Tales of Rock -10 Most Notorious Hell-Raiser Rock Bands

Rock ‘n’ roll, as a rule, is not built for the faint of heart. You can be a sensitive soul with a message to get across in your emotionally wrought lyrics, sure, but if you’re looking to live that life, you’ve got to be prepared for a little rough and tumble.

The travel, the expectations, the screaming fans – it can become pretty grueling. And in such circumstances, it’s no surprise that some – most – rockers decide to kick back and party.

There’s indulging in a little carefree leisure time, though – and then there are the extremes to which some of rock’s most legendary hell-raisers take things. The music industry is filled with tales of excess and wild behavior, some of them funny, some of them impressive, some of them downright sinister.

The age of the degenerate, uncontrollable, pure id rockstar seems to be fading away – which may be for the best, given some of the legacies left behind – but with a century of hard-hitting, fast-living cowboys behind us, there’ll always be the stories to revel in, to be wowed by, and often appalled by.

10. Happy Mondays

Few bands have caused so much chaos with such good nature as the Happy Mondays. As part of the Madchester scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s, hedonism was naturally on the cards, and the band embraced the chemicals as much as any raver. And then, they took things that little bit further.

The Mondays’ drug habit was such that they would burn through their record label’s money at an astonishing pace, a lifestyle which has led to several members of the band declaring bankruptcy post-heyday. The uber-mellow ecstasy scene of the band’s early period led to some great psychedelic throwback records.

Things got sinister when the hard stuff set in during the early ‘90s. In an attempt to wean the band off heroin, the 1992 album Yes Please was recorded in Barbados, where Shaun Ryder successfully kicked his habit by transitioning onto crack. The sheer excess of this excursion led to the ruination of Factory Records.

Hearteningly, the majority of the Mondays seem to have come out the other side, and while one might argue that the modern mannerisms of Ryder and Bez show remnants of former drug use, the fact that they’re still in one piece, and still intermittently performing, is impressive indeed.

9. Guns N’ Roses

In a heartwarming postscript to the band’s ‘80s heyday, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash now seems like one of the soundest musicians in rock. Always good for a quip and still clearly in love with what he does, he has, it seems, escaped a grubby scene unscathed.

Things seemed like they could go the other way for a long while. In the 1980s, as well as a brief stint as the biggest band in the world, few acts could have been consuming more booze and gear than Axl and the boys.

Slash took things the furthest when he briefly died in the early ‘90s after overdosing on speedballs. Resuscitated after eight minutes, it was the wake-up call he needed – a scant 15 years later, he got himself clean. Bassist Duff McKagan, meanwhile, managed to drink enough that his pancreas was swollen to the size of a football by age 30.

Most worrying, though, was the behavior of frontman Axl Rose. While less famous for his substance abuse, the man was a ticking time bomb for much of his career, challenging the entirety of Nirvana to a fight, ruining gigs with his timekeeping and temper, and hiring and firing band members at will.

8. Led Zeppelin

The band that wrote the rule book for rule-breaking rock bands, Led Zeppelin had seen it all and done it all before most notable bands had picked up a guitar or a needle. Some of their exploits are classic tales of wild rockers; others are downright sinister and indecent. One thing’s for sure, though: few if any have cleared the bar that Zeppelin set over 50 years ago.

There are particularly famous anecdotes (the mud shark incident, which doesn’t bear repeating, for one), but the band was just excess personified full stop. The hotel room trashing, hard-partying, the fast-living group was given its template by the success of Zeppelin, who only got more successful the faster they lived.

They all had their own vices – John Bonham, booze and fast cars; Robert Plant, ladies and eventually heroin; Jimmy Page, black magick and questionable romantic pursuits (to say the least). They flaunted their chaotic lives while putting out eight good to great albums in 10 years, which isn’t bad going.

They’ll forever be one of the most influential bands ever, but it’s debatable which part of their legacy is more important: the sound, or the decadence.

7. The Beach Boys

The clean-cut California surf enthusiasts may not strike you as the hardest partying outfit, but between the precise harmonies and musical innovation was a shockingly dark side, particularly in its most talented and most charismatic members, Brian and Dennis Wilson.

Brian, the epitome of tortured genius, raised hell primarily in his own mind. With the weight of the group on his shoulders and feeling in direct competition with the Beatles, he pushed himself into increasingly ambitious works through unconventional means, turning his mansion into a recording studio and filling it with sand.

His drug usage made him a hermit for a while, but that streak of self-destruction was more explosive in younger brother Dennis, who embraced the fast living sixties more than most. A major star before his 20s, there was no way he wasn’t going to embrace the lifestyle afforded to him by his group’s success.

So free-spirited was Dennis that he allowed the Manson family, pre-murders, to crash with him for a long while, an association he regretted to his premature death. It doesn’t get much more literally hell-raising than that.

6. Butthole Surfers

The legendary Texas band thrived on pure chaos. Their records are brash and irreverent, at times impenetrable, others brilliant. Their live shows were known and loved for their visceral, unpredictable nature (which later became pretty predictable, with audiences showing up specifically to become embroiled in the chaos).

The band built their own mythology, telling anyone who would listen of their daily routine – LSD-laced cornflakes, whisky, and gin being the regular diet for a six-month-long European tour – but they were no idle talkers. For those caught up in their drift, they were a frightening proposition, with concerts turning into orgies, brawls, or both.

The band’s music has been influential for heavy hitters like Kurt Cobain, but few since have been able to capture the sheer weirdness of the Surfers, who have burned enough bridges to sabotage a dozen careers, but always seem to come bouncing back,

Now well into middle age, the band’s core members have barely changed at all, still more than willing to catch a ban from various prestige festivals through sheer belligerence. Somehow, though, they always seem to bounce back.

5. Aerosmith

You don’t get a nickname like “The Toxic Twins” without putting in some serious mileage. From the late ‘70s to the tail end of the ‘80s, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Stephen Tyler were unstoppably indulgent. Given their status in the scene at the time, they’ve partied to extremes few could afford to top.

Perry, for example, hired a roadie whose sole responsibility was to sort him out with a bump of powder during a performance. Aerosmith had no time for admin – they had the money to ensure that they were fully topped up at all times; they had only to enjoy the spoils of war.

Burnout was inevitable, of course, and the rampant self-destruction led to infighting and a downturn in quality. Gigs were ended prematurely by Tyler, too blasted to notice they’d only just started playing. In due course, the band decided they had too good a thing going to let substances get in the way – they entered rehab and came out an entirely different proposition.

Aerosmith is now the power ballad band, rather than a group of raucous rockers. And while their bank balance and their health have taken a step in the right direction, the danger and the riffs are long gone.

4. The Sex Pistols

It’s no secret that the Sex Pistols, far from the new voice of gritty British discontent, were essentially a manufactured act. While they may have been the image-centric brainchild of Malcolm McClaren, though, they used their status as the country’s most dangerous group to live faster and harder than any other boyband you’d care to mention.

The Pistols were pure combat and codified much of what we now associate with punk: the antagonism, the spitting. Their gigs could turn into brawls, especially when they took the act to the USA, where crowds could be riled into launching glasses at the group, who lapped up the hatred like milk.

Chief among the miscreants was bassist Sid Vicious, hired for his look and attitude rather than his musical skills. While he didn’t contribute much musically, the band’s mythology resolved majorly around him. He attacked journalists, leaped with both feet into the heroin scene, and overdosed not long after (allegedly) murdering his girlfriend – a charming character all around.

They took on the monarchy and won (sort of), and brought unpalatable music and lifestyles to the mainstream. They may have been performatively outrageous (see: the Bill Grundy show), but few acts have made as much of a scene with so little time.

3. Robert Johnson
Wikipedia

Among the most mysterious figures in the history of rock, the famous Robert Johnson story purports that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his legendary guitar prowess. One of the masters of the Delta Blues, Johnson’s relatively small back catalog means it is his wild and mysterious life that is now better remembered than the music itself.

Johnson spent much of his brief time wandering the earth (or, more specifically, America), peddling his blues and enjoying the fringe benefits afforded to a musician of his caliber. He would form relationships in every town, staying with various women who knew nothing of one another’s existence.

Johnson’s (possibly apocryphal) demise only serves to add to his legend: it is said that the notorious womanizer was poisoned – by a jilted lover, a jealous husband, or a rival, no one can be sure. Historians suggest he may have died of boring old syphilis – which, given his lifestyle, seems believable.

Whether or not he bartered with Satan, Johnson was one of 20th-century music’s first great wildmen, in a time when you could simply split town once you’d pushed your luck too far.

2. Mötley Crüe

Quite bad Mötley Crüe’s film The Dirt shows the group being out-extremed by Ozzy Osbourne, who cheerfully laps up urine and snorts a line of ants to wow the Californian rockers. While that anecdote sees Ozzy come out on top, though, there can be few acts for whom partying took such precedence as the Crüe,

The lifestyle suited the quartet, who embraced every faucet of rock stardom from the off. More groupies, more drugs, more booze. The band’s increased status directly correlated with the scale of their partying. They behaved like monsters for a good decade and got away with it because they were so popular.

Perhaps the most metal moment of their careers came when Nikki Sixx wrote the song “Kickstart My Heart” based on an overdose which led to his heart genuinely being restarted with adrenaline, allowing the Crüe bassist to join Slash in the “has been dead for a bit” club.

In one of the easiest gigs in journalism, author Neil Strauss got a book published simply by writing down all the grotty stuff Mötley Crüe got up to in the ‘80s, and it remains a classic of the genre – basically the Bible for bands whose ambition is to live the rock star cliche.

1. GG Allin & The Murder Junkies

You know you’ve sealed your credentials as a hell-raiser when you’re far, far more famous for being an undeniably disgusting human being than you are a musician. You know you’re not in for a gentle night of cheery tunes when you go see a band called “The Murder Junkies”, but audiences had never seen anything like GG Allin.

Allin would appear on stage, undress, and swiftly soil himself – and that was for starters. Fights with audience members were routine, and if a Murder Junkies gig ended without the frontman filthy, bloodied, and in the bad books of the venue owner, then you’d caught him on an off night.

The music was secondary to the performance, but in his lyrics Allin was ever incendiary, cheerfully throwing in racism and misogyny, ostensibly to provoke controversy and debate, rather than out of any real hatred. Naturally, you’ll find few backers for his discography these days.

Allin died predictably young, and he went out as he would have wanted – with his unpreserved, bloated corpse taking pride of place at a funeral-cum-party, during which his friends got loaded and posed with the carcass. There’ll never be another GG Allin, and that’s probably for the best.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Tales of Rock – SPECIAL REPORT – Phil Spector Dead at 81

Legendary music producer Phil Spector — who was convicted in 2009 of murdering actress Lana Clarkson — died Saturday at age 81. His death was announced Sunday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which said that he had died of natural causes. His official cause of death is yet to be determined.

Spector produced some of the greatest recordings of the 20th century, working with Stevie WonderThe Beach BoysThe Beatles and many others.

Back in 2009, NPR reported about Spector’s murder conviction for shooting an actress named Lana Clarkson. Spector had vanished from the music industry for decades and had not completed an album since the 1970s.

Shortly before the shooting that led to Phil Spector’s arrest, journalist Mick Brown taped the reclusive producer’s first interview in years.

“Almost as soon as I sat down with Phil Spector, he started to talk about his mental state,” Brown told NPR in 2007.

“I have devils inside that fight me,” Spector told Brown. “And I am my own worst enemy. And for all intents and purposes, I’d say I’m probably relatively insane.”

Insanity and insecurity haunted Phil Spector’s entire life. Spector’s older sister had to be institutionalized, and his father died by suicide when the boy was nine years old. The traumatized family moved from New York to Los Angeles. Spector’s first hit song, at age 18, was inspired by the inscription on his father’s grave: “To know him is to love him.”

Spector sang in the background of that song, harmonizing with The Teddy Bears. His perfect pitch and knack for a melody soon made Spector an A-list producer. He was only 21 when he co-founded his label.

“Every Phil Spector session was a party,” session drummer Hal Blaine recalled in an interview with WHYY’s Fresh Air in 2001. “He used to be in the booth and he’d run back and forth, like he was conducting a symphony, and use certain symphonic movements, the way a conductor would do. Certain times he would look at me and he would say, ‘Now’ — which meant, ‘Go for it.’ ”

Spector’s trademark “wall of sound” propels “Be My Baby,” the hit song performed by The Ronettes. The group’s lead singer, Ronnie Spector, married her producer.

She told NPR in 1990 their songs were love letters. “We always rehearsed them alone,” Ronnie Spector said, “so we had this romance between my singing and him teaching me. It was like the best feeling in the world.”

Those feelings began to be spiked by abuse. Spector wouldn’t let her wear shoes in the house for fear she would run away. He bought a glass-lidded coffin in which he threatened to display her if she left. Still, Spector produced an extraordinary string of hits, too many to name.

But the song he considered his personal masterpiece, “River Deep — Mountain High,” performed by Ike and Tina Turner never achieved the success he expected.

By the 1970s, Spector’s career was in shambles. He produced the legendary Concert For Bangladesh. But Mick Brown says his mounting obsession with guns signaled a psychic free-fall.

“He was drinking very heavily,” Brown says. “He wasn’t a man in control of himself. He’d even wear guns on the phones with record executives — in order to give himself a bit of an edge, it seemed, over the telephone.” When Phil Spector produced the 1980 Ramones album End Of The Century, he reportedly pulled a gun on the group in the studio.

Spector soon entered near-seclusion. He tried to record albums with Celine Dion and a British group called Starsailor, but ended up fighting with them. Music, it seems, was only a temporary balm for his pain.

“He had this one priceless gift, which was a musical ability,” Brown notes. “And he was able to create out of this gift these extraordinary records, these grandiloquent dreams of romance and love and escape, and fling those back into the face of the word. It was flinging them at his father, who killed himself; flinging at the kids who wouldn’t talk to him at school; flinging it at the record industry, who thought he was a madman. These records were Spector’s revenge.”

And they are his legacy.

Tales of Rock – Catherine Evelyn Smith

Catherine Evelyn Smith (born 25 April 1947 in Hamilton, Ontario) is a Canadian occasional backup singer, rock groupie, drug dealer, and legal secretary, who served 15 months in the California state prison system for injecting original Saturday Night Live cast member John Belushi with a fatal dose of heroin and cocaine in 1982.

Smith had been paid for a front-page headline story in the Hollywood tabloid the National Enquirer, where she stated she was the person who injected Belushi with a fatal drug overdose. Smith co-wrote the book Chasing the Dragon (1984) which told her life story; its title alludes to Smith’s heroin addiction. Smith appeared prominently in the Bob Woodward book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi (1984) and was played by Patti D’Arbanville in the 1989 film adaptation.

Smith became notorious in the Belushi case, but her association with celebrities went back at least 20 years prior to her confession in the National Enquirer. Her earliest acquaintance was with Levon Helm, who later joined the Band, in 1963.  In his autobiography, Helm recalls that Smith first met him in Hamilton, Ontario. Helm, with a friend and bandmate Rick Danko, was in a band called the Hawks at the time (see Ronnie Hawkins). At one point, the musicians were in Toronto facing a drug bust.

Smith has been connected to the Band’s famous song, “The Weight” (1968). Smith says in Rock and Roll Toronto: From Alanis to Zeppelin (1997), that Richard Manuel offered to marry her, but she refused. Nevertheless, she continued to tour and party with Helm, Danko, and Manuel through the 1960s, and at one point became pregnant with a child known as “the band baby,” as its paternity was unclear.  She later had an affair with Gordon Lightfoot. After the affair ended, Smith returned to Helm and the circle whose members made up The Band.

Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot), 1974 | Helytimes

Smith became an employee and then mistress of Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in the early to mid-1970s.

The Smith-Lightfoot affair was volatile and illustrated in the lyrics of “Sundown” (1974), Lightfoot’s No. 1 hit and most lucrative song. It reflects the dark feelings Lightfoot was experiencing at the time, with lyrics such as: “Sometimes I think it’s a shame / When I get feeling better when I’m feeling no pain.” Drinking too much and married to another woman, he on one occasion broke Smith’s cheekbone in a fight. Lightfoot has stated of his three-year relationship with Smith, “I was sometimes crazy with jealousy”.

Bluegrass musicians Bruce and Brian Good, The Good Brothers, who were one of Lightfoot’s opening acts during that time, got fired by Lightfoot for “flirting” with Smith.  Smith was cited in Lightfoot’s divorce papers, and shortly after his affair with Smith ended, Lightfoot was a party to the most expensive divorce settlement in Canadian history to that date.

In a 1975 interview, Lightfoot expanded upon “Sundown” and hinted at the worry he experienced in his relationship with Smith:

All it is, is a thought about a situation where someone is wondering what his loved one is doing at the moment. He doesn’t quite know where she is. He’s not ready to give up on her, either, and that’s about all I got to say about that.[15]

Lightfoot gave another insight into his relationship with Smith in a 2000 interview when he remarked upon “Sundown” being:

[A] back-alley kind of tune. It’s based on infidelity – I’ve seen both sides of that.

In 2008, Lightfoot gave an interview confirming that “Sundown” was written with his then-girlfriend in mind:

I think my girlfriend was out with her friends one night at a bar while I was at home writing songs. I thought, ‘I wonder what she’s doing with her friends at that bar!’ It’s that kind of a feeling. ‘Where is my true love tonight? What is my true love doing?’

In 2014, Lightfoot added further insight into his writing of “Sundown”:

Well, I had this girlfriend one time, and I was at home working, at my desk, working at my songwriting which I had been doing all week since I was on a roll, and my girlfriend was somewhere drinking, drinking somewhere. So I was hoping that no one else would get their hands on her, because she was pretty good lookin’! And that’s how I wrote the song ‘Sundown,’ and as a matter of fact, it was written just around sundown, just as the sun was setting, behind the farm I had rented to use as a place to write the album.

After Lightfoot and the Band, around 1976, Smith became a backup singer for Hoyt Axton, who was struggling with cocaine addiction at the time. She sang on his song “Fearless” (1976) and co-wrote “Flash of Fire” (1976) with Axton.

Cathy Smith, who admitted to killing John Belushi, was a woman of mystery - The Globe and Mail

Smith began using heroin in the late 1970s. In Bob Woodward’s book Wired, she appears as a drug dealer to Rolling Stones band members Ron Wood and Keith Richards during their touring and rehearsals as The New Barbarians. She moved to Los Angeles and, as her addiction increased, she became a full-time drug dealer and courier to Wood, Richards, and others in the entertainment world. Smith first met comedian John Belushi on the set of Saturday Night Live in 1976, when the Band was the musical guest.

She later met Belushi again through Wood and Richards, when Belushi contacted her to purchase the drugs that eventually killed him. Smith alleges that she injected Belushi with 11 speedballs (a combination of cocaine and heroin) at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, California in 1982 and that this injection led to his death. According to Woodward, Robin Williams was on the scene at the time and was “creeped out” by Smith, whom he deemed a “lowlife.” Belushi had been battling cocaine addiction for years and combining it with occasional heroin use.

Released after initial questioning on the morning of Belushi’s death, Smith spoke briefly to freelance writer Chris Van Ness. Then, two National Enquirer reporters, Tony Brenna and Larry Haley spoke with her and published their lengthy in-person interviews with her under the headline: “I killed John Belushi. I didn’t mean to, but I am responsible.” Her revelation led to the charge against Smith in Belushi’s murder and 13 counts of administering cocaine and heroin. The National Enquirer reporters refused to testify at the subsequent trial and were threatened with incarceration by Judge Brian Crahan; however, he later vacated the contempt order.

After the police released her on March 5, Smith went to St. Louis on the advice of her lawyer, Robert Sheahen, to avoid reporters. Discovered there, she flew back to Los Angeles. Then she traveled to New York and eventually returned to Toronto. Smith ultimately returned to the United States in June 1986, where she accepted a plea bargain by pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and several drug charges. She served 15 months in prison at California Institution for Women between December 1986 and March 1988. She was deported to Canada after her release and moved to Toronto, where she worked as a legal secretary and spoke to teenagers about the dangers of drugs.

Smith was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia in July 1991 with two grams of heroin in her purse, for which she received a fine of CDN$2000 and 12 months’ probation. She appeared in the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Belushi’s death which first aired in 1998. Smith currently resides in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Listen to Phicklephilly LIVE on Spotify!

Tales of Rock: Pete Townshend Says Child Pornography Arrest Saved His Life

The Who guitarist Pete Townshend says his arrest on child pornography charges was the best thing that ever happened to him, as it led him to discover he had cancer.

In 2003, Townshend was arrested for using his credit card to access a website offering child pornography, although no images were downloaded.

Townshend was given a warning and put on the Sex Offenders Register for five years. Townshend had claimed that he was only trying to prove banks were complicit with the child porn industry.

“Just for the record, my arrest was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. It probably saved my life,” Townshend said during an interview with The Mail.

Townshend said he had kept putting off being checked for bowel cancer after his father died from the hereditary disease.

“I had a cancerous polyp in my bowel,” he says. “While I was waiting for the police to go through my computers, I decided to have that long-postponed colonoscopy. The doctor showed me the polyp. He said, ‘This would have killed you in six months.’ So it sort of saved my life.”

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Listen to Phicklephilly LIVE on Spotify!

Kamala Harris Breaks Glass Ceiling as First Female Vice President, First Woman VP of Color

The vice presidential glass ceiling has been broken.

California Sen. Kamala Harris will make history as the first woman elected vice president, now that Joe Biden won enough states to capture the White House.

Biden beat Donald Trump four years after Hillary Clinton came up short in her bid to be the first female president.

Harris, 56, was the first African American woman and the first Asian American person on a major party’s presidential ticket.

Joe Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., raise their arms up as fireworks go off on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del. Looking on are Jill Biden and Harris' husband Doug Emhoff.

Her husband, entertainment lawyer Doug Emhoff, will be the first “Second Gentleman.”

Harris has said she expects to work closely with Biden, offering him a perspective shaped by a different background.

“It is about a partnership that also is informed by one of the reasons I think Joe asked me to join him, which is that he and I have – we have the same ideals and values but we have very different life experiences,” Harris said during her final fundraiser for the campaign.

President Barack Obama has called her an “ideal partner” for Biden who is more than prepared for the job as “someone who knows what it’s like to overcome barriers.”

Only the second Black woman to be elected to the Senate, Harris was the first Black woman to be elected district attorney in San Francisco and attorney general of California.

Biden had faced tremendous pressure to choose a woman of color as his running mate because of the large role African Americans – and particularly Black women – have played in the Democratic Party and because of the racial issues thrust into the foreground by the coronavirus pandemic and the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police.

“There is no vaccine for racism,” Harris said during her vice presidential acceptance speech. “We’ve got to do the work for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor and for the lives of too many others to name.”

Announcing his choice, Biden called the former prosecutor a “fearless fighter for the little guy, one of the country’s finest public servants.”

Only two ran before her

Harris was only the third female vice presidential nominee of a major party ticket.

Her debate with Vice President Mike Pence was the second-most watched vice presidential debate, after the 2008 matchup between Biden and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was running mate to Republican nominee John McCain.

Harris’ response when Pence tried to cut in on her time, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking – I’m speaking,” sparked a meme. T-shirts, face masks and other products emblazoned with those words were quickly available for sale on the internet.

Biden’s age contributed to the public’s interest in Harris, as his 77 years increase the chance that he might not serve a full term or seek re-election.

Republicans sought to characterize Harris as member of the “radical left” who would control the more centrist Biden.

Voters had a divided opinion of Harris, with 46% “very” or “somewhat” favorable and 47% “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable, according to a VoteCast survey of 110,405 voters by The Associated Press. The difference was as polarized as the rest of the election. Those viewing her favorably almost entirely – 93% – supported Biden, while 87% of those viewing her unfavorably supported Trump, according to the survey.

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks on stage.

Breaking barriers of race and gender

Biden’s selection of Harris gave the campaign a big fundraising boost. Backers sent more than $34 million immediately after Biden announced his pick, and she headlined numerous fundraisers throughout the fall. Members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which Harris belongs to, began donating $19.08. The sorority, the oldest Greek-letter organization established by Black college-educated women, was founded in 1908 at Howard University, her alma mater.

Harris was often dispatched to energize voters of color, particularly Black Americans. The first candidate on a major party ticket to have attended a historically Black university, Harris campaigned at HBCUs, barbershops and other places of significance for communities of color. For many virtual campaign events, Harris broadcast out of a studio set up at Howard University.

“I say it’s about time a graduate from a state university and a HBCU graduate are in the White House,” Biden said of himself and Harris at a drive-in rally in Atlanta.

Who is Doug Emhoff?

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and her husband Doug Emhoff take the stage during a drive-in get out the vote rally, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Philadelphia.

Emhoff was also a regular presence on the campaign trail and formed a bond with Jill Biden, who preceded him as the spouse of a vice president.

Emhoff, who will be the first Jewish American in the vice presidential residence, was a regular Biden surrogate for campaign events targeted to Jewish supporters. He was also “sent all the time to probably the hardest spots,” Biden senior strategic adviser Greg Schultz said during an October campaign event.

Emhoff has been offered lots of advice on how to tackle his new role.

“Everyone’s got an opinion on this, which is nice to hear,” Emhoff said during the campaign. “Which means people are actually excited about the prospect of someone like me in this role – and I get that.”

He hopes to tap his legal background and focus on justice-related issues, particularly “access to justice.”

Emhoff still has the voicemail of a congratulatory call from Biden after Harris and Emhoff got engaged in March 2014.

It was Harris’ first marriage and Emhoff’s second. His son and daughter – named Cole and Ella after jazz legends Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald – came up with their own name for their stepmother: Mamala.

“To my brother and me, you’ll always be ‘Mamala,’ the world’s greatest stepmom,” Ella said in a video montage introducing Harris before her convention speech. “You’re a rock, not just for our dad, but for three generations of our big, blended family.”

During an appearance on Hillary Clinton’s podcast, Harris described how she had been teaching Emhoff how to cook after the pandemic confined them to their Washington, D.C., apartment.

Harris’ own passion for cooking was often a topic on the campaign trail. She has described it as “one of my joys” and recirculated a video of herself making masala dosa with actress and writer Mindy Kaling last year.

She told Clinton that one of Emhoff’s own culinary attempts went awry, setting off a fire alarm. Harris had to wave her briefing book back and forth to clear the air. The couple subsequently agreed that Emhoff should stick to three dishes he knows how to cook – “and we don’t need to experiment with anything else,” Harris said.

Kamala Harris, left, with her sister, Maya, and mother, Shyamala, in January 1970, in Berkeley, California.

Presidential ambitions

Harris had competed against Biden for the Democratic nomination but ended her bid before the first primary votes were cast.

She struggled to place herself in an ideological camp, particularly on how far she would go to enact Medicare for All. She also faced criticism from some on the left for her prosecutorial record.

One of her campaign’s biggest moments came during a debate when she challenged Biden over his remarks about working with segregationist senators. She described herself as part of the second class to integrate her school as a child after mandatory school busing, which forced Biden to apologize for his earlier comments.

Although Biden didn’t hold a grudge, Trump immediately called Harris a “phony” after her selection. He frequently made fun of her first name – which is Sanskrit for lotus – and hurled insults at her from his campaign rallies, included calling her a monster.

Women’s groups spent millions on ads to “push back on disinformation and racist, sexist attacks” on Harris and show her in a positive light.

“She has taken on some of the toughest fights…and she’s done it all with a sense of style,” said the narrator in an ad called “Chucks” that included footage of Harris wearing her signature shoe choice and a young girl dancing in Chuck Taylors. “Someday soon, anyone will be able to see themselves as president.”

Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris on the campaign trail in Milwaukee.

Daughter of immigrants

Harris was born in Oakland, California, to Shyamala Gopalan, a breast-cancer scientist who emigrated from India, and Donald Harris, a professor of economics who emigrated from Jamaica.

Her first job was cleaning laboratory pipettes for her mother.

“She fired me. I was awful,” Harris said.

Gopalan would also tell Harris and her sister, “Don’t sit around and complain about things, do something.”

Harris frequently mentions the “stroller’s-eye view” she had of the civil rights movement, as her parents marched for social justice – a central part of family discussions.

She wrote in her memoir that she was inspired to become a prosecutor in part because of the prosecutors who went after the Ku Klux Klan and because of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who sent Justice Department officials to protect the Freedom Riders in 1961.

But she had to defend to friends and family her decision to try to change from the inside, rather than the outside, a justice system they saw as too often offering injustice.

Democratic U.S. Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during an early voting mobilization event at the Central Florida Fairgrounds on October 19, 2020 in Orlando.

Prior record

Harris likes to tout a program she championed as district attorney to direct young people arrested for drug crimes into training and counseling programs instead of jail.

As California’s attorney general, she pushed for a tough settlement from five major banks accused of foreclosure abuse. One fellow attorney general who joined the fight was Delaware’s Beau Biden, the former vice president’s oldest son. The two developed a friendship before Beau Biden’s 2015 death from brain cancer.

After Harris joined the Senate in 2017, she put her prosecutorial skills to work grilling witnesses such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Attorney General William Barr and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“I thought she was the meanest, the most horrible, the most disrespectful of anybody in the U.S. Senate,” Trump said of Harris’ questioning of Kavanaugh.

Breaking barriers means breaking things

When Harris found herself competing for the Democratic presidential nomination with three of her female colleagues, the rivals enjoyed lighter moments on the campaign trail laughing with each other and comparing notes on the still-rare experience of being a woman running for president.

“We have spent a lot of time together, sharing looks at each other across a room when statements are being made,” giving each other a “knowing look” like “Yeah, that just happened,” Harris said during a fundraiser that included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Klobuchar recounted how, during one debate, the women had banded together to demand the technicians raise the temperature in the freezing studio.

“I mean, like you couldn’t feel your feet,” Klobuchar said. “And on the break, we’re sitting there huddled together … and we said to the technician from NBC: `You know what? Women do worse when it’s so cold. This isn’t fair. You have got to turn this up, right now.’ And so they turned up the heat, as we did.”

Harris said that women who go first know the sacrifices they’ve made and hope to make it easier for women to come up after.

Breaking barriers, she said, involves breaking things.

“And when you break things, you might get cut. You might bleed. It will be painful,” she said more than once. “It will be worth it, every single time.”

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Listen to Phicklephilly LIVE on Spotify!