“You know when a famous person dies, and there’s those kids who say the celebrities didn’t die – they just post on a remote island somewhere… Welcome to Sandbar 45.”
Amidst the scattered debris of yachts and planes lost at sea, there lies an island where lost celebrity lives. It’s a pristine parallel universe nestled in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. I’m sitting with Brittany Murphy; getting acquainted with the soft-spoken, but effervescent, starlet in a string of those gone-too-soon, chatting about how she’s nestling into her new paradisaical digs. “It’s amazing. Everyone’s here. It’s an island fit for only the most marvelous of misfits.”
It’s the weekend of the Art Nouveau magazine launch. Every inaugural issue of a magazine deserves a party – Art Nouveau is no different – and after the party is the after party – in that respect we veer a bit to the left.
We got an invitation to have the event on Sandbar 45, because Le Deux is a Le Don’t, Bungalo is never a go, and we can’t afford either anyway. I have an interview scheduled with the host of our After (Life) Party, but until then I get to sit in on dress rehearsals. While I was backstage I got the chance to talk with a few islanders who have not themselves passed on – so much as the known world did on them. First up: Brittany Murphy.
We’re sitting in the third row of the venue, Phoenix, watching the last-minute run-throughs. Performance details are kept under wraps, so we chat about island life. “This is where celebrities, artists, Pop figures come to live when the world has gone and killed them off,” she says, “It’s like a vacation – some just make it permanent. You never really plan on staying – you don’t actually wake up one morning and say ‘That’s it, I’m going to the island.’” This comes as a surprise I tell her, as I imagine it would be the opposite. She explains, “no one wants to fall into oblivion, no one wants to die die…” “Exactly,” I reply, “as they say ‘if you want to be blamed: marry; if you want to be praised: die – and the only praise worth the fame is that worth living to see.”
Murphy tunes out after the first half of the adage, I can’t blame her; given the fact that she left her now-infamous widower, Simon Monjack, completely out of her will. “Y’know how [Monjack] said [Edie Sedgwick biopic] Factory Girl was his inspiration – that [movie director George] Hinkenlooper stole his idea? Well, when George put me on the shortlist for the lead role, I stepped down for Simon… When I told Edie the other day she nearly died.” “Well, that’d be no good,” I chide, “then where would she go?” Murphy smirks, “It’s funny you mention that, she’s been a ghost around here ever since she moved in with Lee [McQueen]. They spend days-on-end offshore at his underwater studio Atlantis – everyone loves it down there.”
We get back on the subject of the island and its inhabitants – both permanent and temporary – as she explains, “‘celebrity’ and the death are as fickle as the voyeurs creating celebrity life – if your career dies, you might as well be dead too. Everybody takes breaks – Britney came by after her break-up with Kevin, Lindsay stopped through after her fallout with Samantha.” “So, this is where careers die too?” “Basically, you are your persona. Your persona is based on public perception – you’ll die if they don’t feed your relevance.” “Sorry to cut it short, but we’re up.” Murphy is performing with Madonna – Jesus’ mother, not babysitter. I ask what song they’re covering, she gives a pseudo-confused look before revealing the obvious, “Like a Virgin (Who Can’t Drive), what else would we do?” Before she heads off I have to ask if, even after the clear perks, life on the island is worth the “death.” “I landed a decent interview, and a tweet from Ashton – I’d say so.”
I head backstage, and find a familiar face: none other than Mr. By Himself He So Impressed. Kanye-to-the is with choreographer Chris Farley running through a new workout plan with Anna Nicole Smith – everyone’s got to get right before the big night. Smith is no stranger to island exiles – in life or (perceived) death – as the modern reincarnation of the signature beautifully-broken-blonde-bombshells she takes five and gives me few minutes to peruse the thoughts beneath the platinum locks. We go over the gist of the Party, what performances she’s looking forward to, and what she’s got up her sleeve, “nothing – and relay that to Dr. Drew when you get back.”
She’s co-hostessing the event with Jayne Mansfield, and Marilyn Monroe. “We’ve been meaning to do something since I got here, but nothing really made sense until Art Nouveau happened.” When I ask how she ended up at the Sandbar she answers simply, “A silver pill, and a 15 minute sailboat ride.” If you were wondering why she spent so much time in the Bahamas, it’s because she frequented the island often during her last few years in and out of the spotlight. About the silver pill though she continues, “Neo had the red pill or the blue pill – reality or the Matrix – pick the silver pill and it’s the last pill you’ll ever take: OD.” Smith is quite astute, matter-of-fact, and refreshingly relatable.
Thinking back to my last conversation I have to ask about her legacy, what impact – if any – she believes she left. “If I had to apply for a job, my portfolio would be the E! Network; that’s my mainland legacy in living color.” It makes sense, look at the primetime lineup from the past few years – it highlights the little Anna Nicoles in all of us, bunny-hopping about California. “I was a Girl Next Door. I had a publicized post-Playboy pregnancy like Kendra. I TrimSpa-ed baby, Kim and Khloe SlimQuick. It’s not like I’m the only one who’s done anything like that, but if I set a path – it would blueprint the E! primetime lineup… for the ten cents that’s worth.”
For the record: she has no need for TrimSpa with Yeezy around, “he comes by all the time. He was going to shoot the ‘Amazing’ video here, but chose Hawaii for obvious reasons – that and [Jeezy] The Snowman would melt the second he stepped foot on the island.” Smith apologizes for cutting the talk short, but she has a lunch, “with Jayne and Marilyn” how fitting for a parallel universe. She corrects my skepticism, “They’re great girls, we just don’t have much in common – but lunch at [Comedian Richard] Pryor’s Fire is always a go, especially when the Kennedy Boys [John, Robert, and John Jr.] are treating. Looks like Heath is up front, you should talk to him. Wait, never mind – it’s Kurt! Tell him I said hi.”
I head to the front as the lights dim and an only-too-familiar guitar riff lingers in the air like the distinct scent of adolescent aura: Teen Spirit smells a lot like California Love these days. Kurt Cobain walks over, still rocking the flannel and chucks, “Same style, new scene; they call it hipster, I call it Grunge with a shower,” he chides as we settle down between sets. He’s slated to perform the greatest battle you’ll never see: “It’s East Coast meets Best Coast.” Backed by the legendary DJ AM and 2pac, Kurt rounds out the Pacific; while Brooklyn’s Finest Biggie Smalls, and Jam Master Jay represent the Atlantic. “Sid was supposed to be here by now, but he’s at lunch with Nancy. Those two… it’s great that they worked it out and all, but love kills rehearsals.”
I have to ask the obvious, “So how did you end up teaming with BIG, Pac, and Jay?” “Aaliyah and I ended up working on some stuff when she got here – a darker sound, very dope though, she was still working the Queen of the Damned out of her system. That set still has some of the craziest tracks this side of Amy Winehouse. One thing led to another and here we are.” Aaliyah ended up at the island, somewhat unexpectedly, for a layover after the “Rock the Boat” shoot. I ask if Timbaland’s ever come to visit, “He hasn’t, but his prime flew down first thing after she did – hasn’t left since.”
Once a musician, always a musician: so what does else does the icon listen to these days? “Honestly, I’ve been listening to a lot of Garbage recently,” he says. “Dope,” I say, “recent must be relative here, Garbage hasn’t come out with anything in awhile though,” confusion douses his response, “Really? I just heard ‘Tik Tok’ at the Brits when Courtney [Love] came out; and doesn’t Nick Jonas have that new band with Justin Bieber or something?” Garbage is garbage whether you reside on the Sandbar or back in Seattle.
“Actually,” he follows up, “I heard Miley Cyrus just docked over at Deaside.” Not every celebrity vacations at this island. Off the coast of Sandbar is the “Dirty Shore.” Cobain breaks down the neighboring island for the brokedown, “Diddy tried to dock here when BIG came, but couldn’t get in so he bought a slip of land south of here. I get most of the music I listen to now from there.” Think of Deaside as the island of lost love shots – or bad boys that could stop and would stop: Tila Tequila, Danity Kane, Dream, Loon, there’s a litany of the limelightless on the other coast.
“There’s Sid, gotta go. He’s on his own time, but gets vicious when you’re late. See you tomorrow night.” He turned to give one last tip, “you’ve got fifteen minutes before sunset, try to catch it while you can. Sounds cheesy, but this island is the essence of everything: it’s got the brightest days and darkest nights – no matter where you are the stars are always at their peak. Then again, we never had sunsets in Seattle – it never really rose there to begin with.”
Quarter after nine, I get the call every music journalist lives, kills, and dies for: “Michael’s ready.” I get a ride up to Everland Ranch, and as I stroll up the walkway a strangely familiar voice catches my ear. “I’m so lost. I’ve been here for 15 minutes and still can’t find the entrance.” That’s likely due to the fact that it’s covered in silkscreens. “Ah, where there’s Warhol, there’s always a way,” the girl concludes, unlocking the front door. “I’m his new assistant, Stefani. It’s a foot-in-the-door but we all ga-gotta start somewhere, right?” she explains with a slight stutter. “I talked to you on the phone,” she continues; “come on in, I’ll take you to Mike.”
Inside there’s Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein recapping on their finished designs, as Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso put the finishing touches on their own interior work. “That’s Michael over there, and this is his house,” Stefani says, as we make our way down the hall. It’s her first time at the castle, but she knows her way around as if she’s been here all her life. “Where’s my coffee,” a staffer calls. “I’ll be back, people can’t live without their caffeine. I can’t blame them though,” Stefani says as she heads over; “I loved Starbucks, but it doesn’t hold a tune to ‘The Coffee Beat,’ coffee made by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg – you know it’s fresh.”
Ambient conversation consists of plans for tomorrow night. One person calls down, hand gripping a phone receiver, “Lady Day says she’s on for tomorrow night. She also wants to know the recipe for that drink you made her, Mike. She loved the twist of fruit you put on the rim, but said it had a strange taste.” Another voice says from the back, “Miles said he’ll perform, but only if you bartend at [Davis’ bar] Bitches’ Brew on Saturday.”
I get closer to the center, and hear Helen Mirren mid-sentence; The Queen plays from the surround sound as Princess Di greets me in a foyer. “Pleasure to meet you, Michael’s finally getting settled here. I’ve been here for years, but a castle is never complete without the King for which it’s most fit:” housemates always know best.
Around the bend Michael stands above, Gianni Versace on one knee below, tailoring Jackson’s outfit. “You can pick your jaw up off the floor, he didn’t walk on water or anything,” a staffer says from behind. “Just the moon,” Stefani asides, returning. Michael looks up, looking Pop in the eyes it instantaneously pulls the trigger as I ask: “Pop in three words: go,” to which the King replies of his Kingdom: “This is it.”