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.

Anita Pallenberg’s Witchy Ways

 

She was the charming muse of the Rolling Stones, an elusive Ruby Tuesday who, with beauty and charisma, skyrocketed to It Girl fame in the 1960’s and 70’s.  She had notorious love affairs with Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and a number of women. She was a style icon and an international superstar. She was also a black magic practitioner who regularly cast spells and carried strings of garlic to ward off vampires.

“At the center, like a phoenix on her nest of flames… the wicked Anita. She was the most incredible woman I’d met in my life. Dazzling, beautiful, hypnotic and unsettling. Her smile—those carnivorous teeth!—obliterated everything. Other women evaporated next to her.  — Marianne Faithfull

Dazzling Anita Pallenberg died one year ago today, on June 13, 2017.

She came into a chaotic world, born on April 6, 1944 in Nazi-occupied Rome. Her father was a travel agent and her mother a German embassy secretary.  A true child of war, Anita did not meet her father, then serving in the military, until she was three years old.

She was educated in Rome and  sent to boarding school in Bavaria where she was expelled at age 16. After that she traipsed around Europe and New York City where she became a fixture of Andy Warhol’s Factory and began to pursue a career in modeling and acting.

Anita first met the Rolling Stones backstage at a concert in Munich in 1965. Reportedly, the band was terrified of her.

Keith Richards said of her: “Anita Pallenberg scared the pants off me …  She knew everything and she could say it in five languages. You knew you were taking on a Valkyrie — she who decides who dies in battle.”

Mick Jagger claimed, “She nearly killed me.”  Nonetheless, they began a relationship with her.  Anita introduced them to pop culture giants like Andy Warhol and Federico Fellini, influencing their fashion trends and ushering them into the avant-garde world of swinging London.

Anita first became romantically involved with Brian Jones. They fought a lot and the relationship eventually became physically violent. Anita, however, was no victim.  According to Keith: “Every time they had a fight, Brian would come out bandaged and bruised.” Brian Jones, a famous member of the ‘27 Club’,  died at age 27 when he drowned in a swimming pool.

Anita then became involved with Keith. She and Richards had three children together and, although they never married, had a passionate, drug-addled relationship which lasted thirteen years. Anita’s appetites for sex and drugs were legendary, and V Magazine even called her “the woman who out-Keithed Keith.” However, Richards still considered her a friend when he married his wife Patty Hansen in 1983.

The flamboyant styles the Stones began to wear in the late sixties — ascots, floppy hats, jewelry — are credited to Anita’s sense of fashion.

“I started to become a fashion icon for wearing my old lady’s clothes.” — Keith Richards. Reportedly, they wore the same size. Keith said he’d get up in the morning and pull on her trousers.

Pallenberg also influenced the Stones music, singing background vocals and calling for remixing when she thought the sound was not up to par. They respected her opinion and some insiders said she was as much a part of the band as Mick and Keith.

An actress in her own right, she appeared in a total of fifteen films. These included Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger is Dead, Christian Marquand’s Candy, which starred Marlon Brando and Richard Burton, and Roger Vadim’s Barbarella which starred Jane Fonda.

According to Keith, during the filming of Candy, Marlon Brando “kidnapped her one night and read her poetry and, when that failed, tried to seduce Anita and me together.”  Who knows what happened in that little threesome, but Keith did name their first son “Marlon”.  🙂

She also appeared in Donald Cammel’s Performance, which starred Mick Jagger. It was during this filming that Anita allegedly had an affair with Mick.

During this time, Keith was writing Gimme Shelter, a song rife with darkness and apocalyptic visions. He later attributed his pessimism to his own jealousy over the fact that he believed Mick, his best friend, was having an affair with Anita. In short, Keith was not convinced that the film’s sex scenes were mere acting. He called director Donald Cammel “a pimp” and said the movie itself was “third rate porn”.  Pallenberg and Jagger, it should be noted, both claimed there was never any affair. According to Anita:  “I was a one-man girl at the time and Keith was the man for me. I loved him. And anyway, Jagger was the last guy I would have done that with.”

However, when Mick began to date the Nicaraguan born Bianca Perez (who later became Mrs. Bianca Jagger) Anita had many objections.

According to Tony Sanchez, who served as Richard’s personal assistant: “Anita hated Bianca from the start. She was convinced that Bianca was a threat to the Stones and one day she announced that she had put a curse on her  –  she had long been obsessed by black magic.

Anita carried a string of garlic everywhere, to ward off vampires, and in her bedroom kept an ornate carved chest which I found was full of bones, wrinkled skin and fur from strange animals. She also had a mysterious old shaker for holy water which she used for some of her rituals. Her ceremonies became increasingly secret, and she warned me never to interrupt her when she was working on a spell.”

Was it Anita’s witchy ways that catapulted the Stones to fame? How Satanic were Their Majesties, how Sticky were their Fingers and how much Sympathy for the Devil did they really have?

While attempting to break up with Anita in 1978, Keith Richards wrote Beast of Burden, in which a man doubts his own virility and begs for reconciliation with his lover. The Guardian calls the song “a wracked plea for mercy from a broken man.”

Perhaps Keith never should have messed with her.

Tony Sanchez also wrote that Anita was “like a life-force, a woman so powerful, so full of strength and determination that men came to lean on her.”

Although Pallenberg had been solicited several times to write her own autobiography, she never agreed to any publisher’s request.  In 2008 she stated: “The publishers want to hear only about the Stones and more dirt on Mick Jagger and I’m just not interested. They all want salacious. And everybody is writing autobiographies and that’s one reason why I’m not going to do it.”

Too bad. It would have been great fun to read the story in the lady’s own words.

Anita Pallenberg Rock In Peace.

 

 

 

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!

School’s Out!

 

alice cooper 1

Here in Chicago, kids are winding down for their last week of school. As we get ready for beaches, barbeques, rising temps and rowdiness, I could not resist this classic from the fantastic Alice Cooper!

Taking the Wayback  Machine way back to 1972 for this one — although I would argue the song is just as relevant today as it ever was.  “We got no class and we got no principles.” Puns intended.

I have always loved the Coop (maybe because his name is Alice, hehe). They share a penchant for top hats, animals and other-worldliness.

rabbit5 public domain

At any rate, turn up the volume, grab the sandals, shades and lemonade.  Get ready for a long, carefree summer, my favorite time of year 🙂

School’s Out!!

 

 

 

Congratulations Bob Dylan!

 

dylan-1

The question is not WHY did Bob Dylan win a Nobel Prize for Literature. The question is WHY has it taken this long?  The second bard, the traveling Wilbury, he who makes us look at that which we (do not always) want to see.

“He wants to scatter poems from airplanes across the landscape

He’s some kinda poetic nut Like he thinks he’s Dylan

Thomas and Bob Dylan rolled together 

 

He wants to lip-read everybody’s thoughts and feelings

and longings…”

— ‘The Love Nut’ by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Plus, he was the  original sign holder 🙂

Thanks Bob!

dylan