Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good Read - Dandelion: Memoir of a Free Spirit

Raised by a mother who makes Joan Crawford look loving and an alcoholic absentee father (later fond of gender-bending), Catherine James always dreamed of breaking free from her family’s control over her. Throughout her childhood, Catherine was abused physically and emotionally by her mother, a shamelessly destructive and self-involved woman who believed that socializing with the Los Angeles elite to be more important than raising her young child. James recounts times when her mother would tie her to a chair or lock her in a closet before she went out in order to keep her daughter out of “harm’s way,” or would feed Catherine stale rotting food doused in Tabasco sauce for dinner. The abusive relationship Catherine has with her mother becomes the pattern for every relationship to come – time and time again, she is left emotionally pummeled by the person closest to her. But even still, James’s optimism remains and she can find the silver lining in the more heartbreaking of experiences.
By twelve Catherine James was declared a ward of the state, living in an orphanage. At a performance in Santa Monica, she had a chance meeting with a 22-year-old Bob Dylan, the first person to really inspire her to break out. And break out she did. In 1964, Catherine moved to Greenwich Village to seek out her new mentor when she was only 14 years old. Soon enough she was partying with rock stars and landed herself a screen test with Andy Warhol. When she was sixteen, she became involved with Denny Laine (of the Moody Blues, Airforce, and Wings) and moved with him to London where she had a son with him, Damian James. For a while when Laine comes into the picture, we think that he is Prince Charming here to save our damsel in distress; he treats her well, takes her partying with the Beatles, the Who, and the Rolling Stones, but soon his own abusive nature is revealed and our dear Catherine is forced to endure more torment from someone she loves. She finally leaves him, moving with her son back to California and enjoying a romance with Jackson Browne, but is lured back to London by Laine, who promises he has changed and wants them to raise their son together. After a few blissful months together, their relationship once again becomes abusive and she one again leaves him. By nineteen, James is living (platonically) with Eric Clapton, cooking his meals and aiding him through his then-unrequited obsession with Pattie Boyd. She also enjoyed dalliances with Jimmy Page throughout the seventies while she lived in Connecticut with her son and became a model for Wilhelmina.
The memoir of a child living in an adult world, the story of Catherine James’s life is a compelling one. Through all the heartbreak that she lived through, “Dandelion” does not wallow in past unhappiness but shines with the author’s sweet optimism. James’s journey to find love and flee abuse is so that at times it reads like fiction. I believe Miss Pamela (authoress and memoir-extraordinaire of “I’m With the Band” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together”) said it best with, “‘Dandelion’ tells the courageous nine-lives tale of an exquisite beauty’s great escape from a turbulent childhood, free-fall into the revolutionary rock music scene, a child raising her own child amidst chaotic upheaval. Audacious and dauntless, Catherine James maintains her sweetness and vulnerability, even when facing down her demons. From the Hollywood heyday to swinging Mod London, to the streets of Greenwich Village and back again, she takes us to shadowy and brilliant places, introduces us to ghastly and illustrious characters, sprinkling heartfelt wisdom and insight on every page.”

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