A battalion of young Ronsons, armed with talent and virtually inexhaustible celebrity connections, have overrun Manhattan social life. Where did they get their precocious gifts? From their parents, of course. A hip-hop Edith Wharton tale.
May 8, 2000
Nancy Jo Sales
Mary Ellen Mark
THE KING OF SPIN
Roll over, Peter Duchin. D.J. Mark Ronson, the darling of Park Avenue hostesses and hip-hoppers alike, supplies the soundtrack to the city's new social scene.
Ronson Family Values: Wheter sitting down to a family dinner at Moomba or attending the Costume Institute Ball at the Met (D.J.'ed by eldest son Mark), the city's most socially agile family always seem to be at the newly formed crossroads of hip-hop and high society, where Nan Kempner sways to the sound of Big Pun. If only Edith Wharton were alive today.
DON'T SAY "PARTRIDGE": Left to right, Samantha, Charlotte, Mark, Annabelle, Alexander, Ann Dexter-Jones, and Mick Jones.
MUMMY'S THE WORD: Ann Dexter-Jones with her son Mark.
SOCIAL MIXING: Mark Ronson at the turntables on a recent night at club Chaos.
DISK ODALISQUE: Mark Ronson at the parental townhouse near Gramercy Park.
It was the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute ball, a confused fashion moment featuring ball gowns and blue jeans. An even more confused Henry Kissinger wandered around wondering why Puffy "called himself Fluffy." And, of course, Mark Ronson was the D.J. In years past, power hostess Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer would certainly have gotten Peter Duchin and his band of cummerbunded men doing "S'Wonderful" and "Moon River," but this was a new millennium, a fashionably ripe time for change, and so as the ladies paraded Fluffy -- er, Puffy -- around on waspish arms, Mark Ronson spun Biggie asking "Whaddya do when your bitch is untrue?" and Big Pun rapping "I'm not a playa, I just fuck a lot!"
"The sound system was really bad at that one," said the perpetually mild Ronson, 24. "But at these society events, they usually don't even know what I play. They just want to be able to say, 'We had Mark Ronson.' "
The hot-ticket Met gala was in fact the perfect cap on a year in which the D.J. -- and not just any D.J., but Ronson -- became a New York nightlife fixture as well as a shiny tie pin in the cravat of a new society. In party after party much remarked upon for the double-take effect of a new mixing (Donald Trump and Lil' Cease! Fat Joe, Heavy D, and Harvey and Bob Weinstein!), there was one young man manning the soundtrack -- at about $1,000 an hour -- and he was not some hip-hop legend like Funkmaster Flex or Kid Capri but a tall, white, and handsome B-boy with a private-school pedigree. His Jigginess Jay-Z hired him, and so did Hugo Boss.
"I can play," Ronson says through a shrug, "for any crowd, for the fashion- Donna Karan crowd, for the downtown-hip-hop-D'Angelo crowd, for a thugged-out crowd, and, like, Upper East Side furniture designers." He also did a party for the Gap.
"Everybody loves Mark; he could walk into Attica and they would love him," says the Countess Sharon Sondes, Ronson's self-proclaimed Auntie Mame. "He's been a charmer ever since he was a child, in his little blazer and short gray pants and knee socks."
"Nigga is nice," says Jay-Z, referring to the D.J.'s turntable skills.
But watching Ronson spin records that balmy, flashbulb-splashed night at the Met was less like reliving the D.J. epic Juice than like seeing a live-action version of the Kevin Bacon game: There was Tommy Hilfiger, waving up at him, face full of applauding glee.
"He's the quintessential Tommy Boy!" Hilfiger says -- whatever that means -- but he is thinking of giving Ronson his own line of clothing.
In 1997, Ronson took part in a cross-country bus tour for Tommy Jeans with fellow celebrity offspring Kate Hudson, Ethan Browne, and Kidada Jones. (Jones, who is the daughter of Quincy and sister of Rashida, used to be Ronson's roommate on Franklin Street; that was back when she was dating Tobey Maguire, before Kidada dated Tobey's best friend, "Leo" -- who shows up at lots of parties Mark Ronson D.J.'s, often with other Ronson friends like Q-Tip. "He's like my best friend," Ronson says modestly.)
Ethan Browne -- yes, son of Jackson -- was with Ronson on the balcony of the Met that evening, hanging around talking about his hoped-for several-picture deal at a major movie studio. "I am writing a script about New York nightlife," said the dashing young Browne. "There's a part in it for a D.J."
But Ronson didn't hear; he was too busy putting on Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." He admits to having become a bit "blasé."
Breaking away from the clutch of the hostesses, there was also the as-yet-unindicted Puff Daddy, for whom Ronson has D.J.'d many parties, including his notoriously successful 29th-birthday bash of 1998 at which Martha Stewart and Sarah Ferguson shared celebrity status with Lil' Kim. For Puffy, Ronson seems to function as a demigodlike version of all those yo-whassup-in' white boys in the suburbs who make hip-hop go cha-ching!
"Puffy used to come up to me at parties and try and give me $100," Ronson says thoughtfully, "but now if he did that, I guess it would seem almost like an insult."
Slinking about, there was also Liv Tyler, whom Ronson knows from the close-knit New York private-school scene (she went to York Prep, he to Collegiate). She was wearing a rhinestone-studded ROCK ROYALTY tee identical to that of her cohort, the apple-cheeked fashion designer Stella McCartney, whom Ronson also knows, because until the age of 8, he grew up in London three doors away from her and "Paul and Linda."
Oh, and she was also friends with Ronson's friend from the New York part of his childhood, fellow rock-royalty descendant Sean Lennon. "He was probably my best friend," Ronson says mildly, "he and Max LeRoy" -- who is, of course, the son of Warner, owner of Tavern on the Green and the Russian Tea Room. "I ran away to their house once," Ronson adds, "and they had really good food."
And then there was the lady who kept waving repeatedly at the D.J. --
-- the rather groovy-looking lady with the wild streaked hair, in the Stevie Nicks black lace, with a voice as smooth and sultry as Sally Kellerman's on those Woolite commercials; you've seen her at parties, as ubiquitous as a paparazzo --
"I love yooooooo!" she said.
She actually looked as if she might have been a little bit tipsy -- or maybe she was just proud that there he was, perched at the highest point possible in this room full of VIPs (C. Z. Guest . . . Steven Seagal!). He was looking rather groovy himself that night in his tuxedo donated by Tommy Hilfiger -- herdear friend, too, he and his brother Andy . . .
Why, it was Ronson's Mummy, Ann Dexter-Jones, the "socialite," just being led out on the arm of her husband, Mick Jones "of Foreigner," as they say.
"There aren't too many people like Ann Jones," says a society writer who used to attend Jones's frequent dinner parties at the San Remo in the eighties -- affairs that might attract, as Jones herself offhandedly says, "oh, the Lorne Michaelses, the Wenners, the Yokos, the Kathleen Turners, and just regular people."
"Ann's society with a small s," Jones's writer friend says affectionately. "She's the kind of person Nan Kempner thinks it's terribly amusing to know -- but little do the Nan Kempners and Brooke Astors know, someone like Ann Jones is supplanting them."
Jones calls herself a "rock wife," and while the fashion statement for socialites of old may have been a perfect string of pearls, hers seems to be the perfect pair of leather pants. She is tirelessly self-promoting; if there were a marathon for name-dropping, she'd beat Donald Trump and Russell Simmons faster than you can say "Philip Seymour Hoffman." But like her son, she's also connected in a way that begs an addition to Ripley's. "Do you need any more people to talk to you about Mahk?" she asks on the phone. "Michael Douglas? . . . Ahmet Ertegun?"
It's as if a good part of Jones's copious maternal instincts is directed toward making sure her children enjoy the best of everything -- which in this age seems to include a certain amount of stardom. Her efforts seem to be working.
"They're everywhere," Liz Cohen, social gadabout and flack for Lizzie Grubman Public Relations, says of Jones's clan. "They're a sign of the times. They're a part of every scene -- rock, hip-hop, and high-society."
"I love how the kids show up everywhere in limos," says another female publicist.
"It's not like we're the Kennedys or anything," Mark says blandly.
In addition to the beautiful and talented Mark, there are four other Ronson-Jones children -- starting with, in order of their number of "Page Six" mentions, Samantha Ronson, 22, who is also a D.J. Homeboyish and platinum-banged and given to wearing red -- her "signature color," report the papers -- she got her first gig at Veruka when her brother Mark was unavailable; now she's in demand anytime Mark is unavailable.
Recently, Samantha was included in Quest magazine's "Ultimate Guest List" alongside several Roosevelts, Rockefellers, and Phippses. Close to her stepfather, she sports a FOREIGNER tattoo on her back. "I have no idea why the media's so interested in us," she tells me, blowing smoke from a Marlboro red, "but as long as I'm makin' loot, it's all good."
Next, there is Samantha's twin, Charlotte, tawny and shy. Last year, Charlotte became a fashion designer, like her Nightingale-Bamford friend Shoshanna Lonstein (who is a socialite via another route, bedding a celebrity; witness the New York ascension of Monica Lewinsky, seen out at night lately with chums Molly Ringwald and Serena Altschul -- who's a very good friend of Samantha Ronson's).
Seemingly overnight, Charlotte's C. Ronson T-shirts have begun appearing at major outfits like Tracey Ross -- "Mummy introduced me to her," says Charlotte -- Henri Bendel, and Fred Segal.
"We had her T-shirts in our Tommy 2000 fashion show," says Andy Hilfiger. "And Mark D.J.'d. It was like a Ronson-Hilfiger show! I'm friends with Ann," he adds.
It was in "Page Six" when Charlotte accidentally trapped a friend, agent Patrick Whitsell, against the wall of his Malibu garage by mistaking the gas pedal for the brake, after which he needed 100 stitches. "Well, her stitching is superb," said a "spy," "so if she sewed him up, no doubt he will look terrific." Charlotte's stitching is actually done, however, by a seamstress.
And then there are the two children of Ann and Mick Jones -- Alexander, 15, and Annabelle, 13, students at St. Bernard's and Chapin. Alexander plays drums ("but not for Samantha's band," Ann insists. "I am not the Partridge Family") and wears a diamond stud in his ear; Annabelle is a golden beauty who delights in handing out "fashion violation tickets." "I would like to be a designer," she says, "like Charlotte, or Anna Sui." Both children have been "getting D.J. offers," says Ann, "despite child-labor laws" -- and, apparently, reason. Ann herself recently D.J.'d at Joe's Pub; she played "The Age of Aquarius" and "Purple Haze" -- at the wrong speed. "I never span before," she laughs.
The Ronson-Jones five-story, beaux-arts Stanford White family home is decorated with lots of marble, silver, a Picasso, a Helmut Newton, and many, many pictures of the family posed with other celebrities.
". . . And there's Mick jamming at Mark's bar mitzvah," says Ann, giving the tour. "Mick's Church of England, but he did a wonderful job."
"People used to tease me, like 'Oh, you think you're so cool your dad's a rock star,' but I figured they were probably just insecure," Annabelle says sweetly.
She's sitting at the dining-room table playing hand-slaps with her father; she's winning.
"Annabelle doesn't believe I played with Hendrix," Mick pouts affably, apropos of, really, nothing, like some Monty Python character.
Annabelle protests, "Yes, I do!"
Mick has played with, produced, or sung vocals for seemingly everyone (he may in fact be the rock-and-roll Kevin Bacon) -- Billy Joel, George Harrison, Van Halen . . . and, of course, Foreigner, which in its eighties heyday made tour-busfuls of money.
"And they're touring again this summer," Ann offers. "And Mick's just signed up to co-write and produce the Cult's new album, and Meatloaf's and Ozzy Osbourne's . . ."
"I saved Mark's life once," Mick says amiably. "He fell off the boat in the Hamptons, and I dived in after him. James Brown came down from Heaven."
"Isn't James Brown alive?" I say.
Mick's just smiling.
"Why James Brown?"
"No reason, I assure you," says Charlotte, grinning.
Two years ago, the tabloids reported that Mick somehow wound up at Moomba for Paula Jones's celebration of her $850,000 settlement from the president, where Mick pointedly told a reporter, "Me and Mrs. Jones ain't got a thing goin' on!"
"He was never there -- those were staged photographs," Ann insists.
She's opening a bottle of Veuve-Clicquot.
"Dahling, would you like some champagne?"
The champagne is geysering to the floor, and Juke, the family dog, who bites, is trotting over to see whether he'd like to lap it up. He turns up his nose.
"I live in festive confusion," Ann says, laughing huskily. Her laugh, to misquote Fitzgerald, is full of money.
Now Mark's coming in with John Forté, the wiry, dreadlocked rapper who's often played with the Fugees. They've started a music-production team together called, cryptically, Epstein & Sons. "Oh, I call everyone Stein," Forté explains. "You know, like Mariah calls everyone Lamb?" Not really.
"My dahling boy!" Ann says, turning up a cheek for Mark. "My numero uno son."
"Hello, Mummy," echoes Forté, amused.
"You are coming with us to Moomba, aren't you?"
When we can't all squeeze into Forté's SUV, Samantha and Charlotte run up the street to hail a cab. "Too much family in too small a space," mutters Samantha.
There probably aren't too many families in New York that dine all together at Moomba, a place known for its surreal celebrity tableaux -- say, Jack Nicholson, Mike Tyson, and Jerry Seinfeld all in one evening.
Ann gives the linebackerish bouncer a peck on the cheek. "Hello, dahling!"
We're escorted to the candlelit VIP room upstairs -- it's here that the Ronson children often congregate with others of their kind, a group of young people who are already famous or hell-bent on becoming famous (well, if Gwyneth could do it . . .):
There's Donovan (son of Donovan) Leitch, who captains the much-hyped band Nancy Boy; Ione Skye (his sister), who, at 25, is already the ex-wife of Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz (son of Israel, the playwright); Bijou Phillips, of Papa John, who can currently be seen bare naked in Playboy; leggy model Ivanka Trump, whose mother talks worriedly on Good Morning America about the children of the rich contracting "affluenza" ("Many of these kids with too much money need guidance," Ivana warns); Stella and Lola Schnabel, the latter of whom unfortunately failed to get a gallery show despite efforts by her father (although she's been seen in nightclubs gamely drawing on tables); Cameron Douglas, son of Michael, a D.J.; Drena De Niro, a D.J. -- "They know more about turntables than silverware," a writer observes of this generation of socialites -- and Tatiana von Furstenberg, who runs a SoHo boutique that carries T-shirts by C. Ronson . . .
In her monthly column for Hamptons Country magazine -- "I write as if I'm Patsy from Ab Fab, sweetie darling, if you can't spell it, then it's just not for you" -- Ann wrote about Charlotte and Samantha and some of their closest friends, young society blondes like Lulu Kwiatkowski and Alex Kramer, without ever mentioning who their parents were (herself included); you were just supposed to know.
There was also a "really funny" piece on Charlotte and Samantha "in Tatler," says their brother Mark, "that said if you're 30 years or under and live in New York and you don't know the Ronsons, chances are you should get out of town."
At Moomba, the Ronson-Joneses spread themselves out on a series of plush brown couches. Samantha goes to put on a stack of CDs. "I'm not like my brother; I'm not a turntablist," she says unapologetically, cuing up some of her favorite introspective girl rock. "I'm not a hip-hop D.J. I play the music I like, and yeah, I'll scratch a little bit."
It gets her through parties for Lot 61, One51, and the likes of the giant Hollywood agency CAA. And yet, she says, "people can be so mean. Like when I started to D.J., it was in the paperthat I didn't even know how to turn the sound system on -- and okay, to a degree, yeah -- I wasn't Funkmaster Flex."
The Ronson-Joneses are drinking still more champagne, except for Annabelle and Alexander, who have school. The rest of the family seems to keep somewhat more irregular hours. "This rock wife is up every morning at 6:30!" Ann protests.
Alexandra von Furstenberg comes over to say hello -- "Dahling!" -- and so does someone called Gogo, who wears a cravat.
"People that read WWD and the gossip columns are always asking me, 'What's it like being a real socialite?' " says Mick, a former member of Spooky Tooth. "And I'm like, 'Ah, man, I'm a rock-and-rollah. Anybody with soul is welcome in my house, even people I meet walking the dog.' "
"We do entertain" -- Ann leans over, karma bracelets jangling -- "but we're not groupies, and we're not social climbers. There are a lot of people who come who are high-profile, and then there are some who are not, but we like them. For example, Al Pacino can be sitting next to a great friend of mine who's a wonderful healer -- "
"Or Michael Caine or David Lindley," Mick offers.
"Or," says Ann, "Michael Douglas and his girlfriend, who are really lovey-dovey. And always the children. Whether it's Andy Warhol or a great girl I meet who does manicures at Elizabeth Arden, what I tell the children is, I'm also inviting you to the party, so if you want to join in, you can.
"When Mark was just 2, Keith Moon" -- as in, of the Who -- "taught him to play drums on some stash boxes at our apartment in London," Ann reminisces. That was when she was married to rich real-estate guy Lawrence Ronson, a connected Londoner with a penchant for the company of "rock-and-rollahs. Everybody used to come over, David Bowie, Mick, Keith" -- this time, Richards -- "oh, it was wonderful!" she says.
"Keith" -- now Moon -- "had a lot of excess problems in those days -- but then, none of us were saints," she adds, low.
Her own family is, not surprisingly, illustrious. Her great-uncle Sir Oscar Deutsch founded the Gaumont-Odeon Cinemas "and was the first Jew to be knighted by the queen!" she says. Her second cousin Sir Leon Brittan was the British Home secretary.
Another second cousin, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, was the minister of defense.
"And I and all my children are direct descendants of the Rabbi Yitzak Luria, who brought the cabala out of hiding," Ann says, name-dropping back to the sixteenth century. "And we're also related to the doctor who made us all feel guilty about cholesterol."
"I hung out at Regine's with Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot," recounts Mick. "And a big bottle of Scotch and Brian Jones" -- dead member of the Rolling Stones -- "and a crazy girl called Zuzu."
"Yes, enough about me!" says Ann.
"He wrote 'I Wanna Know What Love Is' for me," she adds. "I told him to go back to his wife, and he did, but it didn't work out. . . . Oh, put that in."
They moved to New York and settled at the San Remo in 1984, and Ann immediately started throwing dinner parties. In those days it was "everybody," including close friends Jann and Jane Wenner, a connection that led to an early job for Mark.
"Mark got his internship at Rolling Stone when he was, I think, 14? I have always made the children work. I am very strict," says Ann.
("Mark charmed everybody," Wenner says, "and knocked everybody out with his musical knowledge, which was as extensive if not more than the music editors'. My wife and his mother are close friends," he adds.)
"I am known as 'Mummy Dearest,' " Ann goes on, eyes narrowing. "I changed the locks when Mark snuck out to stay at Sean Lennon's house because Pearl Jam was coming over. I told the nanny -- I was away at the time -- he will not sneak in the back door!"
Mark smiles. "She called begging for me to come home."
"Anthony Kiedis" -- of the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- "and I used to exchange letters," Annabelle interjects sweetly. "We were talking about the tooth fairy, but we had different interpretations."
"But I have always wanted the children to be free in their minds," Ann goes on, "and that is why I try and expose them to many different cultures and religions. Also, that way it's not sexy -- I don't want them to run off and become Moonies. I have introduced them all to reiki, the Eastern art of energy healing . . .
"I do it myself; my hands get very hot. I cured Mark of shingles," she says.
Mark looks, for him, taken aback.
"And I remember once, when Mark was about 13, he wanted to talk to me about sex -- "
Mark looks, for him, alarmed.
"But I came, you see, from this very inhibited English family where nobody ever taught me how babies arrive -- "
Mark asks, "Did you just say 'how babies arrive?' "
"I said, nobody ever taught me how babies were born," Ann says dryly.
"I think you said arrive," Mark says.
"Well. It's a better term."
Ann looks regal.
Charlotte giggles. "When Mummy grounded us, she would make me and Samantha do, like, seven cultural things, like seven weekends of classes at the Art Students League -- it was a little much, you know? So we'd just walk in and find out who the teacher was in case we got quizzed -- "
"Charlotte, show us your tees."
Ann's been urging Charlotte to open up a little brown shopping bag holding some of her C. Ronson T-shirts. Charlotte spreads them out dutifully on the seat.
"Being in this family," Charlotte says, "it kind of spurs you on to do things -- you feel you can do things -- well, because everybody else is." She's the only member of the family so far to get a college degree, from NYU.
"But Mark," Ann says, "has promised me he will go back!"
Mark Ronson started D.J.'ing professionally when he was a senior in high school. At college, he'd come into the city on weekends to perform, eventually presiding at what he calls "thug affairs" -- parties at places like Rebar and the now defunct but memorably down-and-dirty Den of Thieves, where despite being a white boy, he knew how to play that funky music.
"It doesn't matter who his family is; he can still rock a party," says Funkmaster Flex.
RuPaul once told him, "Boy, you been making my bottom hurt all night." From dancing.
"I almost put that on my business cards," Ronson says, "but then I thought it might not be such a good idea."
The question of just how much his family ties have helped does come up, however, and he endures his share of what the players call "player-hating." "Yeah, he's good," says another, less successful white D.J., "but he also brings to the table all the elements of the trendy club scene, which has nothing to do with hip-hop's foundation."
But who's to speak for hip-hop? Certainly not Ronson, Ronson says one day at the West 34th Street apartment he shares with old friend Max LeRoy. "I'm no expert," Ronson claims. "I just like the music."
("He taught me how to play guitar," Sean Lennon says later on the phone. "And then when we were like 15, we wrote a song for Michael Jackson. Michael hummed a melody for us, and we wrote it. Then we played it for Roberta Flack, who lived in my building, and she said it sounded like James Brown . . . but I think she was just humoring us.")
"I could never try to 'be black,' like some people," Ronson goes on, leaning back in an armchair draped with an American flag. "I had this conversation once with Russell Simmons. I said I would never use the word nigga because I think it's kind of weird and it doesn't fit me. And Russell goes yeah, but you can't, like, tell MC Serch from 3rd Bass -- who's white and has a black wife and three black kids -- that he can't use it.
"And I was like, okay, you know what? You're right. But it's not me. Just because of the way I was raised, and" -- he quickly adds -- "I don't mean I was raised well, but I don't speak like that and I don't try to carry myself off that way. I'm comfortable with who I am.
"I'll be around hip-hop people all the time, and yeah, I might pick up certain expressions and it might change the way I dress a little bit, but I could never be something that I'm not. I am what I am."
"We're just privileged white boys, doing their thing legitimately," says another friend of Ronson's, actor Daniel Serafini-Sauli. "But I still believe in 'Fuck tha police,' " he laughs.
"Mark was helpful in Life's attempt," says Roy Stillman, owner of the temporarily closed club, "to market hip-hop music to the sort of white upper-class contemporary culture we wanted to associate ourselves with." He says it without irony.
On the night Samantha's band, Li'l Red, is playing at Don Hill's, Ann brings along an unlikely posse. There's Grant Show of Melrose Place; Jim Heckler, who owns the Globe (and once hired Mark as his "entertainment consultant"); model Kirsty Hume; and "a bevy of supermodels -- like seven girls I dated," says Mark, who's already on hand and quickly ducks downstairs to avoid encounters.
"Mark loves the supermodels," sighs a society girl in the crowd, watching him go. "He used to date Frankie Rayder, and now he's dating Camellia Clouse. Whatever. Mark deserves it -- he's perfect. He's smart, he's talented, and he comes from a good family. He was my first crush!"
"It's not like I'm a player or anything," gulps Ronson.
In a little cement-floored room out of view, Samantha -- along with Mark and Max LeRoy, both pressed into service as guitarists tonight -- is practicing songs, all of which she has written, words and music.
"I only speak when I got nothing to say," they're singing.
Samantha is wearing a red leather jacket and has put red contacts in her eyes for a ghoulish effect. If she's not a rock star, at least tonight she looks like one.
"Tell Charlotte to get her little ass down here with my T-shirt!" she's barking at someone into a cell phone.
Mark's attempting to run the Partridge Family with some professionalism: "Let's go over this one more time," he says gently, playing back a cassette tape.
"Uh-oh," Samantha say with a blush, "I fucked up on that one."
There are some other FORs down here as well -- a tall, ironic girl named Beata Hennrichs, who's already directed a movie for Carey Woods.
"You been hanging out with Ann?" Beata says flatly, adjusting a rhinestone tiara. "One time, Ann had us over to tea with a bunch of psychics and they told me I was gonna be a talk-show host, and they told Ione Skye she was gonna be a movie director." She laughs wryly.
"I know my note -- I wrote the fucking song!" Samantha can be heard saying.
"I told Donovan" -- Leitch, of course -- "to get his ass down here," Beata says, blowing smoke rings.
Nigel Mogg and Mike Williams, the bassist and drummer for Nancy Boy, arrive -- scrawny, chain-smoking Brits with early Rod Stewart hair. They seem like they just woke up, but they sit down to start learning Samantha's songs. Li'l Red's going on in five minutes.
Charlotte finally comes, too, toting another shopping bag full of C. Ronson tees. Samantha and Max -- who has Tiger Beat looks -- dive in hungrily, as if this will save them.
Li'l Red isn't ready for Roseland -- or, for that matter, Don Hill's. Up on the stage, Samantha looks like a red-eyed deer caught in the headlights, singing her personally inspired introspective girl rock. At one point in the set, Max stops and asks the audience resignedly, "Can I have a beer?" and everyone laughs.
But when the band starts again, Ann lets out a cheer and dances like a believer, like it's Woodstock, crashing into the supermodels.
I go to see Ann one day at the family townhouse. It's just the two us, except for some workmen puttering around, putting up more pictures of the children; and a very quiet lady is Lemon Pledging.
Ann has made Earl Grey tea, and we sit down at the dining-room table to discuss her favorite subject: "I feel Mark could really do anything," she says rather somberly, as if we're at the United Nations, discussing global politics. "He has that Renaissance energy. Did you know he has a Mensa IQ?
"Did he tell you he's been writing music since he was 4?" she asks. "That he had a deal with Polygram when he was 16?" -- for a rock band called the Whole Earth Mamas, which didn't work out. "Publishing rights," Ann says with a wave of the hand. "We didn't like the contract."
"D.J.'ing is fine, but for him I don't think it's forever. Did you know he's getting into producing?"
In fact, Mark just co-produced an album on Cheeba Sound with singer Nikka Costa (he says she "sounds like Janis Joplin meets Chaka Khan, and her dad was Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand's arranger"). And he's working on an Internet deal for a site called djgroove.com, where he'll become a sort of Dick Clark of the Web. He's also reading the biography of David Geffen.
"He'll never tell you any of this himself," says Ann. "He's so modest -- too modest. He wrote me the most incredible song for my birthday -- it brought tears to my eyes -- called 'Thank You for Being My Mother, and Thank You for Being My Friend.' He's so embarrassed that I play it for people."
Her eyes start to well up.
"I think somebody should market it for Mother's Day."
"Hey!" Mark calls me one morning, unusually animated. "I'm D.J.'ing last night at Chaos, and guess who walks in . . . Prince! He's just one of my fucking idols!
"But I don't want to kiss his ass and put on Prince songs -- even though I play them like at least five times a night -- so I put on some funky, funky shit -- some obscure Latin shit from the sixties -- like, as bait!
"I knew he'd come over and ask me what it was -- I knew it. And all of a sudden I turn around and there's fucking Prince standing right next to the D.J. booth -- he's, like, this little guy in this fitted jacket with no shirt on, and a hairy chest . . . so cool!
"And I'm like, 'Hey, what's up?' And he's like" -- low voice -- " 'Hey, I like to watch people dance,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, me too!"
Ronson grew up with Mick Jagger at his dinner table; Andy Warhol looked at his childhood scribbles. But beneath his understated cool, it's somehow a relief to find out that he's still capable of talking about Prince as if he'd seen . . . Elvis.
"And he's like, 'Hey, what's that you're playing?' " Mark says. "And I show him, and he's like" -- low voice -- " 'Cool.' "
"Uh, and then something happened.
"I put on this Stevie Wonder song -- 'All I Do,' my favorite -- re-pressed on twelve-inch, so you can play it loud in the club. It's a bootleg. And Prince goes, what's that? And I'm like, 'Uh, yeah, it's a bootleg.' 'Cause you know, Prince led that big campaign against bootlegging, and . . . I don't use bootlegs a lot.
"And then all of a sudden he's like" -- explosive voice -- " 'I'm 'a call Stevie at home right now and tell him you got this!' And he's pulling out his Palm Pilot, and there's like Stevie Wonder's home number on it all lit up! And I'm like, Oh, shit! And I start fading out the song, and Prince lifts up the needle off the record for me!
"And he says, 'Gimme that record!' " Mark laughs.
" 'Gimme that record.' We were hanging out for, like . . . fifteen minutes!"