CHILDHOODS OF THE STARS
Hendrix’s father, Al, once a dancer and Golden Gloves contender, was a Seattle gardener, a devout church-goer, gambler and boozer; his mother, Lucille, also a dancer, was the belle of the ball, and pulled the odd trick to make ends meet after another knock down drag out with the volatile Al.
Elvis’s old man, Vernon, was a bootlegger, an ex-con and, according to his wife, Gladys, “a work-shy, steer-coddled jellybean.” Gladys was a lively buck dancer, a part-time seamstress, and consumed great quantities of her “medicine” — Vernon’s shine – to steady her nerves.
Cobain’s father, Don, fixed cars at a Texaco service station; his mom, a flirtatious trailer park beauty, cleaned and maintained their double-wide in Aberdeen Washington, which Kurt later called “Twin Peeks, but without the excitement.”
The Hendrixes and Presleys collected Welfare; the Cobains barely managed to scrape by on Don’s check.
The Joplins were Texas backwater middle-class: Seth, once a bathtub gin brewer, now a world-weary bookworm, worked as an engineer at the Port Arthur Texaco refinery; Dorothy, an ex-flapper, registered students at the local community college and taught Sunday School.
Freddie Lennon, a lush, a bon vivant and dreamer, shipped out from Liverpool as a steward in the merchant marine; in his absence, Julia Lennon partied, without birth control.
Joe Garcia, a clarinetist, got fired from his own jazz band, then took over a seaman’s bar in San Francisco; his vivacious wife, Ruth, helped him pour drinks and worked as a part-time nurse.
George Morrison, a fighter pilot, became the youngest admiral in the Navy; his wife, Clara, was a devoted helpmate, homemaker and a gracious hostess.
So, the parents of the Seven greatest rock stars in history were a mixed bag. The only common ground between them seems to be that they all enjoyed dancing and drinking.
As far as their kids went, though, there seemed to be a more substantial emotional similarity. Hendrix, Elvis, and Lennon adored their mothers. For Jimi, Gladys was his “angel in the sky.” For Elvis, Gladys was “my baby… my life.” For John, Julia was his “shimmering, glimmering… oceanchild.”
But the Beatle-to-be had also called the pretty, promiscuous Julia “a cocksucking whore.” Cobain and Garcia were also ambivalent about their own headstrong, sexy moms – loving them deeply, but disparaging their morals. Then there was the infante terrible, Jim Morrison, whose signature anthem – The End – was about fucking his mother and killing his father.
Strange. Because of all Seven, Morrison seemed to have had the most comfortable, wholesome, “normal” upbringing. But he called himself an “orphan,” and said his childhood had been an “open sore.” Hendrix’s, Cobain’s, and Lennon’s certainly had been – but Morrison’s?
What exactly did the future Lizard King and poet laureate of rock mean by an “open sore” and how did it relate to the others?
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JIM MORRISON (r) & FAMILY
Morrison called his father, the youngest admiral in the history of the Navy, a “eunuch” and accused him of having molested him. The others weren’t any kinder about their old men.
Elvis, though he professed to love his daddy, considered him a “steercoddled” slacker and had threatened to kill him several times. Lennon called Freddie “a Bowery bum” and had threatened to bury him at sea. Cobain called Don “a fucking asshole.” In drunken rages, Al Hendrix beat Jimi regularly: “He was a brutal man,” recalled a childhood friend, “It was a rough scene. Straight up ugly.” Jimi never forgave his father for forbidding him to attend his mother’s funeral, but instead giving him his first shot of Seagrams 7.
An historic study of creative genius and the Oedipus complex has yet to be done. But, undeniably, art owes a debt to mama’s boys. The childish condition goes beyond an inordinate love and attachment to the mother, and hatred, estrangement, or resentment of the father. Figuratively or literally a compulsion to fuck the one, and kill the other — Morrison’s mantra.
When once asked if he really wanted to fuck his mother, the Erotic Politician replied: “No, I want to fuck yours.”
The Doors’ producer, Paul Rothchild, explained it all like this to Crawdaddy magazine: “Kill the father means kill all of those things in yourself which are instilled in you and not of yourself… those things must die… ‘Fuck the mother’ means get back to the essence… the reality.”
In other words, embrace the nurturing, loving mother; reject the controlling, authoritarian father. And a rebel is born. All great artists are rebels on some fundamental level. More than that, the men among them tend to have strong female sides. Sensitive, intuitive, romantic.
The wo/men superstars of rock – Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Prince, etc.– follow the original beacon: The King himself. Elvis, as has often been observed, would never have become the greatest pop phenomenon in history – the King – had it not been for his “androgynous” magnetism, especially for young girls. Elvis was 100% his adoring, immaculate mother’s child. “There wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them — they were the same person,” observed Elvis’s minder, Lamar Fike. His father had as much to do with the King as Joseph with Jesus. Vernon was at the Nativity and saw a star in the east, but that’s about it.
Elvis slept with Gladys till the age of 13. Later, his gossipy step-mother, the ex-wife of General Patton’s personal bodyguard, would say that he consummated with his Gladys, but this seems unlikely. Their relationship was one of cuddling, fawning, and babytalking. Later, he preferred being mothered in this way by the many starlets in his life, than having sex. He gave his first recording, My Happiness, to Gladys, his greatest worshipper, as a birthday present. This was followed by his hit, That’s Alright Mama.
“A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror,” wrote Freud.
When Gladys died, Elvis, then 23, wept inconsolably, “My life is over!” And, indeed, in many ways it was.
Wendy Cobain remembered being “totaled out” on little Kurt. High strung and high maintenance like the other stars as children, Kurt had an equally insatiable appetite for attention. Then when he was 9, his parents divorced and “I went from being a happy kid to a seriously depressed kid,” he later recalled. “I HATE MOM. I HATE DAD,” he crayoned his bedroom wall. Before becoming homeless, he suffered torturous years with his mother’s macho boyfriends who called him “faggot.”
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At age 5, Jim Morrison experienced what he called “the greatest event of my life”: witnessing on a New Mexico highway the slaughter of a truckload of Indians one of whom, he believed, possessed his soul, turning him into a wild child.
Later, the Lizard King sang in Rock Is Dead: When I was just a little boy, ‘bout the age of five I went to sleep, I heard my mama and papa talking… ‘We got to stop that boy, he’s gettin too far out, he’s goin’ wild, we gotta stop that child’…. Not your mother’s or your father’s child: Your wild child full of grace, savior of the human race.
Just as Ruth Garcia had turned her own incorrigible son over her parents, and Julia Lennon hers to her disciplinarian sister, Mimi – Admiral Morrison turned over his wild child to his own parents. But to no avail. “He hated conformity,” recalled Grandmother Morrison, a devout Methodist. “He’d try to shock us. He loved to do that.”
Kurt Cobain did the same after his divorced parents gave up on him and kicked him out of their houses. He got into dope, vandalism, and graffiting public buildings with GOD IS GAY and ABORT CHRIST. The homeless future father of Grunge crashed under bridges, in abandoned cars, and on the couches of friends. One good Samaritan family that put him up soon changed the locks on their doors, saying that being under the same roof with him was “like living with the devil.”
Of the Seven, Janis had the most “normal” childhood. Her father, the petroleum engineer, and her mother, the Sunday school teacher, didn’t beat up on her, get divorced on her, abandon her, or palm her off on relatives. Though a bright, outgoing little girl, she suddenly changed in adolescence, becoming a hellraiser, foul mouth, and rebel. Her mother called her a “harlot,” and berated her for “wasting” her life.”
“I was a misfit,” the hometown Texas wild child later admitted. “I read, I painted, and I didn’t hate niggers.”
After her high school graduation, instead of becoming a nurse or secretary as her parents had hoped, the future Queen of the Blues had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for alcoholism.
“I’m awfully sorry to be such a disappointment to you,” she wrote home several years latter from San Francisco where she was singing, shoplifting, tricking, and shooting speed. “Please believe that you can’t possibly want for me to be a winner more than I do.”
Months later, 87-pounds and on the edge of death, she was on a Greyhound bus back home, engaged to a mental patient and about to enroll in secretarial school.
Seven years after that, just before her OD, she was being hailed as “the greatest blues singer in the world,” but her mother told her, “I wish you’d never been born!”