"The funniest, truest
book I have read
about the music business."

           - James Patterson

Dueling Zoomerangs with Groucho

Posted in TV, Zoomerang by Susan Hamilton on March 8, 2017 2 Comments

I was 10 years old when my father won the jackpot. He was my hero. It was in the spring of 1955, and the money he won (almost a thousand dollars!) saved our family once more from the wolf pacing hungrily at our door.

Groucho Marx's TV showYou Bet Your Life—the quiz show vehicle for film star comic Groucho Marx—was one of the most popular programs on television, although we children (my younger brother, younger sister and I) had never seen it. There was no TV set in our house. Our parents had banned the “idiot box” that would keep us from developing any creativity of our own.  We were allowed, though, to lie on the floor in front of our giant old radio to listen, entranced, to Sgt. Preston of the Yukon or The Green Hornet.  To my parents, those broadcasts encouraged imagination.

Then one day my mother came across an advertisement in the local Canoga Park newspaper announcing “open auditions” for the Groucho show. My father jumped at the opportunity.  Roger Alexander Hamilton was, above all, a very confident fellow.

Early on the morning of audition day my mother saw him off with a kiss on the lips as we three kids stood around and watched.  Pa climbed into the turquoise blue wreck of a Ford station wagon (the one that would lose its hood on the Hollywood Freeway a few years later) and pulled out of the driveway.  He’d left very early (a wise precaution, given his propensity for getting lost even in our little town).  My brother, sister and I ran off to play, fairly oblivious to the import of the event.  My mother must have been a bundle of nerves, fretting and worrying about our dire financial state.

When Father returned late that afternoon, we all crowded around, asking a jillion questions.  At heart a showman, he played the scene for all it was worth, hanging his head dejectedly and sadly shaking it back and forth…until he suddenly looked up with a broad grin and announced, “I’M IN!!

My mother spent our last hundred dollars to buy him a new suit for the occasion. More…

Susan and Angie’s Road Trip

Posted in Aspen, Malibu, Music, travel by Susan Hamilton on February 24, 2014 2 Comments

A few months after Alex and I moved into The Malibu House of Malevolence, I convinced my new friend, Angie Best (yes that Angie Best — ex-wife of soccer great George Best) to go on a road trip to Aspen. It could be a test-drive of her brand new Toyota4runner.  We brought along Alex, her son Calum Best (Alex’s best friend), and another lucky waif who was known both as Jordan and Damien.

Calum Best and Alex

Calum and Alex being useful

The drive to Aspen is just shy of 1,000 miles, and takes about 13 or 14 hours with no traffic and good weather. We took our time—visited a few of the National Parks along the way: Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef.

We stayed overnight at the Zion Lodge. Very basic, but comfortable rooms with *NO TV*.  The boys were horrified! We compensated by telling ghost stories in the dark. At some point, Angela wriggled silently along the floor up to their beds and scared the shit out of them. Much giggling…

The next day we hiked in Bryce, then drove through Capitol Reef (spectacular mesas). On a north/south highway headed up to Interstate 70, we ran into a fog bank like none I’d ever seen. I first made out what looked like a wall across the highway.  We hit it—were instantly enveloped in a dense grey soup. For the next hour, we had to creep forward at less than 20 mph all the way to Grand Junction.

That Aspen stay was nothing but pure fun, day and night. The boys and I skied during the day (Angela passed), and after the last run and a snack, they entertained each other with TV and the local video game parlor. Back in Manhattan, I wouldn’t have let Alex walk so much as half a block without an adult. Yet in downtown Aspen, by the time he was eight years old I felt perfectly comfortable allowing him to wander about by himself. He never went farther than the game place and the local McDonald’s.

Angelea Best

Angela Best, après ski

Thus liberated, we girls were free to go out and about. Angela is stunningly beautiful with a tight, lithe body to match. Every man (repeat, every man) we passed on the street found it next to impossible to resist a quick once-over of the whole package. Having had my fair share of Aspen rendezvous, I was perfectly happy to play wingwoman as we made the nightly circuit of the local hangouts. It was fascinating business to watch her draw the admirers in droves…

Our list of establishments included: The Tippler (strategically set at the bottom of the runs coming off Ajax—THE place for late afternoon après ski); the Bar at Little Nell (elegant, expensive and crowded: an appropriate setting for fancy people busy reinforcing their importance); Little Annie’s (Little Nell’s polar opposite, catering to young beer-drinking Townies); and The Caribou Club (a members-only late-night club for visiting glitterati—I wasn’t a member, but the owner always let me in).

The only thing that did bother me a tad about Angela would happen at other times. During the day More…

Harrowing Travel: Aspen, Part 1— Flying Blind

Posted in Aspen, Music, travel by Susan Hamilton on February 15, 2014 No Comments yet

Getting into and out of Aspen, Colorado could sometimes run the gamut from daunting to absolutely terrifying.

The town itself is small: a grid of just a few blocks jammed between towering peaks that rise to over 14,000 feet in places. The airport has a single runway—it’s known to be quite the challenge for pilots—and always subject to sudden, disastrous changes in weather.

Regardless, Aspen was my favorite go-to winter vacation spot for decades. I went as often as possible; from NYC; from the Palisades; and most often, from Malibu (accompanied by whomever could be talked into it).

Susan Hamilton in Aspen

Aspen was the go-to winter destination

I estimate that about one out of every six of those forays turned out to be near-calamitous either on the way or coming back.

The one that almost killed me started out in Manhattan. My traveling companion was a chiropractor I had been seeing—first as a patient, and then socially. I started to have suspicions about him just before the trip got underway; they were confirmed in Aspen. My skiing partner was a pathological liar (though a relatively harmless one). This was a person who compulsively exaggerated at every opportunity. Also just plain flat-out lied. I made the choice not to confront him, but once I figured him out, it made for a few very uncomfortable days…Aspen Airliner

We had flown out of JFK. In Denver, we hopped on one of those Aspen Airways over-the-mountain flights that usually took just under an hour. I’d been on them dozens of times, starting back when we passengers were obliged to suck on oxygen tubes. I’d never been afraid before, but this flight was different. It was snowing heavily, and, with no visibility at all, it put me on the edge of my seat for the duration. I remember we were sitting in the first row, face up against the carpeted bulkhead. After an eternity or two of that, we finally began the steep descent, always short and dramatic. As we broke through the low-lying clouds, it took one glance out the window for me to set my feet against that wall, thinking “this is it.”

The thing was, we weren’t over the Aspen Airport. We were over Starwood Estates, a community of mansions right next to Red Mountain, a mile or so over from the airport. The plane shuddered loudly and shook violently as the pilot pulled the nose up to abort the landing. Suddenly, the engines stalled…and there came a heart-stopping silence…but a few long seconds later the engines caught again and we could actually feel and hear the strain as the plane slowly (oh so slowly), screamed to regain the bit of altitude needed to just skim over the top of Red Mountain…

We returned to Denver. There we were offered a choice: stay overnight, or get on a different plane More…

Into the Malibu House of Malevolence…(part 2)

Posted in cooking, dogs, Malibu, Music, production, wildlife by Susan Hamilton on January 14, 2014 1 Comment

At some point during our last summer in that Malibu house we decided to move. We’d made our peace with the creatures, spirits, etc., but it was time. I was busy writing and producing songs and jingles, with an entire album on the horizon. We found a house just across the canyon that was bigger and better suited for the newly-expanded family (it’s the one we eventually sold to Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). It was only after we’d made the decision that the native wildlife rebelled. They didn’t want us to leave — and certainly didn’t want to have to deal with new, less understanding humans.

They began to act out.

First, Nag and Nagaina decided to raise a family in the backyard. (No they weren’t Indian cobras; they were well-fed native Southern Pacific rattlesnakes). The gardeners killed Nag, and proudly brought me his corpse. That left Nagaina. Naturally, she was pissed.

One morning I followed Maggie, our Airedale puppy, into the kitchen.

Maggie the Airedale puppy

Maggie

The door to the back patio was wide open. Suddenly a terrifying buzzing sound reverberated throughout the room. I thought, “Insects? Hmmm. No. . . Rattlesnake? YES!”  Nagaina was coiled, set to strike, on the mat just outside the door.

I screamed “NO!” at Maggie as she moved in to investigate, grabbed her by the hips and yanked hard as I kicked the door shut. Nagaina’s fangs pinged against the glass.

But she didn’t leave. She stayed on the mat, glaring at us inside. Shaken, I called Michael at work, and he sped home. Malibu rattlerHe grabbed a shovel, snuck around back, and when she turned toward him, whacked her head off with it. The still-snapping, severed head, full of venom, almost got him as it shot past his elbow.

Now, I’d read about the rattlesnake round-ups and barbecues they hold annually in Texas, so I thought, “What the hell!  I’ll give it a try.”  I didn’t have a recipe, but had heard ‘it tasted just like chicken,’ so I chose a lemon/mustard/olive oil marinade. First, though, I’d have to gut and skin the thing. More…

Into the Malibu House of Malevolence…(part 1)

Posted in Hit Woman, Malibu, Music by Susan Hamilton on January 12, 2014 1 Comment

It was such a fun, pretty house!

Spanish Colonial style, set way back off the end of the narrow twisting road that led to the Pacific Coast Highway....down a long, gated driveway This was Via Escondido, and the house was down a long, gated private driveway. Around the final curve, the drive opened onto a grand stone-paved courtyard. Wide arced steps set with fancy Spanish tiles led up to the heavy wooden door. It was the hand-painted tiles of every shape, size and design that dominated, even overpowered, the whole house.

It was a large home, meant to impress. The architect had designed the imposing entrance to exaggerate the effect. People would arrive at my door and say, “What is this place? A hotel?”

Entrance to the Via Escondido house

…terra cotta pots, filled with flowers…

After the chaotic Year of Dislocation in the Pacific Palisades (the town I nicknamed ‘Stepford’), Alex—who was 10—and I were relieved to get away from the spying, police-summoning neighbors, as well as the histrionics that had come with our just-out-of-the-closet houseboy (detailed in “Escape to L.A” chapter in Hit Woman). We were going to start anew in beautiful, rural Malibu: and where better than in this sunlit, seemingly quiet mansion? I’d made the decision to stay in California, to move all my furniture from New York. I would line those wide steps Italian-style with dozens of terra cotta pots filled with flowers of every color. At last, a lovely place to settle down. Little did we know…

There were no visible neighbors. The State Conservancy’s hundreds of acres (complete with a spectacular waterfall about a mile up the trail) abutted the blossom-laden, terraced backyard, all centered around a pretty fountain (tiled to the hilt, of course). Rare for Southern California, a shallow creek ran alongside the property. The house had lain empty for a long while. We couldn’t figure out quite why, but blessed our lucky stars that it had waited for us.

The first order of business was to persuade the insect and rodent population to evacuate the premises. I had a talk with the ants, silverfish and spiders. I was friendly but stern. Our Cornish Rex cat, Shadow, ate the heads off of a few of the hefty Norwegian roof rats. They all listened, cooperated, and left.

I made a few friends in town, and soon began to hear some tales about our new homestead. Wild tales. I—a single mother with a young son—was now living in the house of a major drug dealer  More…

The UFOs and Lake Winnipesaukee

Posted in Music, New England, UFOs by Susan Hamilton on January 5, 2014 No Comments yet

WE STOOD ON THE TOWN DOCKS, my father and I. We were waiting for the mail boat that would take us to my summer music camp out on Melody Island. Bathed in the otherworldly light of a fading red-gold sunset that filled the whole sky, we didn’t speak. We didn’t have to. I was five years old, and my small hand was nestled within his big warm one; ­­­it made me feel safe.

Lake Winnipesaukee sunsetWe watched in silence as the little boat chugged toward us, growing from a speck at the edge of the big lake.

The colors disappeared and the darkness grew quickly. I tilted my head back and looked up into the now almost black sky.

“What are those, Papa?” I asked.

He raised his eyes and just stared. His answer came slowly, “Well I don’t know, Sue.” (He was the only person who ever called me “Sue.”)

A few other people had also noticed; now all of us were frozen, eyes fixed upward. We were looking at two orbs of bright light, maybe 50 yards from each other, moving above the lake very slowly, in tandem, parallel to the shoreline. They made no noise at all. To me, they looked like two giant glowing grapefruits.

The year was 1950; we were on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee—the ‘crown jewel’ of the Lakes Region of New Hampshire—and in the town of Wolfeboro, “The Oldest Summer Resort in the America.” New Hampshire had long been known as a focal point for extra-terrestrial activity. All over the country, from the late ’40’s into the early ‘60s, there was a huge spike in reported sightings, including the yet-to-be-explained Betty and Barney Hill abduction incident. New Mexico may have led the pack with its Roswell, but New Hampshire was always right up there in the top five. And the Lakes Region reported more activity than any other part of the state. My father’s and my experience was written up in the local newspaper, but I didn’t hear anything more about it until many years later.

UFO beacon? Lake Winnepesaukee

The “striking aerial map” – UFO beacon? courtesty duncanpressinc.com

I was showing a visiting friend the turn-of-the-century Castle In the Clouds, and had paused before a striking aerial map of area. I remarked to my friend how, seen from far above, it’s easy to hypothesize how the Lake, the surrounding mountain ranges and giant caldera could serve as beacons or markers for whoever or whatever we’d seen back in 1950.

I was immediately accosted by an intense little man who had been eavesdropping. He had to know every detail. As I told him about that sunset sighting, his eyes widened, his face paled.  He grabbed my arm.

“Oh my dear, do you have any idea what you saw?!  It was another sighting of the Golden Globes! There were two others around that same time: a famous one in Exeter, and a different one somewhere up North!” He hurried off, mumbling about how he was going to have to write this up…

More…

The Waiting is Over: Julian Lennon

Posted in pop music by Susan Hamilton on January 1, 2014 7 Comments

Maybe it had something to do with our being able to sit back and relax as John McCurry cut up and took over the scene at NYC’s China Club, but from the beginning, Julian and I shared an unspoken empathy. Jules always seemed perfectly comfortable in his own skin, yet was also somewhat reserved—quite different from many of the flamboyant China Club habitués with their coteries of models and desperate need to be noticed.

Julian Lennon with John McCurry

“Jules & John”

He and Christian Slater (another relatively quiet one) were tight during that time: this was in the late ‘80s…

I remember Julian once came back from a trip to visit his mother, Cynthia, on the Isle of Skye, and out of the blue presented me with a bottle of her signature perfume and a couple of cool-looking rocks he’d picked up from the beach. I was truly touched.

Our friendship continued even as I moved to Southern California. McCurry, his girlfriend Kirsten, and engineer Rick Kerr followed me there. They moved back to NYC after about a year (there was just not enough work for them).  But during that first year, John, Jules and I often hung out at my house in Malibu, talking until dawn. I once asked Julian what he was doing with his life, and he answered, “I’m waiting.” I understood (and it wasn’t just about his inheritance that was being held up by Yoko); it went deeper than that. McCurry and I even wrote a song for him titled, “I Was Just Waiting for You” (recorded on an album I produced for the German artist Dan Lucas, now touring as a guitar player and singer for the group Helter Skelter).

We did kick up our heels on the L.A. scene occasionally: at restaurants like Tommy Tang’s or Dan Tana’s—and at the L.A. China Club. There was one memorable night at the Club with the late great Sam Kinison and his girlfriend Malika. She wore a skintight flowered sheath dress and a Carmen Miranda hat (complete with a choice selection of fruits). The China ClubShe dodged through the crowd with tray after tray of “Sex on the Beach” shots held high overhead with one hand while Sam screamed one-liners and ad-libs until he had us gasping for breath, laughing so hard…

Jules, John and I have rekindled our friendship after the release of “Hit Woman.” They both have been incredibly supportive — even helped with its promotion. (Julian gave me the blurb, “A Great Read. From a Great Friend. Old Days in NYC…”)

One more thing about Jules. He continues to be an amazing talent as a singer/songwriter. His voice has a sweet and wistful quality, reminiscent of both John and Paul — and the harmonies in his songs More…

John McCurry: When Accordion Players Go Bad!

Posted in Advertising, Music, pop music, production by Susan Hamilton on December 26, 2013 No Comments yet

“Hey.  Could you get me a cup of coffee?  Cream and sugar, please.” With a wink and a grin, those were the first words spoken to me by John McCurry.

I was producing a spot for J Walter Thompson’s Burger King account in my in-house studio, “Ground Control.”  Chris Palmaro was the arranger; he was working up a fantastic version of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” Sammy Merendino was programming the drum tracks; Kevin Halpin was engineering, and John was there to overdub guitars.

John McCurry

John McCurry

I remember smiling and just saying, “I’ll see what I can do.” But Chris freaked. He grabbed John by the arm, pulled him into the waiting area and hissed, “Hey man, that’s the boss lady you just asked to bring you a cup of coffee. Are you fuckin’ nuts?!”

And John became one of my closest friends in the frenetic New York scene of the ‘80s. We worked together, wrote songs together, played hard and raised hell. And we always had each other’s back. Half Irish and half Sicilian with the charm and temper of both, John was at least as funny as many of the leading stand-up comics. His one-liners were priceless. (Robin Williams once told him he had the goods to make it in the biz).

One session, I was struggling unsuccessfully to come with a sound effect for the beauty shot of the product. The two bitchy young women from the ad agency had been whiny and irritating. John finally said, “How about this one?” as he put his index finger into one cheek and pulled it out with a loud “pop!” We were working on a tampon commercial…

Then there was the time at a small Southern airport. We were out on the tarmac when John lit up a cigarette, which caused the airport worker to scream at him. As he stamped out the butt, John ventured, “So I guess a crack pipe is out of the question…?”

Would you believe McCurry started in music as a young accordion virtuoso? I’ve seen pictures — pretty nerdy (but so cute)! Eventually, the wild side took over. He got himself into a heap of trouble and ended up in the hoosegow. John’s good friend, Joe Pezzullo, presented him with an acoustic guitar to take inside with him. So he settled down, taught himself to play— and the rest is pop music history.

McCurry cut quite a figure on both the concert stage and in the studio. He was the lead guitarist More…

An Irving Berlin Christmas look…

Posted in Christmas, dogs, New England, pop music by Susan Hamilton on December 24, 2013 No Comments yet

Christmas is at last here in New Hampshire.  Our little town of Wolfeboro maintains a definite Irving Berlin Christmas look to it.  Unfortunately, last week’s fluffy white snow has now turned into limb-breaking sheets of ice on our driveway, steps and deck. Even the dogs with their FOUR legs are having a hard time staying upright: splaying and skating all over the place (they don’t seem to mind).

An Irving Berlin Christmas look with the house all lit up in the snow

…we light up the place…

Most years we light up the place like this, although there was the one year when we returned from a Thanksgiving trip to the other coast to find the gutters so cemented with ice More…

What to Cook For Christmas Dinner? (part 2)

Posted in Christmas, cooking, dogs, New England by Susan Hamilton on December 20, 2013 No Comments yet

(A Prime Rib Primer – Conclusion)

prime rib roast after aging at home

 

 

Twas the Night Before Christmas Dinner and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… (well, except for you) as you sneak downstairs to rub the marinade you made earlier in the day into your now perfectly dry-aged prime rib roast.  If it looks a little leathery, try not to worry: everything’s going to be fine.

Marinade for prime rib

(get out the food processor with the metal blade)

6 cloves peeled garlic

2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt

1 ½ tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

1 heaping tablespoon dried thyme leaves

2 tablespoons roasted fennel seeds (toss in small skillet over high heat ‘til fragrant)

3 tablespoons olive oil

 Note: these quantities are for a 5 rib roast – halve them if you really only want a 3 rib…

With the motor running, drop the garlic cloves one by one down the chute. Watch them pulverize and stick to the sides of the bowl. With a rubber spatula, scrape them down and add the olive oil and salt. Run the motor again while pouring the fennel seeds down the chute. Let it run for a minute or so to crush the seeds a bit. Scrape down again, add the pepper and thyme — 3 or 4 1-second pulses and you’re done!

Put in small glass bowl, cover and set aside for later that evening (no need to refrigerate).

Late Christmas Eve, massage the rub into the meat, digging into every little crevice with your More…

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