I think Charles Dickens said it best. And while the evocation of his name makes for a strange bedfellow to a drinking fraternity that caroused well over a century later, it could be said that he had the Hollywood Vampires firmly in the crosshairs of his immortal lines. For in an age of over indulgence on every level, it was indeed “The best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, (well, maybe not that bit) it was the age of foolishness.”
I’m not sure it’s important to name names; they were obviously men of varied talents and a collective oneness that came together under the umbrella of safety in numbers along with a fondness for channeling the ghosts of hedonists past. While it would be presumptuous to liken them to the literary classics of male crash and burn (I’m talking Rimbaud & Verlaine and Shelly & Byron here) they are in fact those reprobates of swinging London (Burton, O’ Toole, Ollie Reed & Richard Harris) who are the most likely to strike a pose as the quintessential theatrical mirror image of the Hollywood Vampires.
The comfort zone of a communal drinking club is as old as time, and from their lofty perch now engraved on a brass plaque somewhere in the bowels of the Sunset Strip, this motley crew of American and ex-pat English rockers congregated nightly in an ever-rotating array of celebrity musical chairs.
You may shake your head and imagine there really wasn’t much to it, and in retrospect you might have a point. Yes, the participants were colorful and wildly successful, but outside of the copious amounts of alcohol consumed, why the fuss? What’s the big deal? Well, that’s just it. Nobody involved saw himself as a big deal or invited fuss. Sycophants and acolytes weren’t part of the criteria for membership. It was a no-frills group that gravitated to a comfort zone where nothing was expected of them. When the Vampires were in the roost, the playing field was leveled.
I’m not here to defend their vices. Over-indulgence of any sort does not ultimately constitute for a healthy mind and body. And while on the periphery of those involved, wives may have come and gone, career choices might have been deemed dubious at best, and heartbreak in some cases stalked a dark corridor in my admittedly faltering memory, but in the lair of the Hollywood Vampires only joy and laughter reigned.
I’m not completely sure what constituted bad behavior back then, but in this lair it existed in a bubble, a hermetically sealed dome of fun. It may not have been the round table at the Algonquin, but these were witty, intelligent guys who often got raucous and loud, but rest assured there were no bystanders or animals hurt in the making of the Hollywood Vampires.
If an anecdote is necessary in extricating their presence from smoky clubhouses and darkened bars, ponder in disbelief their decision to attempt a team sport. What possessed the Bat Pack to imagine they could organize a softball team is beyond me. Recollections are murky, howeverI do remember the shirts were bitchin’ and ultimately pointless because our team was divided by those who (A) Wouldn’t be awake at any hour that constituted game time (B) If they were awake their toxic quota would almost certainly play havoc with their ability to perform and (C) I’m almost certain that several members didn’t even know what softball was!
All good things come to an end, and while some clambered up the ladder and out of an alcoholic Hades, others paid the piper and succumbed. There’s a definitive sadness in the long run that speaks volumes of talent squandered and lives snuffed out too early, but rather than dwell on the negatives, wouldn’t it be better to remember what the dead gave us and what the living can still contribute?
Perhaps it was “the age of wisdom” because if anything, that’s what the survivors inherited.
Santa Ynez California July 2015
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