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Dandelion: Memoir of a Free Spirit Hardcover – October 2, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like Pamela Des Barres (I'm with the Band), James was a California It Girl and very young groupie of the early rock-and-rollers, and in this candid, workmanlike autobiography, she shares her accidental fame. James was the product of beautiful, well-connected Beverly Hills parents who divorced: the father became a transvestite, coming out to James when she was a young adult at Musso & Frank's in Hollywood, as depicted in a wild opening chapter; the mother, Diana, went through a succession of husbands and eventually relinquished caretaking of her daughter to the state. Having dated Bob Dylan by age 13, James ran away from the Visa Del Mar orphanage to New York and hung out at Andy Warhol's Factory. She met Denny Laine of the Moody Blues, who became an abusive husband and father of her child while she was still in her teens. She shopped on Kings Road in Chelsea and partied with members of the Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones, among others. When the marriage didn't work, she took her son back to California and romanced Jackson Browne. Somehow James makes do with a little help from her friends, finding modeling work, doubling for Diane Keaton and going back to school. Ever cheery, never self-pitying, her memoir is by turns insipid and sweet. (Oct.)
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"Abused child and lover of many a rock star puts her life down on paper.James first hit the music scene in the 1960s, when the Gods of Rock still blazed paths of wanton devastation across America before retiring to their well-appointed British castles for heroin and philosophy. She came from a Southern California kind of nowhere, raised by a speed-freak mother of uncommon brutality and a mostly absent, alcoholic father who later became the world’s ugliest transsexual (we learn this in a shocking flash-forward that opens the book). Sent to an orphanage at age 12, James managed to get out one weekend and make friends with 22-year-old Bob Dylan, who was playing a gig in Santa Monica. In 1964, still only 14 years old, she lit out for Greenwich Village. Being someone who makes things happen, she remade herself into a fabulous It girl, landing a screen test with Andy Warhol and partying with rock stars. Two years later, involved in a romance with the Moody Blues’ Denny Laine, she forged papers to get a passport and joined him in London, where she bore his child. More harrowing abuse, a whirlwind romance with Mick Jagger, infatuation with Jimmy Page and plenty of Performance-like decadence followed. Her later years were calmer, as she concentrated on raising son Damian Christian and finding odd employment as a model, a movie scenery painter and a stand-in for Diane Keaton, but she still found time to fall hard for Jackson Browne. James is no prose stylist, but she cuts to the quick with an admirable economy, treating the mundane passages of her life with the same sanguinity as the ones littered with the rich and famous. There’s plenty of pain here, but little wallowing.The rare celebrity-crammed memoir that would be worth reading even without the bold-faced names."--Kirkus Reviews

"Cameos certainly hold the reader's attention, but so do the author's resourcefulness and strength of character...straightforward, conversational read."---Library Journal


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312367813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312367817
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here's a plug for someone I've never met in the form of a book review. It's a newly released autobiography called "Dandelion" by Catherine James. Her style is similar to her compatriot groupie Pamela Des Barres, but less fluttery. Its plainer style actually serves her content well, for this isn't just the tale of amusing sexual encounters among the paleontological dig-sites of the usual 60's dinosaurs, but one of real, live, actual survival.

When you see photographs of her, even now, you'll note the incontestibility that Ms. James has always been a stunner in the looks department. Her family albums of film stars and singers show this was clearly inherited as well as polished by her own self-maintenance and style. However, she was not only the product of the gorgeous genetics of a Hollywood, entertainment-enmeshed family, but also of absolutely off the charts family dysfunction, so vile that it seems part Charles Dickens and part Edgar Allen Poe, hardly something you'd associate still happening in the 20th century of her childhood.

The journey away from horribleness remains the heart of the story, no matter what era. I found a strange, personal recognition in her tale of the Mother From Hell, insofar as it showed me even if my own troublesome family had been as creative in the arts as hers, there still would have been the same friction: toxic is toxic, and unconstrained selfishness in parents is poisonous to children.

Reviewers seem to be divided on this book, some contesting that it may be lightweight in tone by someone of not overwhelming accomplishment. Others note that's it would be a fascinating read even without the name-droppy stuff.
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Format: Hardcover
Can you imagine a fictional story about a woman who marries a man who she knows is a closet transvestite, then discovers that her estranged father, who was a macho race car driver, has also turned into a closet transvestite and then into a transsexual? And how about the glamous but psychotic and perennially drugged wife of this race car driver who routinely feeds her children only rotting food laced with tabasco sauce and treats them sadistically in so many other ways, in her Beverly Hills home. Can you then imagine that the paternal aunt of this woman was a Miss American runner up and a Zeigfield girl who couldn't keep a string of husbands for more than 2 years each, and ends up making a dependent impotent alcoholic mama's boy of her son, as the only constant male in her life. An impossibly contrived plot, right? Well, once again, reality is more unbelievable than fiction, according to the author, Catherine James. This is quite a readible account of a bizarrely improbable life, with a very twisted start, but then with a series of mentors related to the pop music business, who gave her a shot at a more normal life.
I would have liked some thoughts on what might have caused her mother to be the extreme monster reported. Apparently, she had beauty as well as many talents, including being a compulsive cat burglar. But this was a wasted drugged life, in which she regularly dished out sadism and jealousy toward everyone. Was she probably just born to be such a monster, or were there events in her young life that soured her attitute toward others? Surely, Catherine could have absorbed some evidence from her grandmother. In a similar vein, perhaps she could have offered some explanation for her father's transformation from a macho race car driver into a transsexual. Nor does she offer(as I did above) a plausible explanation for her aunt Claire making a disfunctional mama's boy out of her son Blake.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a big fan of rock memoirs, and I have read quite a few. I picked up this book because I read so many positive reviews.

The good part about this book is that Catherine James definitely found herself right at the heart of the 60's music scene. She was a runaway from a very abusive home, and ran smack into some of the most famous rockers and celebrities of that era. She meets some well-known singers because her cruel step-father (who goes unnamed) was a famous folk singer, and after running away she meets others by hanging out at Los Angeles venues like the Troubadour.

Catherine meets and makes a connection with Bob Dylan, and goes on to meet and have affairs with Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Jackson Browne, and Denny Laine (with whom she had a son at age 17), among many others. She also becomes friends with such stars as Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix, and Roger Daltrey, with whom she still remains close .

It really was interesting to read about Catherine's escapades, both sexual and otherwise. She clearly had access to these celebrities, and we come away from this book thinking that she has lead quite an extraordinary life - especially having come from such a dysfunctional and malevolent family. She lived a life that bounced around between luxury and poverty, fame and anonymity.

My problem with the book is that I come away from reading this wanting to hear the other side's version of what happened. I have no doubt that the events she talks about in this book are true, it's just that I believe that she always portrays herself in the best light - as the continual faultless victim in a life filled with bullies and liars. She seems to go from Point A quickly to Point B, without self-awareness or real description of "why".
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