Melody's Journal: Remembering California
Yesterday was Aurora's funeral, and I tried to remember just when I first met her, but I couldn't do it. One day, in 1984, I think, she was just there, in my life, like a favorite toy or a vase someone gave me as a gift -- but it would be hard to conceive of someone who would give Aurora Lawson as a gift.
When I had the accident, Aurora was still in college and working as a clerk in a supermarket. That was how it really happened, I suppose...my mother met her first. Mom meets people all the time, and everyone she meets always loves her; at least, I can't recall anyone who ever disliked her. Or had
the courage to say so, if they did. My mother looks like someone out of one of those old 1930's comedies -- Penny Singleton, forty years later. But her personality belies her looks; she's one of the most forceful, determined women I've ever known. Until I met Aurora, that is. Everyone loved her, too... particularly then, when her beautiful face was still round and childishly glowing...before she saw Marc Hasler, and all the problems began. But that was still in the future, that autumn in 1985.
Aurora was one of those people who seem to be born with more problems than most, but physically she had most of her fellows beat.
I've always realized that my early years were luckier and more successful than I deserved -- at least, I've always thought so when I see how other people suffered through their own. I was the only child of doting parents who were solidly middle class in material wealth (though fortunately not in values) who put me through college and supported me in all my crazy schemes. Then, when I was twenty-two, my Mustang convertible careened off a road in the Hollywood hills one balmy summer night and plunged over a cliff. At four in the morning even Hollywood is relatively deserted, and I lay unconscious in the open car for several hours before I was discovered by a man from a nearby house, on his way to work.
When I arrived at the hospital I awoke to find myself unable to move, in a state of mental panic and acute terror. My parents arrived later from their house in the valley, and were told by a young, grave-faced doctor that I would possibly not walk again. I had spinal damage, and would be spending anywhere from a month to a year in the hospital.
It never occured to me to believe what I was told (I am my mother's daughter, in many ways), but I did spent the next six months in that hospital. I knew I wouldn't be able to work for awhile after they let me go home, even though I could walk -- very slowly and painfully. I returned to my parents' house for what I thought would be a few months.
It was two years before I could walk without pain, and was deemed well enough to work again. I was ten thousand dollars in debt and had gained fifty pounds in excess weight.
Before the accident, I was the youngest staff writer for The Hollywood Reporter; before that, a teen-aged "punk-rock" stringer for a number of music and entertainment magazines. For The Reporter I covered rock music events in a column entitled On the Scene, many times reporting from whatever trendy club was the "flavor of the month" in Los Angeles. Now, at the age of twenty-four, I had become last year's 'flavor.
No one remembered me and no one wanted to. In a city where trends change monthly, who was likely to remember someone who had disappeared two years before?
During my convalescence my parents bought me a computer, and I wrote a book covering 30-years of history about punk rock and New Wave music. I met Aurora while I was still working on the book, and she was in college studying to be a photographer. It impressed me that she was, in addition to working in a grocery store and her college classes, stringing on a semi-professional basis for a rock music promotion company, taking photos of groups on tour.
During the two years of my convalescence, I saw Aurora only in passing, when I went to the supermarket where she was working as a clerk. She was always smiling and cheerful, and seemed so happy with life that it never occured to me she might want something different.
In 1985 I acquired an agent in New York, one who was particularly interested in books about rock music. It was Tanya who first suggested I relocate to London, where she felt there was more chance for an American journalist, who would be considered an exotic item by the British.
After the accident and my subsequent abandonment by the people I'd believed were my friends in Los Angeles, I decided she was right -- it was time for me to leave California -- and London seemed far enough away and exotically exciting enough for me to forget the last few dismal years in its' romantic ambiance.
I was hoping to go during the summer of 1986, thinking with any luck my book would be sold by then.
Somewhere around September of 1985, I mentioned my proposed emigration to Aurora, who surprised me by expressing a wish to go herself. She had finished her two years in junior college with an AA degree in Photography and didn't feel ready to go on to a university yet; but even more, she was waiting for her chance to escape from California, as I was.
October of 1985 was the turning point in our friendship, when I invited her to a Halloween party. Looking back now, I can't remember what prompted me to do so, when up until then we had only been the most casual of friends. From that night on, however, we became inseparable. There was no idea of Aurora
coming to London with me until Tanya suggested I write a star biography. Once the concept was broached, I jumped into it with all my old enthusiasm. Now, I consider that to have been my first mistake.
I telephoned Aurora, and we set about coming up with a group that a. Was an enormous success; b. Was new enough and hadn't had much written about them and c. Lived in London. It was in November that Aurora mentioned the group VALHALLA. I knew very little about them, although I had seen them on MTV once. We went to a record store and looked through the disgusting teenybopper mags, trying to find something on this mysterious trio. There were plenty of photographs of them -- three Viking creampuffs, complete with torn jeans, bulging muscles and chiseled faces. There was very little information, however -- it was obvious teenagers didn't bother to read much anymore.
I was prejudiced against the group at the beginning -- I didn't relish the idea of doing one of those trashy bios that are 80 percent staged photographs and 20 percent stupid narrative that catalogues the lead singer's favorite color and what the drummer looks for in girls. But as time passed, and no better subject presented itself, I started to mellow towards the trio, and once I began to watch their videos and listen to their music, I realized there was more to them than their record company bio was revealing. Their music had a romantic, haunting quality that was different from anything I'd heard before.
I mentioned the group to, Tanya, who was very enthusiastic about the whole thing and told me she was certain the proposed book would be the first of a series I could do on a variety of groups. Giving in to the idea of using VALHALLA was my second mistake, I later realized.
It was because of VALHALLA that Aurora decided to accompany me to London. Again, I can't remember, now, exactly whose idea it was, but it came about due to the need of a photographer to work on the biography. And if I was going to need a photographer, here was one ready and eager (even panting) to be at my side.
It began in January of 1986, and gradually grew over the next several months as we completed the proposal for the Valhalla book, tentatively entitled Out of the Land of the Midnight Sun. In March, the proposal was completed, and I had acquired another agent, in London.
Shirley Ponsenby was an associate of Tanya's agency, and in March she began marketing my book in London. A copy of the VALHALLA proposal went to Shirley; and one to the manager of the group.
As a staff writer for The Hollywood Reporter, I was accustomed to dealing with stars and their managers. What I had never encountered before was a manager so vain and unscrupulous he would lead me on a "yellow brick road" dance for nearly a year. At the end of that time he would attempt to appropriate the book proposal and write the book himself.
Not having been blessed with even the smallest degree of "second sight" and therefore having no knowledge of any of this in the spring of 1986, we were on top of our little California world. When I spoke to Tracy Slaughter in June there was no indication of anything but the best of intentions on his part. He even hinted that the group would be interested in working with us on the book; that it could be an official biography.
During this period (roughly between January and June), Aurora began to have a series of strange dreams involving the lead singer of VALHALLA, Marc Hasler. What we didn't know at the time was that Aurora did have strong psychic abilities, latent most of her life, which would eventually drive her to the brink of madness, since she had no talent whatsoever in determining her own affairs with any degree of accuracy. We were never to discover why these powers had chosen that moment to manifest themselves after so many years.
During the months to follow, I received explanations from various "experts" on the subject -- that Hasler was experiencing trauma and Aurora, having him on her mind, picked up on his "radio waves"; that Aurora and Marc were "soul mates"; a theory that seemed to have validity, based on what has happened, now. Certainly there never seemed to be any proof that "soul mates" were necessarily good to or for one another; they could just as easily be destructive and cruel. I don't know about the validity of any of the explanations given; but Aurora's dreams turned out, later, to have happened to Marc Hasler during that period.
As June approached, I started to panic, and considered postponing the departure date until that Autumn. There had been no solid offers for the book, Punk Retro: The Music of the No-Future Generation, from any of the New York publishers Tanya was touting it to, and Shirley hadn't had enough time to solidify anything in London. We were scheduled to stop in New York on the way and meet with the editors of several publishing companies; Tanya felt this might bring in some offers.
Aurora convinced me to take the plunge, and I capitulated, despite the fact that I had no money at all -- Aurora was paying for everything. When she had plenty, Aurora was the most generous girl I'd known.
We were scheduled for a week in New York, and before we left California Tanya told me there would be offers for me when we arrived; possibly even a contract for me to sign. After this, I felt better about going, thinking we would at least arrive in London with the promise of money in the near future.
And we did have a place to stay until we were able to get some money from a publisher and find our own flat. My cousin Martin, in his early 30's, seemed to have done quite well for himself, from what I'd heard. A producer for BBC television, Martin owned a house in West London and he assured me there was plenty of room for both of us to stay there for a month.
On June 1st we shipped eleven cartons of clothes, china, kitchen supplies and pictures from San Francisco to London. The shipment would take five weeks to arrive, by which time we were certain we'd have our own place. On June 11th we left for New York, as optimistic as two young women have ever been as they set off to make a new life for themselves.
From the time our plane set down at Kennedy Airport, everything that could possibly go wrong obliged us by doing so. That should have been a clue as to what was to come, but we weren't listening. We'd made our plans carefully, but there is that old proverb about the plans of mice and men. I was to come to the conclusion that it applied to women, too. Not only did we have a lot of luggage, we also had an enormous box containing gifts for my relatives, business papers, photographs for the book, hats, shoes, etc. We were overburdened with luggage to the extent that a bus into New York was out of the question. We had arranged for a rental car for several days, to be picked up at the airport.
When we arrived at the Hertz rental agency next to the airport, Aurora realized her credit cards were missing -- they had been left somewhere in California. I hadn't had any credit cards since before the accident. Without credit cards, you can't rent a car.
We finally found a cab to take us into the city. It was then we discovered that the hotel we had booked into (near Columbia University and frequented by exchange students from around the world) was on the edge of Harlem; and they had lost our reservation despite the deposit Aurora sent them to hold the room. Naturally the Reservations Director wasn't around at one in the morning, so I spent an hour talking the desk clerk into a room the size of a closet, containing one single bed. Once a fold-up cot had been moved into the room we couldn't get to either bed without climbing over the other.
The next day, I discovered Tanya had made none of the appointments she promised with editors who were reading Punk Retro. Shirley Ponsenby had a publisher in London who wanted the book, so they were planning to sign the contract in England first and work on the states later. This would mean a lot more money for me in the long run, or so they told me. But no one had bothered to tell me that we could have skipped this trip to New York, and save ourselves a lot of money that we would desperately need.
Two days later we had dinner with Tanya at a trendy restaurant in Greenwich Village. The clues were starting to add up, but I was too distraught to see them. Tanya had used up her expense account money for the month; so we had to pay for our own dinner. Aurora found a bug in her salad. Tanya's boss, the head of her agency, who had been very eager to meet me only the month before, was now too busy. We cut our stay short and left for London the following morning, convinced that once we reached the magical city, our luck would change.