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House of the Rising Ronsons

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"Mark was helpful in Life's attempt," says Roy Stillman, owner of the temporarily closed club, "to market hip-hop music to the sort of white upper-class contemporary culture we wanted to associate ourselves with." He says it without irony.

On the night Samantha's band, Li'l Red, is playing at Don Hill's, Ann brings along an unlikely posse. There's Grant Show of Melrose Place; Jim Heckler, who owns the Globe (and once hired Mark as his "entertainment consultant"); model Kirsty Hume; and "a bevy of supermodels -- like seven girls I dated," says Mark, who's already on hand and quickly ducks downstairs to avoid encounters.

"Mark loves the supermodels," sighs a society girl in the crowd, watching him go. "He used to date Frankie Rayder, and now he's dating Camellia Clouse. Whatever. Mark deserves it -- he's perfect. He's smart, he's talented, and he comes from a good family. He was my first crush!"

"It's not like I'm a player or anything," gulps Ronson.

In a little cement-floored room out of view, Samantha -- along with Mark and Max LeRoy, both pressed into service as guitarists tonight -- is practicing songs, all of which she has written, words and music.

"I only speak when I got nothing to say," they're singing.

Samantha is wearing a red leather jacket and has put red contacts in her eyes for a ghoulish effect. If she's not a rock star, at least tonight she looks like one.

"Tell Charlotte to get her little ass down here with my T-shirt!" she's barking at someone into a cell phone.

Mark's attempting to run the Partridge Family with some professionalism: "Let's go over this one more time," he says gently, playing back a cassette tape.

"Uh-oh," Samantha say with a blush, "I fucked up on that one."

There are some other FORs down here as well -- a tall, ironic girl named Beata Hennrichs, who's already directed a movie for Carey Woods.

"You been hanging out with Ann?" Beata says flatly, adjusting a rhinestone tiara. "One time, Ann had us over to tea with a bunch of psychics and they told me I was gonna be a talk-show host, and they told Ione Skye she was gonna be a movie director." She laughs wryly.

"I know my note -- I wrote the fucking song!" Samantha can be heard saying.

"I told Donovan" -- Leitch, of course -- "to get his ass down here," Beata says, blowing smoke rings.

Nigel Mogg and Mike Williams, the bassist and drummer for Nancy Boy, arrive -- scrawny, chain-smoking Brits with early Rod Stewart hair. They seem like they just woke up, but they sit down to start learning Samantha's songs. Li'l Red's going on in five minutes.

Charlotte finally comes, too, toting another shopping bag full of C. Ronson tees. Samantha and Max -- who has Tiger Beat looks -- dive in hungrily, as if this will save them.

Li'l Red isn't ready for Roseland -- or, for that matter, Don Hill's. Up on the stage, Samantha looks like a red-eyed deer caught in the headlights, singing her personally inspired introspective girl rock. At one point in the set, Max stops and asks the audience resignedly, "Can I have a beer?" and everyone laughs.

But when the band starts again, Ann lets out a cheer and dances like a believer, like it's Woodstock, crashing into the supermodels.

I go to see Ann one day at the family townhouse. It's just the two us, except for some workmen puttering around, putting up more pictures of the children; and a very quiet lady is Lemon Pledging.

Ann has made Earl Grey tea, and we sit down at the dining-room table to discuss her favorite subject: "I feel Mark could really do anything," she says rather somberly, as if we're at the United Nations, discussing global politics. "He has that Renaissance energy. Did you know he has a Mensa IQ?

"Did he tell you he's been writing music since he was 4?" she asks. "That he had a deal with Polygram when he was 16?" -- for a rock band called the Whole Earth Mamas, which didn't work out. "Publishing rights," Ann says with a wave of the hand. "We didn't like the contract."

"D.J.'ing is fine, but for him I don't think it's forever. Did you know he's getting into producing?"

In fact, Mark just co-produced an album on Cheeba Sound with singer Nikka Costa (he says she "sounds like Janis Joplin meets Chaka Khan, and her dad was Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand's arranger"). And he's working on an Internet deal for a site called djgroove.com, where he'll become a sort of Dick Clark of the Web. He's also reading the biography of David Geffen.

"He'll never tell you any of this himself," says Ann. "He's so modest -- too modest. He wrote me the most incredible song for my birthday -- it brought tears to my eyes -- called 'Thank You for Being My Mother, and Thank You for Being My Friend.' He's so embarrassed that I play it for people."

Her eyes start to well up.

"I think somebody should market it for Mother's Day."

"Hey!" Mark calls me one morning, unusually animated. "I'm D.J.'ing last night at Chaos, and guess who walks in . . . Prince! He's just one of my fucking idols!

"But I don't want to kiss his ass and put on Prince songs -- even though I play them like at least five times a night -- so I put on some funky, funky shit -- some obscure Latin shit from the sixties -- like, as bait!

"I knew he'd come over and ask me what it was -- I knew it. And all of a sudden I turn around and there's fucking Prince standing right next to the D.J. booth -- he's, like, this little guy in this fitted jacket with no shirt on, and a hairy chest . . . so cool!

"And I'm like, 'Hey, what's up?' And he's like" -- low voice -- " 'Hey, I like to watch people dance,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, me too!"

Ronson grew up with Mick Jagger at his dinner table; Andy Warhol looked at his childhood scribbles. But beneath his understated cool, it's somehow a relief to find out that he's still capable of talking about Prince as if he'd seen . . . Elvis.

"And he's like, 'Hey, what's that you're playing?' " Mark says. "And I show him, and he's like" -- low voice -- " 'Cool.' "

"Uh, and then something happened.

"I put on this Stevie Wonder song -- 'All I Do,' my favorite -- re-pressed on twelve-inch, so you can play it loud in the club. It's a bootleg. And Prince goes, what's that? And I'm like, 'Uh, yeah, it's a bootleg.' 'Cause you know, Prince led that big campaign against bootlegging, and . . . I don't use bootlegs a lot.

"And then all of a sudden he's like" -- explosive voice -- " 'I'm 'a call Stevie at home right now and tell him you got this!' And he's pulling out his Palm Pilot, and there's like Stevie Wonder's home number on it all lit up! And I'm like, Oh, shit! And I start fading out the song, and Prince lifts up the needle off the record for me!

"And he says, 'Gimme that record!' " Mark laughs.

" 'Gimme that record.' We were hanging out for, like . . . fifteen minutes!"


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