Shallow Not Stupid

Wear and Tear

This week Mr. Lash went to Sierra Leone, the setting for Graham Greene’s love triangle The Heart of the Matter. I love visiting the settings of my favorite books and can still hear Mr. Greene asking if I’m “as beautiful as my voice” back when I had a job flirting with writers on the phone at Granta magazine.

But I’m a tourist not a traveler. I can enjoy myself without being dinner to a gang of thirsty mosquitoes. So while Mr. Lash was winning the dude dancing competition on Freetown beach, I was under my silk sheets in Soho with Tracy Tynan.

A good book is also a trip, and ‘Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life’ (Duckworth Overlook) is likely to become the bible for every boy and girl who grew up preferring go-go boots to dolls. It’s not just the story of what Tracy wore but the tragi-comic ménage à trois of an only child stage-managing her mad, bad parents.

Theater critic Ken Tynan, the first man to say “fuck” on television, and his asbo-fabulous American wife Elaine, were celebrity hounds almost before fame was invented. Ken had a perverse affair with Louise Brooks after she left Hollywood; Elaine was drug-besties with Tennessee Williams.

“Their obsession with celebrity seemed like an addiction,” their daughter says, “a need to fill some bottomless hole in their psyches.” Like their “sordid obsession” with each other. Falling asleep in her mother’s sealskin coat, taking cocaine with her father, she examines her lonely childhood with the same acuity as her descriptions of Ossie Clark and Pucci dresses.

One of my happiest childhood memories is attacking my mom Maddie with a pair of frilly knickers that were creating psychotic VPL under my baby Biba dress. These same pants make an appearance in Wear and Tear as a sixth birthday present that Tracy flushes down the toilet.

Clothes keep her sane as her impeccably dressed parents threaten suicide, finding time in between to show off at dead glamorous parties in London, New York, and Los Angeles with Marlene Dietrich, Cecil Beaton, Vivien Leigh, and Orson Welles.

Emotional head-cases Ken and Elaine provide plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, at least for the reader. Elaine asks on the road to Selfridges, “Did you know that one of your legs is shorter than the other?” Ken’s birthday surprise for his virginal daughter is a screening of Deep Throat for an audience including her boyfriend and his suburban parents. Sammy Davis Junior, on a flying visit to London, just happens to have a copy of the porn film. “As I watched [Sammy], I could only think how incredibly small he was and wonder what kind of a person travelled around the world with a personal copy of Deep Throat.”

Tracy Tynan grows up to be a dresser in Hollywood, a post-punk Edith Head, dressing Richard Gere, Ellen Barkin, Genevieve Bujold, Winona, and Divine. Her parents, now unhappily divorced, follow her to L.A. First Daddy, who promptly dies after entrusting Tracy with his sado-masochistic diaries, fearing his new wife Kathleen will suppress them after his death.

Her mother dies without them ever managing to repair the damage of neglect, emotional abuse, and possibly the memory of those frilly yellow knickers. “It was as though I were allergic to her,” Tracy says. Elaine wasn’t much good at being a mom, but she’s a great character until the end, leaving a funeral guest list of “important” friends, like Gore Vidal and Gloria Vanderbilt, and some B-listers for the back row.

Tracy Tynan eventually marries a movie director she seduces wearing gold lamé jeans. When her stepson marries her gorgeous half-sister, she dresses the bride. Where there could have been rivalry there is love. She deserves her happy ending.

Mr. Lash, my happy ending, returns from Africa bringing Joy, my grandmother’s perfume. Granny Black is no longer fragrant, buried in the Necropolis with the worms, but her mink coats are still infused with its scent. Joy is my madeleine. Who wants to eat a high-cal cake?

If you like Shallow not Stupid you will love Dead Glamorous