Rest In Peace, Bettie Page
"All the snow has turned to water
Christmas days have come and gone
Broken toys and faded colors
Are all that's left to linger on
"I hate graveyards and old pawn shops
For they always bring me tears
I can't forgive the way they rob me
Of my childhood souvenirs"
John Prine, “Souvenirs”
Bettie Page had something Marilyn Monroe never did – Bettie was real. She was authentic, flesh & blood, imperfect. She was never the all-American bleach bottle girl next door, more slick than plastic, undying, complete.
If Marilyn was our hyped-up 1950s pop art incarnation of Aphrodite, Bettie Page was the Black Angel, child as much of Hell as Heaven, and yet, really, neither. She was a beautiful woman, not a goddess, playful yet wounded, innocent yet never naïve. She represented nothing except herself, and what she was, gentle reader, was more than the curves on the flat pages of myriad men’s magazines of all qualities and the gorgeous S&M fantasies of Irving Klaw.
What she was… was a mystery. She was Mystery, the mystery of femininity, the real thing come down from Tennessee who missed being class valedictorian and a scholarship to Vanderbilt by a mere fragment of a point on her final grades. Fate – she was, like the rest of us, the child of Fate’s crooked fingers spinning out a complicated web.
Marilyn was the daughter of Fame & Fortune – Bettie, the daughter of Destiny & Nemesis. Daughter Light and Daughter Dark. One died drunk and full of pills, the other lived to see 85 years of hard struggle with mental illness, lust, confusion, and an extended argument with her God over the nature of who she was and what her life meant.
One reached the height of life and had her image separated from her being in paintings and advertisements, her soul split and shattered like a billion shards of glass having nothing to do with the real Norma Jean; the other walked away from the image and bequeathed it to us as a gift – and then went her own way, never burdening us with her private turmoil.
Bettie Page, for all her troubles, escaped with her soul intact, with her integrity untouched by a world that simultaneously hungers for and devours its most beautiful women. Marilyn could never stand the pain of her lusciousness. Bettie Page, whose feet walked both crooked and straight paths strewn with broken glass, bones, and roses, came through her Inferno, ascended her MountPurgatory, and now rests in her Paradise.
Along the way, she gave us blessings, the blessing of her presence and the fantasy of her absence.
There will be a thousand gallons of ink spilled over her departure as there were tens of thousands of it spilled about her life and the events, both real and imagined, of her life. Like the photos, none of it will capture her, none of it will say who Bettie Page truly was – that was a secret conversation she had between herself and the Divine. A mystery.
So I have little to say now. Just a simple sign of deep and intense appreciation for the glimpse of wonder the Dark Angel so carelessly shed for us, if we wanted it. A simple acknowledgement of the reality of her and her life as a seeker, an outlaw, someone who went her own way and had little to apologize for.
Smile on us, Bettie, and don't forget us.
We will never forget you.
15 December 2008
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