I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU
an excerpt from “It’s in His Kiss” by Vickie Lester
Dawn White turned seventeen in August of 1966. It was a propitious year. Instead of driving her VW Bug from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada to Montreal and matriculating at McGill University, as she ought, she continued to drive until she crossed the border at Michigan, and she kept on driving straight SW until she reached Los Angeles.
She wanted to sing. She had aptitude. She had ambition. She had studied piano and voice since she was eight. When she was fourteen she picked up the guitar. A few years later Dusty Springfield and Judy Collins had become her idols.
Dawn crashed at her aunt’s on Primrose Avenue in Hollywood and from the guest room she could see Capitol Records. Of course, her aunt immediately called her parents to alert them that their runaway daughter had been located. Threats and scenes and the arrival of her baffled mother did nothing to dissuade Dawn from pursuing her dream. Her mother returned to Canada after extracting promises from Aunt Patty that entailed curfews and immediate enrollment at a junior college on Vermont. No promises were kept. Dawn lied about her age and sweet-talked her way into the Whiskey, and just about every other club on the Sunset Strip, and habitually stayed until the wee hours of the morning. She only visited the college campus on Vermont to buy pot.
Eventually, Dawn got her first break; she performed at an open mike night to a buzzing, very likely buzzed, industry packed audience, they were mesmerized by the clarity and roundness of her tone, her three-octave range, and—not least—her beauty. She was soon hired as a backing vocalist at Atlantic and Capitol and A&M and Nonesuch. She congratulated herself; she had gone from schoolgirl to the epicenter of a happening in the span of six weeks.
The artists she backed were at a pinnacle that she never expected to achieve. She watched, revered, and assimilated. Studio engineers and record producers were all men, all on the make, and to her young eyes—all of them closely resembled trolls. All had the same avaricious expression; all had the same unkempt, hunched air. She evaded them as much as possible.
One afternoon, while laying down a background track with three other girls for a bluesy folk singer, Dawn caught sight of a singularly different kind of man in the booth. He was heart-poundingly handsome, looked around twenty-three, twenty-four, and was over six feet tall. He stood straight-backed and sophisticated. His eyes were a clear, deep blue, and his hair was tousled and golden blonde. He was smiling, beautifully. Smiling at her. He put on a headset and spoke. He was a record producer. He was British and the deep timbre of his voice brought just the tiniest smile to her lips and a warm glow that traveled from her toes to the top of her head.
After the session they shared a joint in the parking lot and drove together to the grocery store where they admired the heaping ruby, emerald, topaz, and amethyst displays of California produce unknown in their native countries. After their goggle-eyed admiration of fruits and vegetables, they discovered they were hungry and went back to Cole’s apartment five hundred feet above Sunset and grilled steaks and tossed an enormous salad. It was the most succulent meal they’d ever consumed. Whatever Dawn eventually came to think of casual drug use, she had to admit marijuana did marvelous things for the appetite.
Cole was reduced to a fit of giggles by Dawn insinuating herself into his lap while singing a sweet whisper of a song and then cooing suggestively in his ear like a sexy dove. It was at that moment, with a silken cascade of Breck-scented hair tumbling against his chest and her feather-soft lips fluttering against his skin, he realized with eruptive, mind-altering clarity that he wanted two things— he’d only ever wanted—needed—two things. He wanted to fuck, to make love to Dawn, and he wanted to bring her voice to the world. He discovered her, he possessed her, and Dawn, still a teenager, thought that was just super.
She began headlining at clubs where previously she had to beg the bouncers to let her in. Within twelve months of meeting Cole she had recorded her first solo album. She went on tour; Cole went with her; he hadn’t left her side since the day they met. Her family worried about visas. Cole worried about how to invest the money she made and decided to start their own label. But first, he decided they should marry.
On a bluff in Malibu, each crowned with daisies they exchanged vows. Her parents heaved sighs of relief. Their daughter was married to a naturalized citizen and many in their generation had married equally young. Besides, Cole seemed a solid sort and had bought, for their first home, what her father called, “a banker’s Tudor” in the wealthy suburb of Beverly Hills.
Dawn’s career went supernova and Cole started buying other record labels and folded them into his—their—own. By the time she was twenty-five Dawn was tired and recalcitrant. She refused to tour. She wouldn’t record. She insisted on a break. Dawn wanted to sit in Cole’s lap, as she did when they first met; she wanted to lean back against his chest in bed and listen to him read to her. She loved how his baritone rumbled through her skin. Cole obliged and within two weeks she was pregnant.
Unfortunately, Cole Starkey had some cute European ideas about the sanctity of his child’s mother and the time during which Dawn had expected their romance to grow even deeper never materialized. Instead, after the pregnancy was established, Cole satisfied his sexual cravings with Playboy Bunnies and strippers. A friend of Dawn’s told of his many peccadilloes while sponging her head at the hospital when Cole failed to appear in the delivery room. Dawn, who had been breathing rhythmically and had insisted on a “natural” childbirth, started screaming for a spinal block.
After Cliff was born Dawn confronted Cole. “You’re fucking Bunnies? Idiots! And strippers? They’re not even HOT enough to be Bunnies!”
Cole responded, “What’s not hot after a fifth of Jagermeister and six lap dances?”
Suddenly, all that had been adorable about Cole, his quick wit, his sexual flair, his cocky attitude, his secret tenderness, his unflagging devotion to her career, became abhorrent. Dawn walked into the nursery, scooped up her baby and drove away, never to return…