edie: american girl by jean stein

edie-american-girl I’m not particularly interested in the ’60s or Pop Art, but I’ve been wanting to read something about Edie Sedgwick for a while. Everyone who knew her seems to have been so fascinated with her. This was an interesting book, because it was an oral history: Jean Stein basically gave a tape recorder to everyone she could get to talk to her, and she and George Plimpton (both of whom knew the Sedgwick family) edited hours of transcriptions. She even got Andy Warhol to contribute a few paragraphs which, if you’ve ever seen one of his old interviews, you know is a small miracle. It was almost impossible to get him to answer questions in more than one- and two-word answers.

Edie Sedgwick was, basically, fucked from the start. Her family had a long history of mental problems and early death, 2 of her brothers committed suicide scarcely a year apart, and she was raised in almost total isolation on a series of Southern California ranches, where her father moved for his health. Friends recall that Edie didn’t know how to do the simplest things — one of them says she tipped 100% the first time she paid in a restaurant because she had no idea what you were supposed to tip. And even though part of her glamour was that she was an “heiress”, the Francis Sedgwicks were actually sort of the poor relations of the Sedgwick family — until they literally struck oil on one of their ranches.

Her father, my god, what a piece of work he was. Sickly and asthmatic as a child, he overcompensated by working out compulsively and parading around in a Speedo every chance he got. Most people who knew the family agree that he only had such a large brood (8 children) as another way to prove his virility. This took a terrible toll on his wife’s health, which he used as a convenient excuse for fucking everything with tits that wandered across his path. It seems to have been compulsive; he treated each affair like a conquest, made no effort at all to hid them, and would even aggressively hit on the teenaged girlfriends of his sons. Both Edie and one of her sisters claimed he even flirted with his daughters. It’s weird, because everyone who talked about him would mention his incredible charm in almost the same breath as talking about what a total ogre he was.

I really enjoyed the book, but at the same time it also left me kind of frustrated. I still really don’t know what made everyone fall in love with Edie. Maybe charm can’t be quantified, it just is what it is. Maybe watching some of the films would give me a better idea, but they’ve always seemed like self-centered tripe to me. “Oh, let’s just turn the camera on and film ourselves partying and blathering on because we’re so faaabulous!” Maybe I’ll rent Factory Girl. Man, I know now why Dylan tried to stop the movie: the whole time he was shining Edie on and forcing her to burn her bridges with Warhol, he was secretly married to another woman. I guess he didn’t want to be shown as the manipulative asshole he apparently is.


Edie after she set her room at the Chelsea Hotel on fire. I’ve always loved this photo.


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