Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mimi Baez Fariña Melvin's Big Sur Wedding.

In 1968, Mima Baez Fariña donned a flower crown and wed her second husband, record producer and radio announcer Milan Melvin, in dreamiest late summer/early fall wedding ceremony during the Big Sur Folk Festival.  

"Melvin was tall and gaunt, almost Abraham-Lincoln-like, with long black hair. Before meeting Mimi, he had been in a relationship with Janis Joplin. The connection with Janis apparently caused some bad blood between the two singers. Mimi also began to hang out with some of Janis' friends, including Linda Gravenites, a designer who roomed with Janis and also made dresses for Janis' stage act. The last straw, for Janis, came when Mimi asked Linda Gravenites to make her wedding dress. Linda created the appliquéd lace with a beaded lace train that is seen in all the photos of Mimi's wedding with Melvin. 
Their wedding took place at the Big Sur Folk Festival on September 7. Inspired by the sight of Mimi in her wedding dress, Joan wrote one of her first and best songs, "Sweet Sir Galahad," about their courtship and marriage. Home-movie footage of the wedding appears in Celebration at Big Sur, with Joan's performance of the song (from the next fest, in 1969) providing the soundtrack as Mimi and Milan prance in the grass. 
During her second marriage Mimi settled into the role of housewife and was not active musically--only one credit to "Mimi Fariña Melvin" appears on record, on Joan's David's Album, where the sisters sing "Poor Wayfaring Stranger." The marriage did not last. Many sources say Mimi and Milan separated after two years, while Mimi stated that they were married three years and broke up when she was 25. Milan moved to England in the summer of 1970, so perhaps that marked the end of the relationship. Mimi later came to regard the marriage as "a cop-out:" "I was rescuing myself from having to face life alone again.... It was just at that time that my life finally began developing on its own. Suddenly, and miraculously, I began writing songs and finally got a driver's license and started to get around." She also returned to the surname Fariña--perhaps a symbolic act. "I'll always love Dick," she recalled years later. "He was an impossible act to follow." 
 -- From the Mimi Farina Biography site

Image source:  Here

Monday, November 19, 2012

Muse: Mimi Baez Fariña.

The younger sister of famous folk singer Joan Baez, Mimi was a lithe, doe-eyed girl who followed in her sister's musical and activism aspirations from a young age. She was an early folk fixture in Boston and Greenwich Village, seen strumming complimentary guitar parts and cooing high, airy harmonies behind her sister. Later, she was present for one of the most interesting folk periods: the peaking of Dylan's early career and the promising literary rising and untimely fall of her husband Richard Farina's short life. She was a folk musician in her own right, co-writing and playing on a few, underrated albums with Farina. She is such an amazing style muse and her angelic, dream-girl looks coupled with her quiet, complimentary disposition made her a lover and side-kick to bold, driven creative voices of the 60s and 70s.

Mimi Baez Fariña was born under the sign of the ram, 1945. The youngest of three daughters to a Scottish mother and a Mexican-American physicist, Mimi was talented but complimented-- never over-shadowing-- her bolder, older sister Joan. Mimi's disposition was quieter, more content, softer, sweet as candy, with a deeper awareness and concern for other fragile things. In old footage she glows like the idealized image of the decade: That long-haired, swan necked, au natural 70s girl, fresh and untouched, hair hanging loose down her back, the lean, long-limbed frame of a sprite; she was the type of girl shot in soft focus films like "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and gracing 70s greeting cards. Joan and oldest sister Pauline were quite different. Joan's looks were never complimented at an early age, her sister Mimi's more conventional beauty was overpowering, and even though Joan grew into the image of the folk madonna, she never seemed to be overly-concerned or self-assessing in her physical appearance. Joan's value was in her singing, her guitar playing, her quick wit, and her bold mind. Mimi was in awe of those traits that she so painfully wanted, but so plainly lacked. Mimi's dyslexia and timid nature made her covet Joan's ability to confidently turn a phrase in self-defense or in attack. Pauline was the sister who opted out... Early on, when Joan and Mimi teamed up to play guitar or socialize with friends, Pauline dropped out. She was often seen alone in her treehouse, a hermit homebody, seeking only more solace.

Being of mixed European and Latin American Indian heritage, the Baez girls had varying complexions and features. The oldest Baez girl was Pauline. Joan was often taunted for her more ethnic Mexican features and darker skin by her white schoolmates, and coveted Mimi's more European features and lighter complexion. Mimi had the same long frame as the girls in the magazine, the same thin long nose, and large round eyes. Their family regularly, openly compared the girls against one another, praising Mimi's beauty and calling her angelic. In the same token, they praised Joan's intellect and admonished Mimi for her dyslexia and inability to keep ahead of her studies. "Joan was very jealous of Mimi's looks. It was very hard for Joan. Joan always thought she was ugly, I think Mimi was just as jealous of Joan... Joan was so talented. They were both talented but, I don't know... I just know they loved each other so much I thought sometimes they'd kill each other" their mother once was said. Mimi and Joan were stuck together throughout their childhood like twins, but a feeling of competition and jealousy also remained throughout their lives.

 By 1958, Father Albert Baez was working for MIT, oldest daughter Pauline was away at Drew University in New Jersey, and the younger girls were delving in the Cambridge folk scene, mixing with college students at the burgeoning cafe music spots around Boston. Joan, 17, was preparing for college at Boston University and Mimi, 13, was preparing for high school.  As Joan developed talent on her steel-string Gibson, Mimi was by her side, figuring out harmonies on her gut-string Goya. They would often fall asleep, hearing each other play through the shared wall of their rooms, strumming chorus, memorizing lyrics, and repeating finger picking patterns endlessly into the night. For Mimi, guitar was not just a new challenge, it was also a place of solace where she sought refuge from the defeat she felt at school. She came home from school with letters swarming in her head, feeling dumb and not knowing why, she couldn't wait to pick up her guitar and teach herself lessons that made sense through new chord patterns and melodic phrasing.

 As Joan advanced through college in the coming years, so did her presence in the city's folk scene. Joan was a fixture at cafes and clubs, playing in circles with friends and to audiences of strangers. Though Mimi was still limited by her younger age, Mimi was exposed to Joan's new techniques and a new older crowd of acquaintances and began to grow up all too soon. Mimi watched her sister rise to local, then regional fame, playing to packed houses at folk festivals and being handed opportunity after opportunity as the public hungered for musical female icons molded in the new youth folk image. Mimi was frustrated by her younger age that limited her from the career she wanted and from the boys who lusted after "Joan's little sister". "For Mimi I think Joan's success was awfully confusing at first I could tell she liked all the excitement, and she was happy for her sister, but she didn't like to talk about. I think she had a hard time knowing where to fit in" said their mother. Mimi recalled "It was an exciting time, Joanie became this THING-- she wasn't my sister anymore, she was Joan Baez. Everybody knew who she was. It was strange. When we were singing together it was Joan and Mimi. Now it was Joan and Joan's sister. That was alright but I didnt like it when I was playing guitar and people thought I was trying to be like Joan. I was trying to be like me, and I was starting to realize how hard that was going to be from now on."

Joan maintained her independence from the twitter-patted male folk following, staying single and unbridled well into her 20s, teenage Mimi quickly dove into a much too serious romances to an older man.  Richard Farina was an aspiring writer and fixture on the Greenwich folk scene.  His tall tales about his Irish/Cuban childhood adventures and exuberant Irish and Spanish influenced poetry readings made him a stand-out character and a person of interest for a young Bob Dylan.  Some looked at him with a sneaking suspicion that he was an opportunist that latched on a little to hard to the local talents. Soon after arriving on the scene was snuggling up to rising folk star Carolyn Hester. She was a lovely All-American girl with pitch-perfect folk chops to boot.  Fariña quickly ditched his former girl to wed Carolyn and soon after started, not only labeling himself a fellow musician, but also her new manager.   While he was a very talented author and novice dulcimer player, it all seemed to happen too fast for onlookers.

One summer a group of folk friends invited Carolyn and Richard on a visit to France to see Mimi who had moved there with her parents.  A mutual friend thought it a brilliant idea to introduce Carolyn and Mimi as they were two female singers he thought would share so much in common.  Carolyn gave Mimi a cool hello as Richard gave her a second-over.  As soon as Carolyn left Paris, Richard, who stayed a bit longer, siezed the moment alone to secretly write Mimi a poem for her upcoming 17th birthday:

"And now as breezes shudder in the orchard,
thick with rhyme and loosed of somber reason--
thought and motion raise their head as one.
Your sudden dance is free of all design.
Young girl, you chose the amber coil of wish,
unlocked it with the cocking of a heel
and stepped away.  While in the lunge of flight
I know the tale in your dark body's book."

Farina, ever the opportunist, submitted the poem to Mademoiselle magazine, dedicated to Mimi, with a note to the editor that the poem was based on his "growing relationship with the Baez family".  Meanwhile, Mimi, despite knowing Fariña was married, was falling head over heels "I never had a poet writing poetry to me.... I didn't know what was happening, really.  But he was so incredibly appealing-- I couldnt help thinking about him and fantasizing about with him and maybe even spending my life with him."  The letters and poems continued to flow while Fariña was in London, one, two sometimes  six a day.  While Carolyn was flying here and there to make high profile appearances at folk events, Richard was sneaking in appointments to meet Mimi in various UK cities.  Carolyn soon picked up on her husband's shady activities and planned to get back to the US as soon as possible to file papers if necessary.  Meanwhile, the transatlantic folk circles were buzzing about the bond between the famed Carolyn Hester's husband and folk heroine Joan Baez's teen sister.  Richard seemed to love the free, albeit negative, publicity and mocked the gossip as he continued to write love notes to Mimi.  But Joan soon caught wind of the gossip quickly tried to nip this budding relationship in the bud.  Mimi's parents found little impressive about Fariña and were suspicious of his over-zealous charisma, picking up a creepy vibe from him.  Joan was afraid this rat was trying to bed her sister as a way to get in with her rising career and called her sister on a exorbinantly expensive international call from CA, USA to FR to tell her so.  Mimi was torn between her sister's warning and Fariña's persuasive letters talking about their torrid romance and future marriage.  "Here was somebody who was old enough to take care of a lot of stuff I didnt understand, like how to cook food, how to go shopping, how to live in the world, who felt like taking care of me-- and who was professing to a kind of commitment that I was socked by at first but that I absolutely needed."  Finally Baez and Fariña summoned the courage to ask her parents to get married and they consented, because she was turning 18 anyway and there wasn't much they could do after that.  Joan found out and was livid.  This time she rang Fariña, pelting him with questions until he felt rotten.  Fariña wrote Mimi and they decided to seal the deal secretly in Paris, and before her parents allowed it.  She snuck out one day to meet him,  they both said 'oui' in a civil ceremony and kissed.  Mimi promptly jumped on the train to head home.  She was scolded for being late, ate her dinner, did her homework, and went to bed.

After a year and a half in Europe, Mimi and Richard jumped ship to California and had a formal wedding ceremony in California with friends and family, including Farina's bestie pre-fame Dylan Pynchon.  Meanwhile, Bob Dylan went from being a folk underdog opening act at Joan Baez's shows, to a rising star, quickly eclipsing Baez and the old guard of folk.  She believed in his music and the power of his lyrics and the two quickly became an item with strange dimensions.  They forged a close friendship through humor, but with strange power dimensions, Baez being the more successful, more popular of the two in the beginning and just starting to enjoy her wealth.  She had a lovely house built in the winding coast of Carmel, California and invited 'Bobby' to stay with her there.  Despite her success as a gifted guitarist and singer, she wasn't a songwriter nor a lyricist, instead she acted as a patron to Dylan whose words were quickly being branded as the 'voice of the generation'.  She took on a very maternal, wifely role, shaping her daily schedule around supporting him as he pumped out poetry and material for song lyrics from her living room.  After waking up at 10 or 11 am for coffee and breakfast, Bob would head straight for the type writer and pound out poems all day using his two pointer fingers.   Joan would bring him snacks and as the day progressed and his poems got longer, coffee became wine.

Mimi and Richard moved into the small home next to Joan's and conducted a similar daily routine with Richard typing away on his next novel, while Mimi played supporting role and strummed her guitar from time to time.  As Joan warmed up to Fariña's presence, the couples became close, with the sisters constantly check up on one another and the boys discussing each other's work.  But though they were close, the presence of the men complicated the relationships.  Fariña and Dylan treated one another as friendly rivals, secretly admiring one another but also competing over the written word.  Strange ties started to develop when Richard started popping over to visit Joan, the famous one of the group, whom Fariña admired, and Bob dropped by the little newlywed house to see Mimi, the pretty young thing he still seemed to have a crush on. 

By 1965, Joan and Bob's joint tour schedule exposed Dylan to the mainstream folk audience and brought him attention in his own right.  While Joan's interests delved further and further into the protest movement and politics, Dylan became less political focused and his lyrics centered more around personal relationships.  As they started to go in different personal and professional directions, Richard Fariña's first novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, was set to be published and he and Mimi were cutting tracks for their second album "Reflections on a Crystal Wind".  Baez and Dylan were splitting up, while the Fariña's were tighter than ever.  With Dylan out of the picture, Fariña got close to Joan, giving her musical guidance and enjoying his influence on her career.  Meanwhile, Joan got the Fariña's on the bill at folk festivals and the three continued to remain closely linked.  Meanwhile, Dylan was turning his back on the traditional folk scene, 'going electric' and secretly courting his future wife Sara Lownds.  He lambasted his former friends in the press calling Mimi 'just a lamp', Fariña a 'bullshitter', and Baez 'neither here nor there'.

The day of Mimi Fariña's 21st birthday, she was feeling crummier than ever.  Insecure and unsure of her direction, she and Richard had been arguing through the whole month and her 21st birthday was a depressing marker that she didn't have the independent career she wanted.  Fariña's book finally hit bookstores and his first signing was later that day.  It was just another reminder that she had moved from her sister's shadow to her husband's.  While Mimi felt like nothing was going right, not even her hairstyle, Fariña was in top condition: newly tanned and in his favorite jeans, he spent the morning primping for this new milestone in his career.  He was so focused on his debut, nothing that morning signaled that he had remembered Mimi's birthday; no flowers, cards, or presents.  Joan was in Paris visiting their parents and Mimi felt so alone.  She exploded at Richard for being so self-centered and forgetting her birthday, then the two got in the car and silent drove to the signing.  Farina was elated at the signing, under the dedication "This one's for Mimi", he wrote "zoom!" on each copy he autographed.  Mimi tried to muster a forced smile, sitting by her giddy husband's side.  After the signing they went to Mimi's sister Pauline's house and Mimi was surprised to see a party in her honor in full swing.  Richard had secretly organized a surprise party for Mimi, and her bad mood melted away.  While Mimi made her rounds, Richard spied a sleek motorcycle parked in front.  He asked the owner, marine biologist Willie Hinds, a friend of Pauline's husband, if he could take a spin with him on the cliffs.  Hinds didn't know Fariña, but said 'sure', and Richard uncharacteristically asked Mimi to hold his wallet while he took a ride with Hinds.  It was the first time Richard ever let Mimi touch his wallet, and she had the impulse to rummage through it.

Thirty minutes after Fariña and Hinds zoomed off, the party goers saw fog rolling in and began to get concerned when they failed to see the guys return.  Sirens were heard in the distance and a group jumped in a car to see what was the matter.  They came upon a group of police officers surrounding an accident "the driver seems fine but the passenger didn't make it" Mimi showed the policeman Richard's wallet.  "He's at the morgue, ma'am".  Her head was spinning.   Willie and Richard had been heading back to the party when, speeding around a curve, Willie leaned with the curve while Farina leaned the opposite direction, sending the bike up a five foot embankment.  Willie crashed through a fence while Farina went flying into the rocky coastline he loved.  He died instantly. "I grew up fast"  Mimi said.  She spent the rest of her birthday mourning her husband's death.  After more than a week after his death, Mimi returned back to the home they shared to find a dead bouquet of orange roses he left for her on the table, next to a pair of shoes for her, and a birthday card.  Later that year, Dylan had his own brush with death on a motorcycle in Woodstock, New York.

After a period of mourning, Mimi decided to make a new start in San Francisco pursuing her dancing. Mimi continued to follow musicians and actors, experimenting with dancing and staying connected to the bohemian art scene of the 60s.  In 1968 Mimi recorded her first solo album "Memories" with Vanguard.  Later that fall, she married a gentle giant, music producer and radio announcer Milan Melvin, in a gorgeous hippie style ceremony during the Big Sur music festival, but the rebound marriage was short-lived and the couple split in 1970.  Finally, Mimi started to shake off the 'widow' label and take back her young life.  She started persuing folk music again, this time with Tom Jans, introduced to her by Joan.  Mimi and Tom toured together and crafted the most signature song of her career "In the Quiet Morning".  But soon, Richard Fariña's ghost reappeared as his work became of interest again, with her record company seeking to reprise his music with Mimi and celebrate his career with a film and book retrospective.  The demands of Mimi to work on commemorative Fariña material took over the duo of Tom and Mimi and the two split.  Mimi's work took a non-commercial turn after these toward benefit concerts and social awareness events where she often performed with Joan.  She founded Bread and Roses, an NGO that links soulful musical performances to those in need of encouragement, from inmates to the homeless.

Bread and Roses became the crown jewel of her career, the purpose she had sought from an early age: tying the theraputic elements of the arts to social awareness.  She brought love and light to the downcast and the underdogs of society that she so deeply related to.  She used her star ties and talent to compassionate, undervalued work, and this provided her with the deepest satisfaction of her career.  By the 1990s, after years of respect in both the music and non-profit circles, Mimi began planning a funding plan to ensure the future of Bread and Roses and a plan for retirement.  But during her planning, she was suddenly diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer.  For the next two years she sought chemotherapy and alternative treatments to no avail.  She passed away in 2001 at her cottage in Mill Valley.

Read more about this scene and the strange love pentagrams in past muse posts on Dylan - Baez and Suze Rotolo.  

Image source:  here 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Radio hour : Gypsy Cowgirl Under the Stars.

Click above to listen streaming

"Gypsy gal, you got me swallowed. I have fallen far beneath. Your pearly eyes, so fast and slashing, and your flashing diamond teeth. The night is pitch black, come and make my pale face fit into place, oh please. Let me know, babe, if its you my lifelines trace."  Mellow, slide guitar sounds by psychedelic troubadours and barefoot songstresses. Featuring Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gram Parsons, and First Aid Kit.

Tracklist  :

Lay Lady Lay - Bob Dylan

I Live for You - George Harrison

Helpless - Buffy Sainte-Marie

The Ballad of Easy Rider - Fairport Convention

Wild Horses - The Rolling Stones

Strangers - The Kinks

When I Grow Up - First Aid Kit

Watch the Stars - Pentangle

Turquoise - Donovan

Hickory Wind (Alternate Version) - Gram Parsons

Diamonds and Rust - Joan Baez

Sara - Bob Dylan

Emmylou - First Aid Kit

To Know Him Is to Love Him - Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris & Linda Ronstadt

Love Hurts - Gram Parsons

Late November - Sandy Denny

Someday Soon - Judy Collins

Farewell, Farewell - Fairport Convention

Who Knows Where the Time Goes? - Judy Collins

Sunrise - Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I go to you.

"Though I go to you
ceaselessly along dream paths,
the sum of those trysts
is less than a single glimpse
granted in the waking world. "

Ono no Komachi 12th century.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Autumn Americana.

I had so many magical moments traveling Latin America, Africa, and South East Asia the past five years, though I notice that people generally glamorize the idea of tropical countries.   The geography was stunning, the cultures are beautiful, but the transition to living in developing countries wasn't easy, nor glamorous, and after a year or two there were so many simple things about America that I began missing... One of those being the magic of fall.  Tropical climates don't experience the crimson and gold magic of autumn in the US and few countries in the world have the bright fall foliage of New England.  

...The colors, the flavors, the fabrics, the cozy holidays, the warm starchy root vegetables, the trappings of comfort like blazing fire places and draping the cold, wet garments of the day over a heater...

After five years away, all I could think about was winter and fall.  Now that I'm back I am bathing in pumpkin flavored everythings and crunching through dead fallen leaves and instagram-ing it all.

I think the overwhelming nostalgia I have for America is what has made me become so obsessed with listening to folk and roots country music and obsessing over the icons of the era.  Those sun glazed, independent heros of American music like Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris, Dylan, Mimi and Richard Farina, and even albums by overseas icons deftly capturing nostalgic Americana, ie George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.  The music conjures images of amber fields of grain and battered leather.

You can see by these photos I'm also obsessed with these pointy yellow flats.  When I was about 14, back in the mid 90s  and in the midst of my Beatles obsession,  I saw this picture of my icon Patti Boyd wearing them in full psychedelic glory and I felt my wardrobe would never be complete until I copped a pair.  I finally found my sole-mates (sorry bad pun!) in a shop recently and feel that full circle feeling.  

Instagram : LiseSilva

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book: Canyon of Dreams.

I've had Canyon of Dreams on my wishlist for a while, checked out a copy from library and decided, yes, I have to own this book.  Laurel Canyon is a magical maze in the hills of Southern California that has been an enclave for artists and musicians, most notably the folk and rock renaissance of the late 60s- mid 70s.  Deeply forested, isolated, and elevated, the canyon provided a secluded haven for the famous, a magical playground for the creative.  Serving as a counterculture hideaway for decades, the first such resident was said to be Frederick Shaw, aka Crazy Shaw, whose wild, crackpot inventions were based in a philosophy mixing naturalism and technological advancement.  Later, screen stars and starlets of the silent era like Clara Bow, Ramon Navarro, Errol Flynn, Harry Houdini and thousands others took up residence in this sun-baked hillside forest, and still reportedly, haunt the grounds.  Soaked in mystery, decadence, and occult, the 20s era stars soon lead to generations of other actors through the 1950s.  

The 60s brought a new influx of artists:  Musicians like Arthur Lee, Jackie DeShannon, Frank Zappa, Mark Volman, Eric Burdon, Mickey Dolenz, Jim Morrison, Donovan, John & Michelle Philips, Gram Parsons, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and a host of others, their entourage of friends, bandmates, and groupies escaped the lower streets of LA and throngs of fans in the rolling terrain.  Magic was afoot.  You could hear the new pre-release Doors album wafting in the air from Jim's hideaway digs, and walking a bit further, The Byrds' Chris Hillman would be noodling on his bass in a picture window tucked behind trees.  Great albums were conceptualized and recorded there, sealing the Canyon legacy.  Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon and, even earlier, Jackie DeShannon's Laurel Canyon immortalized the place as a creative, almost spiritual, oasis.  

The book is packed with text and photos, mainly from the folk and psychedelic rock era residents of the Canyon.  It contains historical bits, interview snippets, and a chronological narrative of the canyon from its early days until present.  Survivors like Pamela Des Barres and Ray Manzarek reflect on their years and the characters they crossed paths with in the Laurel Canyon of the 60s and 70s.  

"That deep green crease that runs through the Holywood Hills from the Sunset Strip to the San Fernando Valley.  That curving, twisting boulevard of hipness and psychedelia; of movie stars and mystics and jazz and folk and rock; of Harry Houdini, Clark Gable, Shelly Manne, and Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, and The Doors.  Not to mention the ladies-- the flower children, the witches, the punkettes, the starlets.  The fine and sweet and innocent chicks.  Yes.  The chicks.  For that is what we called them in the '60s.  All soft and bejeweled and feathered and wrapped in their soft garments from antique clothing stores."  - Ray Manzarek, Canyon of Dreams

Image Source:  Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon by Harvey Kubernik

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