Edie

By Christopher Zoukis

Oak Hill Cemetery is in Ballard, California, which is near Santa Barbara, which boasts ‘perfect weather’ all year round.  With their addresses carved in granite, three thousand plus permanent residents abide in Oak Hill, surrounded by verdant greenery, cool ocean breezes skimming over cerulean blue water. 

A permanent address should make one easy to find, I would think.  But it doesn’t work that way.  In fact, this city of the dead is very poorly laid out.  I mean, couldn’t they do it alphabetically?  Nice and neat?

No.  Because like life, death isn’t tidy either.

There it is.  A simple grave with a simple address:  Edith Sedgwick Post – Wife Of Michael Brett Post 1943-1971.[1]

Bianfra Inc. sells t-shirts and stickers with her picture, taken from a black and white photo.  On the screenprinted T-shirts she looks extravagant, like a fashion icon.  But if you look closer, you can see the hurt that scars her eyes.  In Toronto, on College Street, there is a bar.  The bar’s name is Ciao Edie.  College kids go there to drink, talk, dream.  They, too, want to be on T-shirts, extravagantly famous.   

Madonna, the female impersonator, in her video ‘Deeper and Deeper,’ presents herself as an Edie simalacrum.  Veronica Antico, the French vocalist, sang a pop ballad on her first album; the title of the song is Edie S.   Similar to Madonna, the female impersonator Justin Moyer stars in a one-man show called Edie Sedgwick; in the show he dresses in drag.  Think about it:  a man, playing the part of a female, who is dressed like a male.

Cinema Verite, an album by the rock band Dramarama, displays Edie’s photo on the cover.  In 1995, Kenn Kweder recorded his tribute to Edie.  Across the ocean, Great Britain’s alternative rock band, The Long Blondes, allude to Edie in a song entitled Lust In the Movies.  And supposedly, she was Bob Dylan’s muse on his songs Just Like A Woman; and Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.

The song Femme Fatale, by the subterranean band Velvet Underground, purports to be about her.  As is the song Little Miss S, by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians.  As is the eponymously named song Edie Sedgwick, by James Ray and the Performance. 

The sectarian band, The Cult, on their album Sonic Temple, performed Edie (Ciao Baby).   The video of the song featured an Edie look-alike, a copy of a copy of a copy.

Warren Beatty, film star, director and producer purchased the rights to make a movie about Edie’s life.  The project never proceeded any further.  Another proposed production was to be called The War at Home, a highly fictionalized film loosely based on Edie’s life.  It, too, stalled. 

The 2006 film, Factory Girl, starred Sienna Miller as Edie Sedgwick.  The film is fictitious, presenting composite characters and specious explanations.  It glorifies her lifestyle, presenting her as a misunderstood genius.  And in Oliver Stone’s epic film, The Doors, the actress Jennifer Rubin portrays Edie in a brief scene; later in the film, Edie is mentioned by name.

Who is she and what did she do to receive such notoriety?

Although sad, there’s not much to the story, just as there wasn’t much to Edie.

Edie Sedgwick arrived via the birth canal of Alice Delano de Forest, at the Cottage Hospital of Santa Barbara, California.  Her father, Francis Minturn Sedgwick, descended from aristocracy and old money, as did her mother, Alice.

Edie’s mother was lost in the horror movie of her own life.  She couldn’t cope with her husband, her children or any fraction of reality. 

Posing as a sculptor, philanthropist and rancher, Francis Sedgwick, in fact was a dysfunctional bisexual who engaged in incestuous, abusive relationships with not only his daughters, but with his sons.  But he had lots of inherited money so he could do as he pleased and kept it hidden.   

Francis Sedgwick was just like Nana in the Velveteen Rabbit.

“There was a person called Nana who ruled the nursery.  Sometimes she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled them away in cupboards.  She called this ‘tidying up,’ and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones.  The Rabbit didn’t mind it so much, for wherever he was thrown he came down soft.”

Like Nana in the Velveteen Rabbit, Francis ruled the Sedgwick nursery.  He slapped his children around, beat them.  Then had sex with them.  Sodomy and fellatio were his favorites. 

Edie never came down soft.  For she was made of tin, one of those never to become Real.

Edie tried to escape, running to New York to pursue a modeling career.  She appeared in Life magazine and in Vogue.  She looks out of the pages at you with sodomized eyes, the kind of eyes that are too big – horrified – because of what they’ve seen.  Vogue referred to her as a ‘youthquaker.’  Because of her submersion in the drug culture, the fashion industry failed to embrace her.  She was too bizarre, and not quite angelic enough.

Then in January 1965, at a Barbie and Ken party, the kind of party where everyone is synthetic and super-goodlooking and self-centered, in the apartment of Leter Persky, Edie met Andy Warhol, whose art studio was called The Factory.  The name was apposite because of the assembly line production for which Warhol was famous.  Warhol turned out thousands of plastic-looking artworks, and sold them for exorbitant sums to effete snobs, who, like Warhol, were untalented poseurs.

Warhol, mesmerized by her, made Edie the queen of The Factory, starring her in his films, which were non-linear junk.  The Andy and Edie show included them dressing like twins and acting as if they were brother and sister, or perhaps married.  This androgynous, self-destructive show didn’t last long, as both players were adrift in solipsistic insanity.  They argued, fought and split.

Edie moved into the infamous Chelsea Hotel, where all sorts of celebrities committed suicide.  If you’re rich and famous and decide it’s time to permanently check out, you check into the Chelsea Holtel.  Even in suicide people are snobs. 

There she began hanging out with Bob Dylan.  Dylan, not being stupid, saw Edie for what she was:  self-willed, vain, spoiled, mentally-ill.  In vulgar terms, Dylan was using her.  But then Edie wanted to be used because that’s what she was used to, so it was a two way street.  She was using Dylan to use her.  Then Dylan married Sara Lownds.  This ended his relationship with Edie.

Above all Edie disliked boredom.  And since she was unable to amuse herself she was bored most of the time.  External things, like drugs or new clothes or alcohol or parties amused her, kept her from becoming bored.

Edie, true to form, moved on, searching for someone new to use her.  She hooked up with Dylan’s pal Bob Neuwirth.  At the same time her use of barbiturates increased.  Then she embraced opiates and experimented with other pyschotropic drugs.  After a while, Neuwirth bailed out.  Her dependence on drugs for emotional equilibrium and her random behavior pushed him away.  Using a user who’s using you to use her looses its appeal rapidly.

In 1967 Edie starred in the underground movie Ciao! Manhattan.  An amateur movie, horrible at best, it was poorly written, poorly funded and poorly directed.  Halfway through the filming, Edie descended into the great gulf fixed – the abyss of madness – and entered the psychiatric ward of the Cottage Hospital.  Like the advisory commercials on television – this is your brain on drugs – Edie’s eggs were fried.

During her stay in the asylum, she met another patient, Michael Post.  He, too, was a tweaker who lived a remarkably drab life, which consisted of ingesting drugs, and lying around wishing he were somebody.  There was a sense of imminence about both of them.

Edie, eventually, was released.  However, she was still under the constant care of a psychiatrist, two nurses and the wife of her half-finished movie’s director.  Filming began once more.  Edie, although mostly looney tunes, exhibited another manifestation of irrationality:  information compulsion:  she wanted to tell her story.  This desire to record their history is a seldom discussed drive of the Unreal.  It is a doomed attempt to become Real by connecting to their roots, their past – neither of which exists.

Edie married Michael Post in July of 1971.  She remained under the care of a psychiatrist, whom she tricked into providing her more and more medications, which she consumed with huge amounts of alcohol.  She needed to escape the reality of being Unreal, the pain of being unloved, unwanted and unconnected.

Four months later she died.  The authorities recorded her death as ‘accident/suicide,’ due to an overdose of barbiturates.  I’d say she died of apathy. 

She was 28.

Somewhere in there, two of her brothers had had enough, too.  They couldn’t handle incestuous homosexuality with dear old Dad.  Tin toys.  They committed suicide.  Anything rather than continue to land hard. 

The only love in Edie’s life was her love for drugs.  But drugs don’t return love, they just eat you up like psychic cannibals.  Then they move on to the next victim.  Raised in an environment of self-interest, Edie learned that lesson well.  And later, surrounded by syrupy selfishness and its minions, greed and corruption, any vestige of the three virtues – faith, hope and charity – was fugitive.  No faith, none at all.  Edie believed in nothing; no religion, no philosophy, no creed.  Live fast and die, maybe.  But that’s not faith, it’s just a fatalistic motto.  Hope?  Hope of the next dalliance, whether sexual or pharmaceutical.  Hope of family?  Hope of home?  Hope of love?  Hope of forgiveness or mercy?  None asked, none expected.   

And charity?  Toward whom?  And what did she have to give anyway?  Nothing.

Even the Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit had hope – the hope of becoming Real.  And they desired it.  And they believed it could happen.  That’s faith.  And because of the first two, hope and faith, they were kind.  That’s charity.  If Edie desired anything, she kept it well-secreted, placed in a box bound with twine, and shoved under the bed, where it gathered dust.  Edie wasn’t kind either.  Then again, she wasn’t mean or malicious.  She just was.

Reading about her, looking at photographs of her, I was struck by two things: 

  1. She’s pretty, but not beautiful.  There really is nothing exceptional hovering around her face.  It’s a petite face, like a pixie.  Or perhaps more like Tinker Bell, Peter Pan’s diminutive paramour.  Her eyes are expressive in two of the photos; in the others, though, the eyes appear dull, almost opaque, and very sad. 

  2. She was a celebrity and famous.  Not for any reason or talent or any extraordinary quality.  She was just famous, like Paris Hilton is today – famous for being famous.  Couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, wasn’t sexy in that sensual hellcat way, like Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith.  Couldn’t do anything well, except be a celebrity.

    In one of the black and white photos, she is wearing a white decolletage blouse.  She’s looking right at the camera and her face, too, is wearing a decolletage expression:   low and bare, like an ecstatic nun who’s taken a vow of silence, a saint waiting to speak.  She has something she wants to say, but can’t think of the words because what she wants to communicate is a feeling no one has invented words for.   

     Edie didn’t simply waste her life – she had no life.  She existed and she fucked and she tweaked and she drank alcohol and she shopped and she spent a heck of a lot of money.  But she had no life.  And you can’t waste what you don’t have.

    Despite it all, though, Life goes on.  But if you have no life in Life, does it go on?  I think ‘no life’ is like a car sitting at a stoplight.  The brakes are on and the engine is idling, but there’s no momentum.  In the end, the tank runs dry, the motor stops, and that’s it. 

    That was Edie.  She never got her momentum going.   

_____

[1] There appears to be some confusion over the date:  the official records list 1977, but other sources cite 1971.  Since she was 28 when she died, I’m going with the 1971 date.