You can find out more about my next book, now titled The Silver Swan: Searching for Doris Duke, on my dedicated Doris Duke bibliography page.
Who would believe that a woman as complex, etc., as I am would have been influenced, crucially, by the music I heard on the radio as a teenager?
Yet as I’ve recently discovered, that was, and is, the case.
I’m moving swiftly toward the end of my final draft—my fourth—of my 400 page biography, titled Doris Duke, the Invention of the New Woman.
As I read over my manuscript, Doris’ list of her favorite pop tunes, made in the 1930’s, revealed that the same sentimental ballads I listened to years later streamed into her ears:
YOU GO TO MY HEAD…
I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLANS…
I WANT TO GET YOU ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA…
I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE…
And so forth. The message is always the same.
I had the advantage of also hearing the jazzier, sharper-edged songs of a later period:
SIT DOWN YOU’RE ROCKING THE BOAT
LUCK BE A LADY TONIGHT
But it was only yesterday I heard a ballad that would have startled me back then:
IF YOU DON’T SPEND EVERY NIGHT WITH MAMA YOU WON’T SPEND ANY NIGHTS WITH HER AT ALL…
So demanding, so tart?
Doris and I learned the uses of treacle and learned them well, before we were old enough to question the message, although I did notice an uncomfortable pitch when the male singer in RED SAILS intoned:
“We marry tomorrow, and she goes sailing no more…”
I was just learning to sail a catboat in Chatham harbor, not yet proficient enough to venture out into the ocean alone, but even in those dazed teenaged years, I knew when I got to that point, I wouldn’t be willing to give it up.
Doris, high-diving, surfing in Hawaii, battling the waves on a stormy day off Newport, as she had ever since childhood, might have resisted pop music’s anthem of female submission.
As I, riding my mare in the Kentucky wilds every day of the week, shoveling manure and carrying pails of water, breaking my heart to learn to ice skate in a state where it was seldom cold enough to freeze the ponds, fighting tears on the tennis court as I strove to outdo my older brother—I, too, might have resisted pop music’s anthem of female submission.
Probably, I didn’t.
Probably, Doris Duke didn’t.
Resolving the conflict between her growth toward independence and the lessons she learned from pop music is one of the many challenges of my biography.
My deadline with Farrar, Straus and Giroux is in June; my manuscript will be finished long before then. I don’t know yet when the biography will be published.