Last night at the Viper Room

LAST NIGHT AT THE VIPER ROOM: RIVER PHOENIX AND THE HOLLYWOOD HE LEFT BEHIND

by GAVIN EDWARDS

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River Phoenix was just 23 years old when he died following an overdose of heroin and cocaine. He died on the pavement outside Johnny Depp’s Viper Room club on Halloween 1993. I was only 13 at the time and along with several of my classmates, did not take news of his death well. Being so young we hadn’t even seen his films but he was our misunderstood pretty-boy pin up who loved animals and wanted to save the rainforests. “R.I.P RIVER” we tippex-ed on our pencil cases.

Over 20 years on, his memory has faded though his devastatingly short life still holds intrigue for many of us. In his book, Gavin Edwards has brilliantly documented the troubled young actor’s life. We follow him from an unconventional childhood brought up by his hippy parents in a religious cult. He never went to school and the family moved around a lot throughout the U.S and Latin America. Later on during interviews, River would tell many different versions of his early years but it was largely understood that he was sexually active/abused in the cult and carried the burden of family breadwinner from an impossibly young age – encouraged to busk, beg and even scavenge to feed his parents and siblings.

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This beautiful, blonde boy sang and played guitar on the streets and was soon noticed and began attending Hollywood auditions. This led initially to TV ads and small roles and an upswing in the Phoenix clan’s finances. His first big break came in the film Stand By Me. Although he went on to be Oscar nominated for his part in Running On Empty, Stand By Me is thought to be the jewel in River’s screen legacy.

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Mrs Hemingway

MRS HEMINGWAY

BY NAOMI WOOD

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This was a vivid and engrossing work of imagination based on the tremendous stories of Ernest Hemingway and his four wives. Beautifully written and researched and full of gossipy details, I just could not put this book down. The locations are dazzling – jazz age Paris, post-war Cuba, 1930s Florida – as are the characters that inhabited those places and times.

Hadley was the first Mrs Hemingway who loses the great writer to Vogue reporter Fife “over a year in Paris in which his wife slowly bowed out.” But neither of them are the last Mrs Hemingway – they are followed by war reporter Martha Gellhorn and finally his widow, Mary Welsh.

In his memoir A Moveable Feast Hem writes of Hadley; “I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” And despite the three wives he loved passionately after, Hadley did seem the truest of his loves. More than an infatuation, or another writer or an editor or partying playmate.

“What a pull he has! What a magnetism! Women jump off balconies and follow him into wars,” says Fife in this novel. Certainly, I would say she had Ernest’s best years and fought the hardest to keep him. It’s a gorgeous line that Wood writes to show how Fife’s passion for Ernest felt like the tangy green olive she eats “she wants to have him all the way down to the stone.” Continue reading

Rock Stars Stole My Life!

ROCK STARS STOLE MY LIFE!: A BIG BAD LOVE AFFAIR WITH MUSIC

BY MARK ELLEN

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Mark Ellen is an award-winning editor, journalist and broadcaster. Rock Stars Stole My Life! are his very funny memoirs of a life and career devoted to music. There are so many ‘laugh out loud’ moments, knowing nods and toe-curling exchanges with rock royalty packed into this brilliant book. I’d highly recommend it to all you musos out there, my fellow gig-going, record-collecting, idol-worshiping music snobs. It’s full of stories, hilarious anecdotes, tour bus truths, heroes and egomaniacs. Absolutely great reading.

Ellen hails from Fleet in Hampshire “a town of skull-cracking tedium” according to him. But it was in this bubble of Southern counties boredom that his interest in music was sparked. He says; “the Ellen household was the perfect launchpad for a love affair with pop music – three elder sisters and parents who disapproved.” Indeed, his Dad took a particular dislike to his son’s firm favourites of the time – The Kinks. As they ambled foppishly onto their TV screen, Ellen senior roared; “what in TARNATION do we have here?”

Undeterred, Ellen threw himself into the music scene – falling in love to Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room, stomping about at muddy festivals trying to catch a glimpse of Wishbone Ash and even forming a university band with frontman and future PM, Tony Blair! The Blair chapter was incredulous and very amusing to read. I struggled, rightly so, to conjure up an image of the grinning warmonger with a bare midriff and “camp handclaps” belting out Honky Tonk Woman to his fellow students! Continue reading