Brett Smiley was once one of the luckiest eighteen year olds in America. He was snatched up by famous Rolling Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who brought him to England to perform and socialize at the coolest parties. The young, androgynous, glam rock talent may have had a soft sounding voice but his NY Dolls style and spitfire cocksureness made him a rising star the year of 1974.
He also recorded an album titled Breathlessly Brett that year, which was unfortunately not released until 2004. Stuffed with early seventies space theme vibes a la Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine,” Brett even plays a Beatles cover with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
British rock biographer Nina Antonia penned a book on Brett in 2004 titled The Prettiest Star: Whatever happened to Brett Smiley? Which is what you’re thinking if you’ve even heard of him at all.
My friend urged me to interview Brett last year and after listening to the playful “Va Va Voom,” my fingers were dialing the numbers before the song was even over. A nervous man answered the phone. Worried of his appearance and the state of his messy apartment after I asked for an interview. I reassured him that mine was messier and I won’t judge anyway. Then I decided to leave it up to him to ring me once he felt sure about it. I needed him to realize there was no pressure. About two weeks later, I got the call and drove my old Mercedes down to his apartment in a beautiful part of Brooklyn I hadn’t explored before. Fall leaves were diving off their branches and the brownstones appeared proud, standing tall amongst the weak foliage.
Brett and I drank tea and smoked cigarettes as we chatted close to my trusty, old Panasonic tape recorder. He told me how David Bowie was very aware of his presence as the new kid on the block in London. He went over his start as a child actor on stage, playing ‘Oliver,’ on Broadway as his proud mother grinned from the audience. He knew he was providing for his family as a child which comforted him greatly.
Later on in life, he played the prince in 1977’s erotic musical film, Cinderella, directed by Michael Pataki. Orgy scenes and excessive nudity galore! Don’t ya just love the 70’s! We smoked more cigs and he showed me his hat collection, the military ones being the frontrunners. His house was a bit cluttered but I had seen far worse. We had an instant connection, talking energetically, like teenage girls. He gave me the scoop on his iconic look from the cover of his album, Breathlessly Brett, svelte with David Johansen Dolls era hair. He wore one white glove, doing it way before Michael Jackson.
Vulnerable as a baby lamb, Brett revealed that he had AIDS from his years of needles and doping. I sincerely gave my gratitude towards his honesty and sobriety. He promised that we would stay in touch.
A month later, he rang me for a haircut. His stringy locks were out of shape and he needed to look good for a show he was set to play. I gave him a mid-sixties British shag which took years off his face. He was on a budget so I gave it to him for free as a thanks for his time. Brett stared at me in his mirror mouthing the words, “Thank you,” like I had put him in my will.
Early this morning, around 1:30 A.M., I regretfully heard of Brett’s passing. Many friends and fans were posting on his wall, showering his memory with videos, photos, and touching words. The frail cult star of sound and stage has left the building, ironically on Bowie’s birthday. One last strut across the Camden lounge floor with all eyes taking notes.