Thursday, January 7, 2010

So what if my aunt is Suzi Quatro!!!

I grew up in Michigan . Traveling back and forth between my mother's various husbands and my grandparents house. We at times had to throw our clothes into garbage bags and move on. It was awful.... creating to this day my inability to say a simple goodbye to someone without feeling great overwhelming sadness in my heart. That peppered with abandonment issues and the fear that ALL men leave. Actually that women leave too, being that was a pattern of my mother. Basically summing it up, I felt and feel at times that I am not worthy of love. Woe is me.

My grandparents door was always open to my mothers gypsy ways. And my two older brothers and I spent a lot of our childhood there. My grandpa was Italian. My grandma, Hungarian. She called their relationship the marriage of garlic and paprika. It was a loud and passionate household. And in truth, extremely vain.

My grandpa was a designer/engineer for General Motors by day, and a ham bone musician by night. There were many nights for my grandma left alone in 'her chair' watching tv. His chair was empty, shadowing the outline of his body in the cushions. It made me sad for her. I wondered if all relationships looked like this. I'd hop in his chair and keep her company. Paint her short little nails on hands that look just like my own. Help in whatever ways I could. But a child could never fill that hole, try as they may.

My grandma and I were very similar. We were both sort of not wanted and spent much time together. She even took me to my very first day of kindergarten. I remember standing there grasping her left leg, not wanting to go into the class. What if she left like everyone else and never came back. How could I live without her???

Even after all those days of she and I walking my two older brothers to the corner on their way to school, waving goodbye to them, tears streaming down my little face. Wondering and imagining what great adventures must lie ahead for them at this thing called school. I thought I could not wait for my day, for my turn.

Yet now, with it here in front of me all I could do was to cry. I did not want to go. I did not want to leave my grandma, my rock in the stormy sea of my life. I peeked around her leg and saw through my tears the dreaded destination. It was a big classroom with all different stations of seeming fun set up but it mattered not. I stood outside with her, looking in through the two large glass doors. I have for so long in my life done this. Stood outside looking at the seeming fun but dare not enter it. This was where it all started.

As the teacher approached us, used to these moments of hysterical 4 year olds, she tried to offer assistance. Bad move, it made me scream even more. Nnnooooo Grandma nnnooooooo. My grandma brushed the teacher off and she gently loosened my grip. Looked deeply into my red bloodshot eyes with her matching blue ones..... She wiped my running nose on her dress, kissed my forehead . She then reminded me that it was only a half a day. That she would be back in a few hours and would take me to Saunders for a strawberry ice cream soda. And then we would hit the JCPenney for a matching Grrranimals outfit. My favorite. Shopping appealed to me even then.

For those who don't know.... JCPenney had a line back in the day of kids clothing. They had these different colored animals [Grrranimals] and when you matched the tags, the outfits matched. So you would learn WHILE you shopped. It gave me a great sense of independence. I could pick out my own stuff. And of course at times, I would mismatch the animals for a funky look and sensibility that I still keep today. I am so NOT a fashionista. I like what I like and fuck it. There are many timeless pieces in my closet. I will not be put in a box. Except literally. hehehe

The ice cream soda and shopping softened the blow and I finally let go of grandmas now turning purple leg, her knee high was down around her ankel. So I rubbed the rest of my tears away trying to regain some dignity as I walked in, put my chin up, a few layers of cover on my heart and walked into yet another situation of my early life that I did not want to be in.

I had learned early on that so many things would occur in my life that I had no control over. And ones that I promised myself not to repeat on my own kids. I've been pretty good about it too. But this was a long way from that moment. A child's first day of school is usually traumatic. I think...well, we can only know our own experience and often mistake it for everyone elses.

I never had any conscious desire to be an actress. Or a musician as my grandfather encouraged in all of his kids and grand kids. The first time it occurred to me was around my aunt Suzi. She seemed to be so loved by the family. Always talked about. Always praised to the moon. But I hardly knew her, she was always gone and was an enigma. A complete stranger.

I personally didn't get it. I mean, her music was just okay to me. I was only a kid. I was told how successful she was in Europe. Well, who cares I thought. I was a 10 year old in America. That was all I really knew about the world. And it was not lost to me young as I was that music and a band was what took my own mother from me as a 2 year old. Broke apart my parents. So of course it would leave a bad taste in my mouth.

At a certain point all the family was ablaze with the fact that Suzi was to be on Happy Days, even I was excited . That was a great show, one of my favorites. Now she had some credibility to me!!! Now I thought she was cool. However it did not last very long.

So the episodes came and went. We all gathered in my grandparents living room. Many of us, friends, family, the neighbors, the milkman.... Frankly it was hard to hear the show over all the LOUD Italians and my grandpas roaring and praise over whatever she said and did. There was no modesty here. There never was with this crew. For me the show was a little disappointing. Again, I thought well, she was ok. Not the earth shaking response the Quatros seemed to have.Then again, it was always this response in regards to Suzi. Thank God I am a Fenn, I thought.

When later down the timeline we moved into a new neighborhood again my mother had an alarming suggestion. When I got home from yet another day of excruciating embarrassment of eating alone at lunch in a new school with no friends yet. Being the "new girl" again. My mother said in all her bizarre wisdom..."Well, did you tell them WHO your aunt is??? "

I almost died. Did she just really say that. Is she fucking crazy. Well that had already been proven, I suppose. Okay, maybe not crazy but certainly lost. I replied,"Why??? SO THEY'LL LIKE ME???" My voice dripping sarcasm for such a ludicrous idea. It was just to redunkulous!!!!! It sums up the mind set of the Quatro's . Now don't get me wrong, I love them. They are my family. But I also SEE them. And don't feel the need to make excuses. It simply is what it is. And it was NOT me. I seemed even then to be cut of a different clothe. A far more humble one.

When Suzi finally made a long anticipated trip to her home town to actually see her family it was quite an event. You'd have thought the Pope himself was coming to grace us with his presence. Every corner of the house was scrubbed, all people of interest were alerted even sickeningly enough, THE PRESS!!!! Because you see, my grandpa could use this as a way to get HIS name out there more and this might increase his music business in addition to his ego, so he could spend even more time leaving grandma at home in her chair lonely and sad.

It is not a wonder that she died later of cancer. In her stomach. The size of a football was removed. She used to joke it was her alien. But it was filled with sadness and resentment, I feel. When she went in for surgery I was in the midst of my Twin Peaks fame. As we said goodbye to her as she was rolled into the operation, even she felt it was important to share a piece of vital information. Drugged and cotton mouthed she told the nurse, "Dats my gwandaughter, Sherri. Ow mightwrecognize ur, shes on Pin Tweaks." It seems she had the bug too.

Before my appendix was removed a few years ago, I cried to the doctor who was putting me under... You have to be careful and take care of me. I have to wake up. I am a MOTHER!!! I have a son who needs me. Hmmmmm. Just cut from a different clothe.

So with all the pomp and pageantry of Suzi arriving I floated around in the shadows. I never seemed less important. But Suzi's husband Lenny was kind and good to me. He seemed to be unimpressed by it all and could actually SEE the kids. My brothers and my cousins and I. He played with us and said really funny things. My aunt just seemed to only talk about herself and was perfectly happy with everyone talking about her too.

Another really odd thing was that Suzi now spoke with an English accent? Huh?!!! She had not even been in London that long and it seemed to me so weird and affected. She was able to drop it for her Happy Days episode but here with her birth family, it flourished. Most people when they go to their hometown fall back to talking like them. But not Suzi. She seemed to be desperate to be different than us, better than, so sophisticated and English. Some might have bought it but I did not.

One day I walked into the bedroom she was staying in and my breathe was taken away. She had the prettiest clothes I had ever seen. Thick, lush corduroys in every color imaginable that looked and felt like velvet. Size zero it looked like. And all kinds of snakeskin boots. and beautiful leather jackets. Gorgeous jewelry. None the likes had I ever seen in Michigan. Grrranimals fell out of grace in my eyes in that moment. I did not want to be a grown woman someday shopping at JCPenney, I thought.

These clothes became the representation of Europe for me. Now I wanted to go there and buy some. And hey, maybe this fame thing was cool because look at all the pretty things you can buy and wear. And look how everyone seems to listen to her, even when she is arrogant and speaking a lot of nonsense. There always was a rapt audience around her. I had never experienced that in my entire life. I thought naively that maybe that was what love looked like.

I believe that event with those various factors planted a seed to become "famous." Even as I first started acting, my 17 year old head would just think'd be fun to be famous. It was not until much later that I would discover the gift of acting from my beloved Roy London.

One thing I knew was that I never wanted to be on stage, live, dancing and singing. That takes a kind of vanity the likes of which I have never possessed. To this day I get nervous when there are too many people on the set. And almost NEVER see my own work. YUCK. Who can watch themselves, esp on film and see your face as big as your body actually is, your voice blasting through speakers. It is a form of torture, for me. I am too subjective. When I was forced to go to premiers, I would sneak out as quick as I could.

So I suppose you can take the girl out of Michigan but you cannot take Michigan out of the girl. At least not this girl. I am what I am. And I like what I am. I have changed very little over the years. But I have gotten wiser. I learn everyday more and more of who I am and it is often from the reflection of others and me being clear about who I am NOT.

Never forget your little self . It is your truth. It is your gold. Love it and it will love you back.
To Thine Own Self Be True. Fuck the masks.....


  1. some people see themselves as objects, and kind of manipulate themselves into being objects well-positioned in society. sartre called this Bad Faith - his capitals! i'd rather everyone saw themselves as subjects, subjective beings, while of course paying attention to objective business at hand (otherwise we just float off). when the objective and subjective join, then things really start cooking - and tasting well. i'll have to learn about suzi q. - i know approximately nothing about her other than the striking name. you're good for my education. :p

  2. Beautiful, as always. This sounded like it was incredibly therapeutic to write. Diving back into that sort of psychology almost immediately after your "Rachel And Vicky" journey, and then comparing and contrasting them. Interesting to me, at least. I have a hard time tapping into those childhood memories. I think my brain sort of locked up and threw them out after faced with a certain amount of anxiety; an unconscious survival method, maybe? Or perhaps you're just too right with the abandonment issues. Anyways, I've begun to envy people that can access that, and find it fascinating to hear.

    Just out of curiosity, where in Michigan did you grow up? I know you said you moved around a lot, but if you're grandfather worked for GM, you had to have been fairly close to downtown. Warren? Livonia?

    Have you been back to Michigan anytime recently? Detroit has gotten... interesting.

  3. We lived all over but basically around Detroit. My grandparents had a modest home in a middle class neighrborhood, Grosse Pointe Farms. Where there is a lot of old money there, and some BIG houses, they did not have one. I lived there, St. Clair Shores, yes Livonia, Dearborn Heights, West Bloomfield in an apartment, ummmmm, I think that is it... :]

  4. Awesome post. I am amazed at how you put your truth out there. You have amazing courage I wish I possessed... I really have grown to respect you as a person from what I am learning about you from your posts. Your no longer just my favorite actress of all time; mysterious admired from afar. I feel so priviledged to read your posts and hear about your personal life. You have much to teach and I think you should still consider writing a book. Your a talent in many ways and I admire you. It's amazing how things in our childhood can haunt us as adults. I truly pray your demons are quieted and you can live happily and in peace. Best wishes always..

    Chris Krenz-Kammer

  5. Your writing is very bold, beautiful and honest. I look forward to reading more. Happy New Year to you and keep shining Sherilyn. By the way, I am also Italian and Hungarian on my dad's side. :)


  6. I read you loud and clear. I had a friend who went on vacation to the USA for 6 weeks and came back with a fluent American accent. I mean...what the??? I lived upstate NY for 6 months and never lost my Aussie accent.
    For years I've been trying to analyze why people sometimes forget their birth tongues. Is it maybe a statement to others to show/imply they've done something wonderful? That they've been somewhere special and want to boast about it? To say "hey I'm better than you because now I speak differently"? Or maybe "Hey I'm special because I am now different"?
    Don't get me wrong, I love Suzi's music greatly and what she's achieved. However, it pales in comparison to your honesty and your ability to share your personal thoughts here through this blog. That's where friendships begin. I love that you are so much more than just a "star".
    Keep them coming :)

  7. I like who you are, too, Sherilyn. And I like that you wrote a very honest look back at some of your family members. Family is such a complex aspect of all our lives, my goodness. Just like any relationship it is multi-faceted.
    I remember seeing Suzi's episode of "This is Your Life" many years ago and I think her daughter (I believe her name is Laura?) slightly resembles you. Suzi's music isn't really my cup of tea, but I do respect her musicianship and the lengthy international career she's sustained.
    I also remember reading an article on Suzi several years ago and it mentioned her being in the Pleasure Seekers with your mom and aunts in the 60s, your dad managing various rock bands and your uncle working with Lawrence Welk. It also said your brother played a young Ian Fleming in a film, which I thought was interesting.
    I also have a really frivolous show biz question for you that's kinda off-topic. Sorry, but here goes. With awards season getting in full swing , I was wondering if you attended the Emmy and Golden Globe awards when you were nominated for "Twin Peaks"? And If so, any interesting recollections (maybe a possible share topic in the future)?

  8. I really enjoyed this story. Had no idea about Suzi Quattro being your aunt.

    I especially liked the part about your Grandparents house, and the "marriage of Garlic and Paprika"...

  9. Did you attend GP South? It was rumored you had done so (I was there when TP was on), but no one could ever point to anything substantiating that...

  10. AHHHHHH!!!!! Yes I did go to South for 9th and 10th grade. Funny. I loved that school and often dream of being there again...

  11. This really really hit home for me. I got pregnant when I was in high school. Because the child was mixed race I was told get an abortion or get out. So I was on my own with my daughter. To this day I have abandonment issues. My daughter is now six and I try so hard to let her know that she is loved and that she will always have me in her life, unless I'm torn away by tragedy. I'm still crying. This affected me so...

  12. HI Sherilyn, I have followed your career over the past decades since Twin Peaks, I am so happy to see your blog! It was interesting to hear of your family, I knew your mom performed with your Aunt Suzi, but left when she had you? I also vaguely recall seeing who could possibly been your aunt and niece on a game show---the mom said she awas in band called Fanny. Was that your aunt? keep up the great work!

  13. Sherilyn, I just found your blog. I never read blogs but I found myself drawn here and I am beginning to know why. So many things you have spoken of are totally ME. I am the one in my family that is cut from a different cloth. I always say that. I say things that no one wants to hear. They say it's nonsense but they never try to listen or understand. They don't understand that they are losing themselves by not being themselves. So I've realized I can only save myself. But I have to admit fear creeps in about becoming like asleep. So I try to be myself as much as possible. Usually, I find myself to be the most ME when I'm alone and no one can see. That's when I can dance or laugh at things. I share myself but no one seems to get me. Do they need to? I guess not. Maybe I'm just sad to see peoples' spirits die in their own lives. Anyhow, your blog made me feel so good to see someone else understands it and wants to be awake. Much love to you!

  14. Dear Sherilyn:
    This is my first contact with you since i know you trough the movies, back in 1991. My native language is spanish so i hope to do it well, sorry if i make some mistake in my writing.
    See, i know who Suzi Quatro is because "i love rock'n'roll" song, nothing else, BUT i know who Sherilyn Fenn is because of "Two Moon Junction", "Boxing Helena", "The Shadow Men"... any many many others, even your roles in "Law & Order SVU", "Dr. House" and again many others, also I know who Sherilyn Fenn is because she born in 1965 like me, was in love with J. Depp and she is mother too, to say a few facts. With all respect for your aunt, i don't know even who her housband is or if she got kids.
    What i'm trying to say is this: you are a beautiful, very good actress, kind of great person, who came in my life in 1991 with "Two Moon Junction" movie and i want to say something about this: i didn't say that day "wow she's nude", not at all, i said "wow she's good, i want to view more of her because she's good actrees".
    What i'm trying to say is, i like you as an actress, as a woman and now, even more with your blog as a human being. And i'm not liyng, i want you know, in 1995 when i was learning HTML code for web pages design, my test proyect and the first one, was a tribute page for you, shame that page no longer exists, but i did that one and i passed the test, thanks to you too.
    I just want to be part of your life at least this seconds that you read this, because i mean it: i don't know who S. Quatro is really, but i really now know because of your blog who Sherylin Fenn is trough herself, and i hope you'll be kind to write me some response if you like my words. I will apreciate that too.
    Thank you for be you.

  15. Ups! i love rock'nroll is from Joan Jett, the song i want to refer is rock hard from your aunt, see what i mean? lol.
    Good week Sherilyn!

  16. I'm a big fan of Suzi Quatro's music but don't know much about her personality or personal life. I've got her autobiography but have stalled out in it early. I was always intrigued that an actress I liked was a member of the Quatro "dynasty" and it's fascinating to read this firsthand account of how it looked from inside the fishbowl. Make me feel sad for Suzi. She has played in and been trapped by the show biz game that her more sensitive and sensible niece saw through.

  17. Your story of your first day of school was so remarkably like mine....although my panic attack stopped me from going in at all. I was being skipped forward to first class (1st grade you'd call it here) i was reading and writing already and they wanted to accelerate mother, young, so young, caved at my fear and allowed me to stay where I was. I know now with almost 40 years under my belt what a mistake that was. The promise of ice-cream probably would have sold me on that new experience! but sadly I was misdirected...Your words lit the light on that memory and in my own self analysis screams the lesson......never let fear halt your progress...never let fear win....It's a every situation presents us with choices...fear can not be an option...

    Thank you for bringing my own story to light..
    Keep writing....I'd buy your book any day!

  18. I’m so happy I have found your blog! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories with perfect strangers – that takes courage. Your topics and thoughts always give pause for reflection. From one ex Michigan girl living in California to another – I’m swimming in your posts.

  19. sherilyn you should be proud of everything you have achieved, life is too short, we all have regrets and a tainted vision of youth, i loved you in two moon junction, you were young and beautiful as we all were at that age...time has a way to make us forgive ...