I’ve always been interested in reading rock and roll memoirs, especially by people who were behind the scenes. But when these books are written by women they are usually written by wives, girlfriends and groupies. Now I like these books; Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band is one of my favorites. But I want to read books by women who actually worked in the music business. So when I came across Chris O’Dell’s Miss O’Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights With the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Women They Loved I thought I had hit the jackpot. Chris O’Dell worked for the Beatles’ Apple Records and managed several rock tours. Surely, she’d have some great insight on what it was like to be a women in a mostly man’s world and perhaps provide some inspiration to young women who want to do more than provide favors to roadies and rockers. Sadly, Chris O’Dell’s memoir turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Miss O’Dell begins in the late 1960s. O’Dell is living in Los Angeles. A chance meeting with Beatles’ insider, Derek Taylor, leads to her getting a job in London at the Beatles’ fledgling Apple Records. It’s never quite established why Taylor thought she’d be such an asset. Did she already have the experience and impressive professional track record? Or was it because she was an attractive blonde? Okay, I shouldn’t hate. Given the chance, I would have jumped at this opportunity.
While at Apple O’Dell does things that are done at any other office. She answers phones, delivers messages and procures lunches. But she also gets to do lots of cool things. When the Beatles played their infamous concert on top of the Apple building, O’Dell was right there with them, soaking up all that rock and roll energy. Any Beatles fan would give his or her eye teeth for such an experience. Lots of rock gods and goddesses roamed the halls of Apple, and O’Dell can’t help but get a little bit fan girlish over the famous people she met. I can’t say I blame her for this. If I had gotten a job at U2’s Principle Management, I would have been squee city. “OMG! Bono said ‘hi’ to me! I can’t wait to tell my mom!”
However, O’Dell soon gets bored and high tails it back to LA. She lives with musician Leon Russell for a time. He had written the song “Pisces Apple Lady” in her honor. Unfortunately, the relationship soon sours. Bored once again, O’Dell begs to get her Apple job back, and is off to London. This turned out to be a common theme with O’Dell. She goes to London, gets bored. She goes to LA, gets bored. Rinse and repeat.
It’s not long before O’Dell is managing major rock tours. She manages tours for Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Rolling Stones, and later in the book, Echo and the Bunnymen. Not surprisingly, debauchery was a huge part of these tours. Music seemed to take a back seat to snorting up cocaine and sleeping with any available musician, not too mention a lot of fighting among band members and tour staff.
No book about the 1960s and 1970s would be complete without a lot of passages about drugs and sex. Miss O’Dell is no different. However, instead of finding these passages shocking or salacious, I was bored. Reading about endless drug and alcohol-fueled happenings was truly tedious. I could barely stifle my yawns. O’Dell also slept with lots of musicians. Ho-hum. By the time O’Dell mentioned she slept Mick Jagger, I thought, “Who hasn’t? Mick Jagger has probably slept with every third person on the planet. That man would shag a shoe.”
O’Dell also writes about the intense friendships she had with many musicians and their wives/girlfriends, especially George Harrison and Pattie Boyd and Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen. She describes in very full detail of the long conversations she had with these people and the fun times they had. But she seemed more like a free-loader than a good friend. She takes a considerable loan from George Harrison, and never pays him back. While house-sitting for Eric Clapton, she decides to paint his kitchen yellow and orange and then runs off. She later stiffs him on a hotel bill. She constantly took advantage of her rock and roll friends’ generosity, never showing any appreciation. And when she later sleeps with Ringo Starr while he is still married to one of her friends, I wanted to shake her.
It doesn’t help the book’s writing itself is clumsy and amateurish. But what I couldn’t take was the lack of character development on the part of O’Dell. Sure, she does get over drugs and alcohol addiction, but this turning point in her life is given a scant few pages. Never once does she show any remorse for her actions or any semblance of growing as a person. O’Dell is very self-absorbed but not exactly self-aware. Also, she totally ignores the huge cultural and social changes of the era. O’Dell’s memoir takes place during “I am Women. Hear Me Roar” second wave feminism, yet she never mentions what it was like to break ground as a woman in the world of music. I don’t know if all the drugs dulled her memory or she couldn’t be arsed to care.
I wanted to love this book, but I almost threw it across the room. Miss O’Dell isn’t inspiring or even that interesting. However, I do hold hope that a woman who was a true pioneer in the behind-the-scenes world of music will write her memoir. Suzanne de Passe, please write your memoir.