[19 July 2006]
If you wish to preserve your precious memories of the young Judy Garland sweetly singing “Over The Rainbow” as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you’re well advised to steer clear of this memoir by one of her former lovers. John Meyer was Garland’s romantic partner and musical arranger during the diva’s troublesome twilight years. By this time in her life, Garland had burned innumerable bridges, become addicted to drugs and alcohol and had developed the reputation of being an unreliable entertainer. But just as fools rush in where angels fear to tread, Meyer, a longtime Garland admirer, stepped into this hornets nest that was Judy’s world, and promptly fell in love with her.
Meyer, a pianist and songwriter by trade, refused to believe that Garland’s good times were really over for good. He gained Garland’s immediate respect when he shared his song, “I’d Like To Hate Myself In The Morning”, with the respected vocalist. In addition to their budding romance, Meyer also dreamed of having Garland record one of his songs. But while she performed his tunes multiple times live, she passed away before she could put one of his compositions to wax. On the surface, you might assume that Meyer merely wrote this book to make an exploitive quick buck. After all, he was never married to Garland and he had a vested interest—his songs—tied to their unique relationship. And granted Meyer pulls no punches when he describes Garland’s ravenous need for Ritalin and vodka. But it never feels like he’s just reaching for cheap, gossipy prose. The reader is convinced that Meyer truly loved Garland, obvious faults and all.
Even so, Meyer sometimes comes off a little too much like a swooning fan. He can’t pass up the chance to play Garland some of her old records the first time she visits his place, for example. Their commitment to each other also appeared to be superficial, at best, at times. Whenever there was tension in the relationship, he and Garland slipped into comedic role-playing by morphing into two stereotypical characters from an old movie. These examples reveal how Meyer may have been more in love with Garland’s image as a star, than with the person she truly was.
Meyer’s love for Garland—whether manufactured or sincere—is affirmed on many pages, but no more so than at the end of the book. Garland was in the midst of making one of her many career comebacks via a string of TV appearances on the Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett shows. But right when these programs were scheduled to happen, Meyer came down with a severe case of the Hong Kong Flu. Coincidently, it was then that club owner and fellow musician Mickey Deans stepped into Garland’s life. And just as rapidly, he became her lover. When Meyer came out of his disorienting illness, the flighty Garland suddenly announced her engagement to Deans. This broke Meyer’s heart, and he writes believably about the trauma this betrayal caused him.
Granted, Meyer had strong reservations about marrying Garland. After all, she was constantly testing his loyalty by putting herself into dire circumstances just to see if Meyer would come, and come quickly, to her rescue. Even so, he never expected another man might steal his girl. And while he doesn’t specifically say this in so many words, one gets the feeling that part of him was relieved to have the troubled Garland taken off his hands. After all, when Meyer first began dating Garland, her secretary at the time, Jenny Wheeler, dutifully warned him of his responsibilities as her new caretaker. There was always the chance she might attempt suicide, and that’s one heavy responsibility for anyone—especially an emotionally attached lover.
It’s necessary to make it clear here that this is not a biography. The reader will pick up a few significant facts about her history along the way, but this is by no means a Garland life story. Instead, it’s the short story of Garland’s life during her sad, last years. In one foreshadowing section, Meyer and Garland discuss the classic film Sunset Boulevard. It’s a scarily ironic conversation, because that film chronicled the life of an actress who did not age gracefully. Tragically, Meyer was also involved with a similarly gracelessly aging artist.
John Meyer’s book, when all is said and done, is a love story, albeit a heartbreaking one. Garland died at the too-young age of 47. She may have sung about a mythical happy place somewhere over the rainbow, but she never stepped foot onto this peaceful plateau during her lifetime. Few know this sad fact better than Meyer.