Blazing Up in Santa Ynez

If you had asked her in her teens how she might spend the later years of her life, she never would have replied, “Blazing up.” Getting high. Toking that mary-juana. But such was the fate of a woman whose body had been riddled with cancer. Let alone a woman who lived in the Santa Barbara nexus, where it was all hippie-dippy mamas and chill vibes, man. That is, once you cut away past all the pretense of affluence. And, of course, having been born in Cambridge, it was inevitable that “Livvy,” as her friends called her, should end up seeking an environment that was the exact antithesis of where she had originally come from. 

The Santa Ynez Valley was known for many things, not least among them housing celebrity clientele. It started with being a “safe haven” from New York for Edie Sedgwick and then somehow became a sanctuary for Michael Jackson via his “Neverland” Ranch. Livvy never encountered him though. He had been long dead by the time she finally decided to abandon the sequestered hills of Malibu in favor of the sequestered hills of Santa Ynez. Which were, conveniently, still close enough to L.A. if she ever “needed” to go there for some kind of important business meeting “in a pinch.” Not that she was exactly in demand anymore. Those days had long ago disappeared despite her best attempts to remain as much as possible in the limelight without also drawing suspicion from the masses about how much plastic surgery she had “engaged with.” 

Livvy, with all the grace and aplomb she could muster, would assure them that she simply “took care of herself.” Exercised regularly and maintained a well-regimented diet (she even released a series of “healthy living” cookbooks to attempt to prove as much). She knew no one really believed her, but, at the same time, people wanted to believe that pop stars were somehow divine beings who could outrun time. Maybe even live forever. Livvy wanted to believe it too, she honestly did. That’s part of why she never informed the public of her second bout with breast cancer twenty-one years after she had first made it known and became one of the few celebrities that could lend such a visible spotlight to the cause. 

This second war with her body—the war she kept quiet about—was the one that really sent her running into the arms of Mary Jane as she had never done before. This was in 2013, just a couple of years before buying all that acreage in Santa Ynez. In fact, it could be argued that the cancer metastasizing again was what made her take the plunge on purchasing the property. Not only because, with yet another reminder of her mortality, she was starting to give less and less of a fuck about conserving money, but because she wanted somewhere she could spend her days in total silence. Real, genuine silence. Despite its charms, Malibu didn’t provide that, for she knew that L.A. and its various “industry ills” lie just a stone’s throw away. But within the compound structure of her Santa Ynez ranch, she could get blunted in blissful, uninterrupted peace. And it was all provided by her loving husband, who actually ran an “herb” company. Or at least, it had started that way before branching out into herb-in-quotes territory. After all, this was California in the twenty-first century—no “herb empire” could thrive entirely on herbs alone. So J, as she liked to call him (as an homage to the first letter of his name and the nickname for joints), took her advice when she told him to invest in cultivating the weed side of things. 

And oh, how it had paid off for her in the long-run. Maybe some piece of her could always detect that she was destined to die this way. In a manner that required smoking oneself silly in order to cope with the pain. Not to mention the fear of death that would constantly creep in at the most unexpected moments. Livvy could only quell the resentment she felt toward “God” or whoever when she took prolonged, luxuriant inhalations of her “medicine.” She supposed she resented “Him” because she felt she had done quite a lot for humanity, not least of which was giving them her music and visuals. Even to this day, she was among the few pop stars who could actually be counted as an “aesthete.” And maybe that was partially a result of being a “product of her time,” but still. It counted for something. Increasingly so in a world that was devoid of true and pure aesthetic joy. 

Livvy began to muse out loud about this very travesty to J as he walked in and abruptly ripped her from her comfortable position on the couch. “That’s enough! Have you forgotten about tonight?”

Come to think of it, she must have…. for she had absolutely no idea what J could possibly be referring to. Turns out it was some gala she had agreed to give a speech at. A benefit in support of the very cancer she was, at that very moment, fighting. A cancer “near and dear” to her heart, or rather, breast. She grimaced at the thought of having to speak about it yet again tonight. It was the last thing she desired to discuss in her present state. She would have preferred to talk about quantum mechanics—the very specialty for which her grandfather had received a Nobel Prize. Livvy laughed to herself thinking about that. About how her grandfather was a physicist and she was a pop star. It seemed utterly incongruous. J couldn’t have understood it even if she tried to explain why she was cackling so uncontrollably just then. Somehow, after she allowed him to shower her and “sober” her with some coffee, she was able to “perform” for the gala attendees. Because that’s what she was: a performer. And as such, she was expected to always come through for her public. 

This time around though, she would not be able to “get it together.” Maybe the “healing powers” of the plant had run out. Had been “overused” on her fragile, cancer-ridden body. Somehow, things had not improved since she began blazing up. No, they had only deteriorated. Even if the pain had been mitigated ever so slightly. Long enough to help her force herself to make the occasional appearance. In some sense, she could say she had gotten what she wanted out of her “twilight years.” The peace and tranquility she couldn’t really “feel” because it came at the cost of the numbness she needed to experience in order to simply survive. Yet her body had made the determined announcement that it was no longer enough to do “only” that: survive. Especially considering how much they had done together before, in an alternate universe called her “heyday.” Maybe she’d arrive there again, ferried by one last magical blunt that she could actually ride on to ferry her into the Great Beyond. A kind of Xanadu that she had already created on this very Santa Ynez ranch. A ranch that was perhaps too “earthly” now to house someone who had become so divine to her followers.

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