Sunday, November 29, 2009

i can tell you nothing new has happened since i last saw you, won't you call me miss o'dell?

"I wasn't famous. I wasn't even almost famous. But I was there." And so begins Miss O'Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved. Phew, quite a title. But it's really only the microscopic tip of the iceberg in Chris O'Dell's rock 'n roll life. I swear, O’Dell was literally there for every major thing in rock and roll during the late sixties through the early eighties. She was far beyond just being “with the band,” she was part of the family, an insider who was trusted more than just an employee but also as a friend.
In 1968, after a chance dinner with Derek Taylor, O'Dell packed up her life in Los Angeles and moved to London to work at the Beatles' Apple offices. She palled around with the infamous Francie Schwartz and other Beatle regulars (like Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall), and hung out with some of the Hell’s Angels before becoming best friends with Pattie Boyd and eventually Maureen Starkey, who were both cold to her initially because of their jaded and untrusting view of women entering the Beatle circle after years of infidelity (Pattie recalled in her memoir Wonderful Tonight that she worried "when Chris walked in through the front door, looking like Goldie Hawn and chatting confidently with George ... I guessed he had brought her home because he intended to sleep with her"). 
She worked for Peter Asher, who was employed at Apple as the A&R manager (but by that time Paul and Jane had broken up and in only a few months would Paul marry Linda), was in the studio for recording sessions of the White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be, even singing backup for the chorus of “Hey Jude.” She was present for the Beatles rooftop concert and had a romance with Leon Russell, a “friend” of Bonnie and Delaney, for who he wrote the song “Pisces Apple Lady.” She delivered Bob Dylan’s harmonicas by helicopter for his comeback concert in ’69 Isle of Wight, and recalls on the flight back with John and Yoko that they were afraid they were going to crash so they all chanted Hare Krishna over and over again.
After the Beatles broke up, she lived with Pattie and George at Friar Park, helping to decorate the mammoth house, typing the lyrics for George’s album All Things Must Pass, and aiding in the organization of the Concert for Bangladesh. She was also there when Harrison had to read in the newspaper that the Beatles were kaput, over his cup of morning tea. Harrison wrote the wonderful (and greatly underrated, if I might add) song “Miss O’Dell” for her after she was supposed to hang out with him in Malibu one night but then blew him off. The song became a B-side for “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” and is where the book’s title comes from.
After that, she worked as a P.A. for the Rolling Stones on their 1972 tour, where she became good friends with Bill Wyman’s wife Astrid, slept with Mick Jagger, and did a drug run for Keith Richards, who she fondly remembers as a sweetheart with a bad boy exterior. In Stones circles, she is the “mystery woman” on the cover of Exile on Main Street.
She worked as a tour manager, working with Bob Dylan on his Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, and became entangled in yet another love triangle with filmmaker Sam Sheppard and Joni Mitchell (becoming immortalized as the “woman down the hall” in Mitchell’s song “Coyote”) before having an affair with Bob Dylan himself. After working with who she called “The Big Three” – The Beatles, The Stones, and Dylan – O’Dell continued her work as one of the only female tour managers out there by working with (to name a few) Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Fleetwood Mac; Earth, Wind and Fire; Queen; Linda Ronstadt; Santana; Phil Collins; and ELO.
She ended her legendary career in the eighties after working with Echo and the Bunnymen, whom she doesn’t really have much to say about. At the point in her life when rock music was only a shadow of what it once was, Chris decided to find something else. She attended a party given by her very good friend Astrid Wyman in the south of France, and met the man that would become her husband, the Honourable Anthony John Mark Russell, a nobleman who was the son in an eccentric British family belonging to the House of Lords. She had a son, William, whose godparents were Ringo Starr and Pattie Boyd (natch…) and who is now in his early twenties. She gave up alcohol and drugs, and eventually moved back to Tucson after divorcing her first husband, becoming a counselor and hypnotherapist specializing in addiction and recovery. Her story comes full circle with her move back to Tucson. O’Dell spent much of her life after moving away from Arizona gravitating back and forth between London, Los Angeles, New York City, and Germany, finding homes in all those places but never truly settling down. Well O’Dell got back to where she once belonged, so to speak, when she moved back to her childhood home, and set up a life for herself there for nearly 20 years.
I prefer this book almost more than others from the same era because it is real. O'Dell has no reason to lie - she doesn't have a mythic persona or reputation to uphold, she's just a person who was lucky enough to experience all of these things and has no reason to lie or hold back on any account. This book is more relatable for a simple gal like me than say Wonderful Tonight or Faithfull, where even though the lifestyle and fame that Boyd and Faithfull achieved was unexpected by them when they first began their respective relationships with Harrison and Jagger, they garnered certain levels of fame and exposure in their careers prior to that. Chris O'Dell was a young girl (only 20 years old when her entire life changed) working in Los Angeles with no designs of fame and no reason to believe she would become intimately closer to rock stars than what her daydreams allowed.
Whereas Wonderful Tonight treated certain events (like excessive cocaine use and infidelity), as something best not relived in too much detail, Miss O'Dell gives equal treatment to every event in her life. The long-lasting pain of the George-Maureen-Ringo love triangle and the Eric-Pattie-George love triangle, (and also reveals the Maureen-Ringo-and herself triangle) are discussed and it is reveals that they merged together to create some sort of love ... rhombus, consisting of George, Maureen, Ringo, Pattie, Eric, and Chris herself. She writes of the moment in Ringo’s kitchen when in the middle of conversation with Mo and Pattie, George casually turned to Ringo and said, “You know, Ringo, I’m in love with your wife.” Ringo responded after a pause, “Better you than someone we don’t know.” After that admission, Starr took solace in Los Angeles with O’Dell for several months. A time later, Maureen confronted Chris about their affair and after she came clean (much to Ringo’s dismay) they managed to salvage their friendship and remained close until Maureen’s death in 1994.
Part of the book chronicles the demise of the Harrison marriage, as O’Dell was witness to Pattie’s affairs with Clapton and Ronnie Wood, and George’s affair with Mo Starkey and his rapidly changing mood swings (she writes of a joke that Pattie and her shared during that time that they didn’t know each day if George would have his hand in the prayer bag or the coke bag) and his deep preoccupation with religion and discovering purpose. Her chronicling of it is almost more in-depth than Boyd’s and Clapton’s combined as she was not as romantically entangled and was able to see all parties affected.
O'Dell also doesn't hold back about her drug usage and writes about it for what it was - addiction. She writes casually of snorting lines with George and Pattie at Friar Park in between billiard games, and remarks of her excitement when Keith Richards sent her from Dallas to LA to get some "really great" coke while on tour. Several times throughout her life, O’Dell worried that she was hitting rock bottom, but she found that once you hit the bottom there was always a trap door there waiting to take you lower. Substance abuse is a common thread throughout the book, both in the people she worked for and in her own life.
She gives equal treatment to characters in her life as well. Instead of indulging into salacious details of her romantic relationships with Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Jim Gordon, Leon Russell, and Bob Dylan, she treats the bedroom happenings with a certain level of ambivalence, instead focusing on the backstage conversations she had with them. Also, she writes a lot about the people in her life that another person maybe wouldn't remember or give more than a few sentences about. She talks openly and unabashedly about the crushes she had on tours, and there is a darling scene between her and a young Cameron Crowe, whose wide-eyed innocence and honest love of music captured O'Dell's appreciation. She gives more treatment to her relationships with the wives of rock stars, with whom she was best friends with. She writes at length of the turmoil she was in when she thought that one of her actions would offend Pattie or Mo, as she knew that it took a lot for these women to trust people around them. A lot is written about her friendship with Pattie, and how with George she was welcomed as a member of the family but with Clapton she was treated as a competitor for Pattie’s attention and affection.
Miss O’Dell is a really remarkable book, one so interesting it’s almost hard to believe this all happened to a little girl from Tucson. It’s honest and real, the only thing we can ever really ask for in a memoir. She doesn’t sugarcoat, sensationalize, romanticize, or demonize (or any other –ize, for that matter) fame and fortune. She presents it for what it was in that moment in time. Miss O’Dell is the ultimate backstage pass into a world of rock and roll that most of us can only see in magazines and on vinyls.


gloria j said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

what a great review. i plan to read this over winter break.

Queen Jane said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

its a really fantastic read. even though i sorta blabbed on, so much else happens in the book that my post doesn't nearly cover it all- its kinda unbelievable how much chris o'dell has lived through

Immie said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

This was the best sixties autobiography/beatles related book I have ever read. It's honest and compleatly relateable. This book made me see Pattie in a bit of a diffrent light :)

Alexis said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Immie - I definitely agree! This book was quite eye-opening in regards to everyone who was discussed in the book, because it cut away from all the pretenses, but I was definitely most surprised by how Chris discussed her times with Pattie and George. I believe that it's an honest portrait, because Chris has nothing but love for both of them, and would have no reason at all to lie. But it is interesting to contrast Pattie's accounts of her going out and having fun, etc. to Chris's tales of them doing cocaine while playing billiards. I think that maybe Pattie was a bit embarrassed by her past behavior and that's why she sort of shied away from telling that stuff in her memoir. I think that this is also the reason why she never explicitly states that she and Ron Wood had an affair, (I think she just says that she 'ran into his arms' and sought comfort) but in every other memoir - Bebe Buell's, and even Ron Wood's own memoir, it's an acknowledged fact that Pattie had an affair with him.
But back to Miss O'Dell - it's a gem of a read! I was sad that it ended! It was the most unbelievable - yet also tremendously believable and relatable - book I've read