’s set that intention today! Imagine how powerful it will be if we all do it.

Have a blessed New Moon Day. And Happy Birthday to Taureans everywhere!

 

 

 

Shipwreck

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
To the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.”    —  Gordon Lightfoot

Some say the Great Lakes are haunted. They have caused the demise of many a sailor, and within their waters lurks the despair of lives cut short. This is the story of twenty-nine men who lost their lives in the wreck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975.

They came from Duluth. Toledo. Sturgeon Bay, Iron River, St. Joseph, Ashtabula and Milbury. They worked as oilers, engineers, first mates, captains, cooks, watchmen and deck-hands. Their names were John, James, William, George, Russell, Bruce, Oliver and a few Thomases. They were husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, beloved of many. Some were as young as twenty, on their first trip out.

Karl Peckol, b. 1955, Watchman

Some were in their fifties, making a last voyage before retirement.

Frederick Beecher, b. 1919, Porter

The men are gone but not forgotten.

It started with a mighty ship.

“Pride of the American Side”

The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was built in 1958. At 729 feet long, 39 feet high, and weighing in at 13,362 tons she was, at the time, the biggest ship of the Great Lakes. She was worth 7 million dollars (the equivalent of $46 million today!)

By industry standards, the Fitzgerald’s accommodations were top notch. Her furnishings included deep carpeting, tiled bathrooms, drapes over the portholes, and leather swivel chairs in the guest lounge. There were two guest state rooms for corporate clients, a large galley and two dining rooms. The crew’s quarters were air conditioned. The pilot house was outfitted with “state-of-the-art” nautical equipment and a beautiful map room. In a way she was more like a luxury liner than a freight ship.  Up until a few weeks before her loss, passengers had traveled on board as company guests. Frederick Stonehouse wrote:

“Stewards treated the guests to the entire VIP routine. The cuisine was reportedly excellent and snacks were always available in the lounge. A small but well stocked kitchenette provided the drinks. Once each trip, the captain held a candlelight dinner for the guests, complete with mess-jacketed stewards and special clamdigger punch.”

Yet the Fitzgerald had an ominous beginning. When she was christened on June 8, 1958, she slid into the water at a strange angle, then jolted and crashed back into the dock. Spectators said it seemed like the gargantuan ship was “trying to climb back onto the dock”, as if the vessel had a mind of its own.  One observer was so startled by the sight he actually had a heart attack and died!

For seventeen years, the Fitzgerald sailed the Great Lakes. She carried iron ore from the mines of Duluth, Minnesota to iron works in Detroit Michigan, Toledo Ohio, and other ports. She set seasonal haul records. Her nicknames included “The Mighty Fitz”, “Pride of the American Side”, “Toledo Express”, and the “Titanic of the Great Lakes”.  By November 1975, Edmund Fitzgerald had logged an estimated 748 round trips and covered more than a million miles, “a distance roughly equivalent to 44 trips around the world.”

The Voyage

The weather was balmy on the morning of November 9, 1975, when the Mighty Fitz left out of Superior, Wisconsin. She was under the command of  Ernest McSorley, a seasoned captain with many years experience. They were en route to a steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, where they would deliver 26,000 tons of iron ore.

November is storm season on the Great Lakes, and so it was not unusual when the National Weather Service predicted that some turbulence would pass just south of Lake Superior that night. The crew probably thought nothing of it.

At around 5 pm, the Fitzgerald joined a second freighter, the S.S. Arthur Anderson,  which was under the command of Captain Jesse Cooper.  Through the two captains’ communications the final reports of the Fitzgerald’s demise would be recorded.

At 7 pm on the night of November 9, the National Weather Service issued a gale warning for all of Lake Superior.  The captains decided it would be best to alter their course northward, seeking shelter along the Ontario coast. At around 1 am the gales turned into a severe winter storm. The Fitz reported winds of 52 knots (60 mph) and waves 10 feet high. That is a pretty bad storm! But by daybreak it had gotten worse. Waves up to 35 feet high were crashing over the deck of the Fitzgerald. McSorely and Cooper, both veteran captains,  thought they had seen everything. They were about to meet their match.

The storm increased to a near hurricane.  Captain Cooper later stated, “I don’t think I even believed it at the time, but they had reports of 92 mile per hour gusts at the Soo.” (He refers to the Soo Locks of Sault Ste. Marie, where ships pass between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.)

The worst of the weather was blowing right toward the ships, so the captains decided to change course again.  They would head south, attempting to reach the safety of Whitefish Bay.  This, however, involved crossing the dangerous ‘Six Fathom Shoals’ – a bed of jagged rocks, hidden in a mere 36 feet of churning water. The shoals could tear a ship to shreds. To make matters worse, it began to snow! In the blizzard white-out, nothing was visible and the captains then had to rely on their radar systems.

At around 3 pm, McSorely reported that his guard rails had collapsed and two vents were damaged. Water was coming in. The bilge pumps were on but unable to empty the ship fast enough. To make matters even worse, within an hour, the Fitzgerald’s radar system failed! The crew now sailed blind, with only radio communication to guide them. Meanwhile, 30 foot waves washed the deck. McSorely, who had been sailing the Great Lakes for 44 years, said this was the worst storm he had ever seen.

At 7 pm the Mighty Fitz had her last communication. Cooper radioed to ask how they were doing. McSorely replied: “We are holding our own.”

They obviously weren’t.

Deadman’s Cove

By 7:30 the snow had cleared. Cooper tried to locate the Fitz, but she had completely vanished. The Arthur Anderson sailed to safety in Whitefish Bay. Cooper then contacted the US Coast Guard and they began a search.

Because the Coast Guard lacked sufficient crew for a full rescue, they asked Cooper to take the Anderson back out and help. Cooper was reluctant to re-enter the terrible storm. But he agreed, further risking his own life to help save the men of the Fitz. Another ship, the S.S. William Clay Ford, bravely joined in as well.  They searched for three days. Reportedly, they found a torn lifeboat and some debris, but nothing else.

On November 14, a US Navy Lockheed aircraft, piloted by Lt. George Conner and equipped to detect “magnetic anomalies” that were usually associated with submarines, found the wreck.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lay about 15 miles west of an inlet in Ontario which was called (ironically, or appropriately) “Deadman’s Cove.” The ship was split in two pieces at the bottom of 530 feet of water.

The most bizarre thing about the shipwreck is the quickness in which the ship went down. She had been in steady communication for so many hours, then she just disappeared without so much as a mayday call.  Captain Cooper believes that the Fitz may have hit a shoal that produced a leak, unbeknownst to the crew.

The bodies of the crew members were never found.

The Fitz had been only 17 miles away from the entrance to the safe harbor of Whitefish Bay.

Legacy

“All that remains are the faces and the names of the wives, and the sons, and the daughters.” — Gordon Lightfoot

One can only imagine the sadness and shock the families faced when they got word the men had been lost on the lake. Doreen Cundy, the widow of watchman Ransom Cundy, received a phone call from a friend, but refused to believe the ship had sunk. She turned on the news and to her horror, saw that her friend had been right.

Ruth Hudson, the mother of deck-hand Bruce Hudson, remembered her son as “adventurous, friendly, and very fond of the Fitz.”

The day after the wreck, Mariner’s Church in Detroit conducted a service for the deceased. The names and occupations of each man was read, and the bell was rang 29 times, once for each man of the Edmund Fitzgerald. A full list of them can be found here.

Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian composer, saw a news story of the shipwreck in which ‘Edmund’ had been spelled ‘Edmond’. He thought this showed incredible disrespect for the captain and crew. In response, he wrote his ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

The haunting melody does justice to the men of the Fitz.

Sailors, R.I.P.

Respect!

 

Her musical accomplishments were unprecedented. The Queen of Soul could belt a ballad to beat any band. But Aretha Franklin taught us what is perhaps the most important lesson one can learn in a lifetime: We deserve Respect.

Today we bid good-bye to this talented icon.

Ironically, she shares this death date with another all time great, Elvis “The King” Presley, whom we lost way back in 1977. There seems to be a great symmetry in this. The King of Rock and the Queen of Soul had a lot in common. Both started from humble beginnings, singing Gospel. Both went on to conquer every corner of the music industry including Soul, Blues, Jazz, Ballads, Rock and R &B.

Aretha’s accomplishments are no less that royal.  Born in Detroit, Michigan on March 25, 1942, she began her career singing Gospel in  the New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was a minister. This daughter of a preacher-man would go on to gain unprecedented fame and fortune.

Franklin won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and sold over 75 million records worldwide. In 1987 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. She was the first female artist to be inducted! Yes, Aretha called for “Respect” and got it!

In 2002 she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. Ironically, although her roots were in Gospel, it was not until 2012 that Aretha was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She was listed in Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

That is a lot of awards and inductions! 

As a native Chicagoan and a Blues fan, one of my favorite comedies is “The Blues Brothers” starring the late great John Belushi, with a cameo from Aretha.  (If you have not yet seen it and you like to laugh, stream it immediately.)

Elwood Blues and his brother Jake (who just got released from the Joliet Maximum Security Prison)  embark on a “mission from God”. Their aim is to collect money for the orphanage where they were raised to prevent its closing. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. (Besides, if they lose they will face the wrath of The Penguin, their childhood nun. She is pretty scary.)

However, the only way Jake and Elwood can possibly earn any money is through music, in which case they must Get the Band Back Together.

At the local soul food diner, they attempt to recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy. His wife Mrs Murphy, played by Franklin, has other ideas! (Obviously Jake and Elwood missed their mark. They would have done better to just recruit Aretha and the Murphettes!)

Aretha demanded Respect,  taught us  the importance of A Natural Woman and engaged in a good deal of Day Dreaming. But my favorite Aretha song is “Spanish Harlem” written by Ben E, King.

“It is the special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street
Right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreaming”

Performed here by the Queen of Soul herself.  Hope you like it!

Aretha Franklin Rock In Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About Blue

 

It is a lovely color. It represents the sky and the sea, peacocks, cornflowers, turquoise, sapphire and lapis. Not to mention glaciers, Kentucky grass, robin’s eggs, blueberries, bluebells and blue jays. So how does such a beautiful color get such a bad rap?

Think about it.

When we’re sad, we’ve got the blues. We can be in a blue funk, a blue mood, full of blue notes, and this might even occur on a Blue Monday.  In which case we might find ourselves listening to  – The Blues — an musical institution fueled by hard luck, rough times and downtrodden guitar players.

Not feeling well?  You might be blue around the gills.  A hangover is called the blue flu. In fact, drink enough alcohol and you might get the blue devils (delirium tremens).  Even your malfunctioning computer faces the blue screen of death.

One might impulsively do things out of the blue.  A non-stop chatterbox will talk a blue streak.  An angry person will curse a  blue streak or even scream blue murder. Stubborn people might do something repeatedly, until they are blue in the face.

Afterward they may wonder what in the blue blazes prompted them? On the other hand, their behavior may only occur once in a blue moon.

Get in a fight and you’ll end up black and blue. Worse yet, the blues and twos (ambulances) might take you to the hospital. And if things get really violent. someone may have to call the Boys in Blue.

Just hope you don’t end up in the notorious blue room made famous by the French madman Blue Beard, who murdered several of his wives, left them to rot there and forbade anyone to enter.

When facing  a choice of two evils, you are between the devil and the deep blue sea.  If you continue to look at the matter through blue glasses (as opposed to “rose colored glasses”) you will have a distorted and gloomy view of things.

By remaining ignorant and closed to new ideas, you take the blue pill. (Although Neo in the Matrix chose red.)

Then there is blue and sex.

An unsatisfied man gets blue balls.  Prostitutes were once referred to as blue gowns because of the garments they wore in jail. A bawdy person might tell a blue joke or enjoy a blue movie (pornographic). When we dip into the blue we say something obscene. And of course, novices should always be careful, lest they end up screwed, blued and tattooed.

But it is not all bad. There are plenty of positive blue references too!

Elvis Presley had a Blue Christmas and a bad case of the GI Blues, but he also ended up in Blue Hawaii! 

She wore blue velvet.  (At least in David Lynch’s dreams.) Picasso, Van Gogh and other artists went through very creative painting stints known as blue periods, producing some of their best work.

The very rich are called blue blooded, the best prize of all is the blue ribbon, and the only kind of friend worth having is a true blue one.

Your blue sky thinking just may result in a flash of genius, a new invention or an out of the box solution.  Similarly, you may be inspired by a bolt from the blue, and if you are lucky, you may even travel into the wild blue yonder! Blue can be a great source of happiness and inspiration.

Different colors affect people in different ways. What do you think of blue?

And finally, no study of blue would be complete without this song.

Baby Blue was first recorded by Badfinger in 1972. Sadly, two of the band members, Peter Ham and Tom Evans, had SERIOUS cases of the blues.  Suffering depression, they would both meet their deaths by suicide in the years to come.  Nonetheless, it is a beautiful song.  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Michael Hutchence

hutch 1

It was twenty years ago today.

On November 22, 1997, Australian rock star Michael Hutchence was found dead in a Ritz-Carlton hotel room in Sydney. His death was ruled a suicide, although family and friends have continued to dispute this.

The question remains: What would cause a young man, at the top of his game, a wealthy international superstar, a new father, much loved by family, friends and the public, to take his own life?

But maybe there is more to this story.  The human mind is a complexity, full of perceived tragedies and horrific imaginings.  There are dark nights of the soul when problems explode and life simply gives no mercy. 

Hutchence was apparently in the middle of one.

Michael Hutchence

Michael Hutchence was born in Sydney, Australia on January 22, 1960, to working class parents. The family lived in Hong Kong for much of Michael’s childhood, but returned to Australia in 1972.  Michael joined a rock band with his friends the Farriss brothers when he was just 17 years old. That band was eventually named INXS. They rose to fame and fortune in the 1980’s and 90’s. Some critics consider INXS to be one of Australia’s finest bands.

inxs

They had a fresh, funky sound, exemplified in their best selling album ‘Kick’.  Writing team Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence came up with catchy pop songs as well as deep and soulful ballads. The six talented musicians included horn, keyboard and saxophone players.  None, however, could match the illustrious Hutch on stage.

As the band’s lead singer, he had a seductive voice, plenty of feral cat moves, and a Mick-Jagger-like star quality.  Anyone who saw Hutch in concert was hooked.  And I mean anyone!  Men, women, young, old, straight, gay, no matter.  All went gaga for Hutch.

Michael Hutchence

In 1994, Hutchence began having an affair with celebrity Paula Yates, who was then married to another famous rock star, Bob Geldof.  Eventually Paula divorced Bob, but what followed was a nasty custody battle that apparently made everyone miserable. In the meantime, Hutch and Paula also had a child of their own, a daughter named Tiger Lily. Legal issues forced Paula to remain in England, continually separated from Hutchence.

hutch 4

Hutch had also experienced a terrible head injury which reportedly left him with a bunch of physical ailments, including loss of his sense of smell. These difficulties were exacerbated by the fact that the band was, by then, losing its star status, no longer filling stadiums and playing to smaller crowds. According to some, Hutchence had entered the dreaded realm of (gasp!) “aging rock star”. (At the ripe old age of 37.)

I know!  Who makes these dumb rules?

hutch 3

Michael Hutchence’s corpse was found  at 11:50 AM on the morning of November 22, 1997 in the Sydney Ritz Carlton.  He died alone.  Friends and visitors had been partying with him in the hotel room as late (or early!) as 5AM the same morning. Allegedly the activities included lots of alcohol and unnamed drugs.  Strangely, no coroner’s report was filed as to which substances Hutch actually had in his body when he died. The official cause of his death was strangulation by hanging.

But there is another side to the story. By many accounts, Hutch was a bit kinky. He may never have intended to actually kill himself, but was merely involved in a few rounds of autoerotic asphyxiation.

belt

‘Nuff said.

It still sort of doesn’t make sense though.

Not to get too far into “conspiracy theories” but… Bob Geldof is a rich and powerful man. He’s worth $150 million. (And I’m sorry, but you don’t make 150 million bucks being a Boom Town Rat.) And the last time I checked, Africa is still in pretty bad shape. Geldof also hated Hutchence. Hated. Him.

“There be strange things asunder in the Land Down Under…”

Just sayin’. It’s possible.

This story gets even sadder. Three years later, Paula Yates died of a drug overdose, leaving Tiger Lily an orphan. Bob Geldof  somehow became her legal guardian, even though the Hutchence family fought for custody.  (150 million bucks will get you anything you want though, even custody of a child against her deceased parents’ wishes.)

Tiger recently began a modeling career,  no doubt owing a lot to her father’s gorgeous looks.

hutch daughter

Michael Hutchence remains one of the great, gone too soon artists. On this day we honor him. Here, INXS perform a patchwork of their song ‘Mystify’. Hope you like it!

Hutch Rock In Peace!