Regardless of genre, an interesting subject or theme is not always alone sufficient for a writer. Most authors also face the challenge of having characters or individuals the reader will care about, whether for good or bad. Therein lies the problem with Robert Greenfield’s A Day in the Life: One Family, the Beautiful People, and the End of the Sixties.
A Day in the Life tells the story of Tommy Weber and his wife, Susan Coriat, who were among the hip, glamorous couples in the London of the Swinging ’60s. Yet other than as voyeur, it is difficult for the reader to really care for either of them as their lives spin into chaos. In fact, about the only sympathetic people in this otherwise well-researched biography are their sons, Charley and Jake, who grow up amidst the wreckage of their parents’ lives.
Both Weber and Coriat, called “Puss” by her family and friends, were children of Britain’s privileged class, thanks to their mothers. While their fathers may have been of questionable character, Tommy and Puss, born in 1938 and 1943 respectively, were both trust fund babies. Granted, their trust funds weren’t so large as to withstand their hedonism, but they had the looks and wherewithal to become part of the London scene. When they married in 1962, they were not only tabloid fodder, they became one of the hippest couples in the city. The book drops plenty of names of the people with whom they associated, such as Steve Winwood, Jimi Hendrix and members of the Beatles, to name just a couple.
Although they dabbled with careers — Tommy in auto racing, real estate and filmmaking and Puss by modeling and opening a hip teahouse — they were far more interested in simply enjoying life. Both fell into drugs and by 1969 they had separated and divorced, although there is little doubt they remained in love with each other. The flip side of their journeys of pleasure was the impact on their children.
For example, following the divorce, Puss spent quite a bit of time dragging Charley and Jake around India, Turkey and Greece on her personal search for enlightenment. Letters written before, during and after this trip revealed her growing detachment with reality. By the end of the trip, seven-year-old Jake — now an actor on the television series Medium — was taking care of her and his younger brother. Not long after their return, Puss would be committed to a mental institution before committing suicide in 1971.
Back in Tommy’s custody following their mother being institutionalized, the boys didn’t fare a great deal better. Tommy had been smuggling hashish from Afghanistan for several years but 1971 saw him and his sons living with the Keith Richards entourage in a villa in southern France during the making of Exile on Main Street. Two things solidified Tommy’s place in that world. Puss had become friends with Richards’ girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, in a mental health facility. Sealing the deal, though, was that Tommy smuggled in a kilo of cocaine as a wedding present for Mick Jagger (all of which was consumed long before the wedding). How did Tommy do it? He taped the cocaine to his sons’ bodies, figuring they were least likely to be searched by customs officials.
Although Tommy would live until 2006, much of the balance of his life was spent in the throes of heroin addiction and he would spend time in prison. His sons, meanwhile, ended up living with relatives. Charley and Jake somehow survive their upbringing and become primary sources for author Robert Greenfield. Greenfield, who has written extensively about the Rolling Stones, met Tommy at Richards’ villa during the recording of Exile on Main Street. Puss provides the most direct insight, though, as a variety of her letters have survived. They clearly portray her crumbling mental state and her love for Tommy and her children.
While Greenfield does a good job of biography, it still remains hard to really care about Tommy or Puss. To some extent, their story could be a metaphor for their era, a tale of promise that, with liberal doses of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” devolved into self-absorption and self-ruin. Yet, aside from hanging out with famous people and being part of “the scene” themselves, their journey of self-destruction often doesn’t even rise to the level of the car wreck you can’t look away from. Instead, it is more like pricey cars rotting from the inside.
…my generation of the Sixties, with all our great ideals, destroyed liberalism, because of our excesses.
Camille Paglia, Sept. 19, 1991