Rest in Power, Allee Willis — Queen of Kitsch

Allee Willis with psychedelic Fluffernutters

It's never fun to report that someone in our tribe has passed. That's especially true when that person is also someone you know and love.

Allee Willis, Happy Mutant Extraordinaire, died just after 6 p.m. on December 24 of cardiac arrest. She was 72.

My friend Heather was in tears when she phoned me to tell me the news. It was 10:15 p.m. on Christmas Eve. She had just read about Allee's sudden and unexpected death in Variety. We were both shocked and deeply saddened. We pondered together on the call, "How is it possible that she's gone?"

I first met Allee back in the February of 2011. Friends of mine here in Alameda, Jessica and Mel, introduced me to her. "You HAVE to meet her!" they insisted. At that time, a TV show called Clean House was filming the decluttering and redecorating of their home. Their excess stuff was soon to be sold in a televised public sale. Since they are well known for their massive collection of pop culture kitsch and, being the Queen of Kitsch, Allee was compelled to drive up for the sale. And because their house was out of commission for the show's filming, I offered up mine to host a party in Allee's honor, not entirely sure what I was getting myself into or, honestly, grasping the full understanding of who she was. But I was game. I invited a group of local friends, all self-proclaimed kitsch lovers.

The party was underway when she arrived. When she walked in, everyone got quiet. She paused in the door way, looked around at my home and blurted excitedly, "One of us! One of us!" She then gifted me with two Costco-size boxes of snack cakes. I was charmed and began to get what all the fuss was about. We ate heart-shaped Fluffernutters, some of us played Twister, and took lots of pictures. She left that night with a big box of dishes of mine from the forties.

When she got home, she wrote about the party on her blog, a great thrill for me.

"For the Love of Kitsch" party, February 2011

She led by example. She lived big and by doing so, she gave everyone in her wake permission to play. As an artist, songwriter, party thrower, and all the other titles she held, she was constantly creating, and soon became the super-passionate-badass-lady-artist muse I needed.

I joined her and the other "aKitschionados" in her online kitsch clubhouse, the Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch. And was then invited to a party at the real clubhouse, her amazing pink kitsch-and-candy-filled Los Angeles home — Willis Wonderland.

That was just the beginning. There was the trip to the "What the Fluff" festival in Massachusetts, and later to New York City to see The Color Purple. Smaller visits in between, to flea markets and hole-in-the-wall diners — all epic, laugh-filled adventures. I once took a ride in a Wienermobile, and then recommended her for a ride which she later got. Riding in one had been a dream of hers and she thanked me for making it happen every time I saw her. Since I've known her, whenever I hear the song that put her on the map, "September" by Earth, Wind, and Fire, I smile.

Yes, she's really gone, dammit, but that enormous spirit of hers will live on, through her music, art, and the stories people will share.

My heart goes out to everyone in her many circles, including all the aKitschionados, but especially to her partner, Prudence Fenton. Much love to you all!

Never let the lyric get in the way of the groove.

The Washington Post: Allee Willis, who co-wrote Earth, Wind & Fire's good-time hit 'September,' dies at 72

I've written about Allee on Boing Boing before:

Ba-de-ya, the 21st of September will always be special to songwriter Allee Willis

More than 5,000 Detroiters sing Allee Willis' love song to the city

photos by Rusty Blazenhoff