Norwood Young was born with a voice of gold and a taste for fame. Along the way, the enigmatic gospel and R&B singer became a freedom-of-speech advocate, plastic-surgery obsessive, hedonist, fashion plate, drug addict and child-abuse survivor. He recently self-published an autobiography, Getting Back to My Me, a confessional filled with tales of fabulosity that ultimately proved too over-the-top, even for someone who erected naked male statuary on his front lawn. I chatted with Norwood on the eve of his New York book launch...
I understand you're collaborating or working with Jeffrey Dietch. Can you elaborate? What can we expect of this interesting union?
Yes, Jeffery had invited me to diversify the MOCA museum through my vision, combining music, art, fashion, and design. I have no idea where this will take us, but I can guarantee it will be amazing. I would like to see, for instance, a collaboration of taggers create a collective art piece of their wonderful, amazing graffiti, which is actually a form of territorial art. It would speak volumes about being able to come together through expression and appreciation.
You've become a symbol of freedom of speech in Los Angeles because of the many complaints and harassments you've endured with your home landscaping in Hancock Park. How has this played out for you?
LA CityBeat magazine crowned me King of Hancock Park, a very affluent and, at the time, discriminatory Los Angeles neighborhood. I was given that honor because when I initially purchased my property and erected 20 replicas of Michelangelo's David on my front lawn, the neighbors and the Homeowners Society attempted to have me remove them or be ejected from my home. I chose to fight for my rights for freedom of expression and speech. In the end, I won, with the help of the late Honorable Johnny Cochran, all of the cases brought against me, and therefore set the tone for those who choose to live freely.
What is your most glamorous moment?
Going to Washington D.C. and attending the ball for President Obama's inauguration.
What is your biggest fashion disaster?
Buying a pair of python boots that were way to small. I had to have them because they matched a new pair of python pants my wife designed. It was pouring rain on the evening that I wore them. I stepped into a huge puddle of water. Moments later, as I began to walk to the down the street on my way to an event, the boots began to stretch and burst apart around the base of my foot!
What is a look you had to abandon and why?
Oversized sheer shirts. Because I actually realized how ridiculous it looked.
What is a look you wish you could pull off?
Messy hair with torn dirty jeans and very old T-shirt.
Can you sew?
Not with a machine, although I owned two. However, I am murder with a glue gun.
Have you ever made your own outfit by hand? What was it and where did you wear it?
No, but I have often embellished garments to Norwoodize it.
If you could make over anyone, who would it be, what would you do to them, and why?
Aretha Franklin. Put her in things more tasteful and flattering. Because she never gets it right! Obviously, she is comfortable with her size. Therefore, I would work with it. She tends to work against it. I would suggest some of the most funky, ornate, and glamorous deep-cut, slightly above-the-knee moo moos that one has ever seen. I would make it her brand. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
In your self-published autobiography, Getting Back To My Me, you share some ways in which you are getting back to you, but the most extreme is a reversal of your many plastic surgeries. Why did you want to go back to the old Norwood?
In order to survive and to love myself again, I had to reverse all my surgeries and look like my original self. My surgeries were not done out of vanity, but sickness. I was self-mutilating.
What advice would you give someone considering plastic surgery?
Be very sure of what you're going to have done. Find out your healing and scarring potential. Also do your homework regarding the surgeon you choose. Be sure they are certified and licensed. Read the license with a magnifying glass, and make sure the name on the document matches his or her driver's license. Also get a social security number. Just joking. Maybe not!
How has your experience self-publishing a book been?
It took me through many memories and a gambit of emotions. It opened about five cans of worms. The end result has been cleansing and amazing. Knowing that my story may inspire and help others live their best life makes the experience gratifying as well.
What are your future plans?
I plan on touring my book and my new CD , also titled Getting Back To My Me, and doing an inspirational speaking tour. There are also talks of a reality show in the works.
When all is said and done, and you've gotten back to your you, what will people remember about Norwood Young?
That I was the guy who would not settle for anythis less than living my best and most fabulous life, inside and out.
What is the greatest lesson you've learned?
Not to be distracted from your me, which is your purpose and passion. We all can be distracted and sometimes even destroy our me, and live miserable lives. What most people, including myself, saw as acts of vanity were not vanity at all, but outward expressions of confusion and pain. It is important when considering surgery to recognize the difference. There was once a time many years ago that patients had to have a psychological evaluation before surgeries were done. It would not be the worse idea to start up again. By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with vanity. Botox is my friend!