Sunday, February 07, 2021

Obituary: Elizabeth McKee, Mother of Musicians Bryan MacLean and Maria McKee, Dies at 95

Elizabeth Le Prevost Ménager McKee, a beauty and creative spirit turned Bible thumper who gave birth to two acclaimed musicians of the 21st century -- Bryan MacLean (of the seminal 1960s band Love) and Maria McKee (a gifted solo artist formerly of the 1980s cowpunk band Lone Justice) -- died Monday in Los Angeles after several years of declining health. She was 95. Keep reading HERE.

Although little has been widely reported about her earliest years, Elizabeth was said to be a flamenco dancer and accomplished artist -- and described by some as a philosopher and scholar. When she was "barely 17," she married George MacLean, a noted architect in Hollywood, and then three years later gave birth to Bryan, weeks shy of her 21st birthday. In 2008, Elizabeth told an interviewer (from whom I borrow liberally here) that her father had been an artist and her mother had been on the stage. As such, Elizabeth sought to provide a similar setting for her own progeny in which to grow up.

“Oh, there was always music; I always had opera going, and all kinds of classical music, from the time {Bryan] was a toddler.” She mentions Puccini’s "La Bohème"; “Bryan could hear when Mimi was going to make her aria before she died, and he’d come running in and say ‘Mama! Mimi!’ It really affected him.” 

Among her husband's celebrity clients were Elizabeth Taylor (whose pool Bryan is said to have learned to swim in), Robert Stack and Dean Martin (whose son Dino was Bryan's childhood pal). Their neighbor in Beverly Hills was Frederick Loewe, of the legendary songwriting team Lerner & Loewe, who recognized the MacLeans' boy as a "melodic genius" at the age of 3 as he doodled on the piano.

The marriage did not last. “We broke up, and then I was alone with Bryan. He was 2, 2 1/2. I went to my mother’s and stayed.” (George MacLean died in 1985 at 68.)

Bryan's first girlfriend was Liza Minnelli -- and the two them would sit at the piano singing songs from "The Wizard of Oz" together. Elizabeth recalls: “He would bring her over to the house. Bryan always called me ‘Honey,’ so [Liza] thought that was my name. She was so polite, she would shake my hand, and say ‘Thank you so much Honey, for allowing me to come into your home.’ Isn’t that sweet?

Elizabeth and Jack in the 1950s

It wasn't long before Elizabeth met a new man and remarried. “I was alone with Bryan for a season, and then I met Jack [McKee], who is Maria’s father.” she said. Sadly, Jack had little interest in raising her son. “He was very jealous; he was jealous from the time Bryan was a little boy. They say that happens with stepfathers.” 

Elizabeth and Jack McKee at a Lone Justice gig back in the day

Jack was a carpenter and he and his wife eventually owned a local bar called The Rack located at n Pico and Fox Hills Drive. Maria remembers that "it had one of the best jazz jukeboxes in town and "was frequented by Clint Eastwood and Johnny Stompanato. (Maria's parents divorced when she was 15. Jack died in 2007 at 82.)

Maria writes: Here is a photo of the house where I grew up. It was in a local lifestyle magazine in the ‘60’s and this is a clipping. My father built a beatnik beer on tap bar in the ‘50’s called THE RACK ... He designed and built this post beam and glass Neutra inspired house on the lot behind the bar. It took him four years to finish it. It’s where I lived from birth to age 15. It was a little oasis, a mid century modern paradise.

From what I gather, Elizabeth's biggest blind spot was perhaps the negative effect her outsized evangelical faith was having on people around her, from her codependence with her fellow religious zealot son to her overbearing relationship with her daughter.

Maria says that when she was a teen she told her mother that she thought she “like” liked a girl. This is what happened next: 
"I was not long after picked up from school by an older friend I looked up to and brought to a meeting where my mother was waiting with her prayer circle to cast demons of homosexuality from me. That same mother trained me to believe that my value as a woman was calibrated by my willingness and ability to be desired by powerful men. I sought men in relationships to feel safe and complete. I stayed faithful in a decades long hetero marriage because I am loyal. .... When I began to allow myself the freedom to see beyond that union and developed feelings for and relationships with women, it felt like I was truly loving for the first time."

In an interview with Charles Donovan for Record Collector, she said:

“It’s very hard to shake the internal homophobia when you have a very vivid memory like that. My mother, I believe, was a closeted lesbian. She confessed as much to me but never acted on it.” She suspects that the same may be true of her maternal grandmother. McKee’s upbringing in Los Angeles was a confusing mix of bohemia and evangelism. “I always saw my mother as someone who didn’t adhere to the rules of society and yet was a fundamentalist Christian. Having married at 17 and then again at 21, she taught me you needed a man to take care of you, to guide you, to help you financially, to desire you. That conditioning is hard to shake.”

Bryan's ego and substance use (after his band broke up his life devolved into "an extended lost weekend, replete with drug overdoses and felony arrests"), Maria's rising success (complicated by her mother's attempts to bully her songwriting daughter into recording Bryan's material) -- “My whole Lone Justice experience triggered his psychosis. He’d always assumed the role of my mentor musically and when I broke free from him, he didn’t take it well”-- and Elizabeth's ineffectual attempts at parenting eventually led to her spending the final four years of Bryan's life continuing to try to "rescue" him while Maria opted to stay away. (MacLean died of a heart attack in a restaurant bathroom on Christmas Day 1998 at just 52.)

A decade later, Elizabeth remained mystified by her daughter’s decision: “It was really ridiculous of her. She said ‘I can’t be around it. I’m working on my own issues…’ I think about it every day, and I think that she missed out.”

(Gee, Mom. Thanks for your support.)

In the end, though, I'm sure she meant no harm -- only wanting what all mothers want: For their children to get along. 

A dozen years ago she reflected on her family; “I think it’s amazing what we’ve come through, all of us. Everything seemed so terribly dramatic.” Alongside an abundance of talent, she laughs, “We got genetics that we didn’t want.”


On Feb. 1 Maria wrote:

Last night I talked to my Mother in prayer. “What do you want?” I asked “Peace”, she replied. “Well you should let go now because it could be horribly uncomfortable for you if you become sicker. I know you can do it.” I said. “I love you, Maria,” she said. Rest in love, Elizabeth Le Prevost Ménager McKee, October 9, 1925-February 1st, 2021🙏❤️🙏

And then a couple days later she wrote this:

So I guess I need to talk about “complicated grief”. The death of a parent is indeed profound. I have experienced it once before. And when it is the human who gave you life, it is next level impact. But for children of family trauma and abuse, parental relationships are often fraught with terror, rage and ambivalence. We set boundaries with our parents that most people don’t understand as a response to betrayals that the average person couldn’t begin to fathom. When these betrayals are exacted by a unique and remarkable human being who also lavished untold gifts, it leaves one with a very fractured understanding of “love”. When my mother was still able to see me, we made our peace. That was four years ago, I took a lock of her hair for my altar and never looked back. As her quality of life diminished, I have been longing for her to find rest ever since. So with her passing comes a breathless relief. As many project their sorrow and fear regarding the death of a parent during this era of prodigious elder mortality, I need to hold space for myself to forgive my feelings of lightness and freedom. Without guilt, without shame. I know this will resonate with many of you and I thank you. Bless🙏🕊🙏Artist, Welder Wings 

Read about Maria's later-in-life rebirth as a dyke and queer godmother of sorts HERE.

1 comment:

Blobby said...

wow. Had zero knowledge of McKee and MacLean were related. Thx.