Orange County Girl
Orange County Girl
Anaheim, California, is well known as the residence of many famous and beloved personalities—Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Cinderella, Buzz Lightyear, and the entire cast of Disney characters make their homes at Disneyland, the focal point of Anaheim. The clean, friendly town in Southern California's Orange County can also lay claim as the childhood home of another popular face—Gwen Stefani. On October 3, 1969, Gwendolyn Renée was born at St. Jude Medical Center in neighboring Fullerton, California.
Gwen's parents, Dennis and Patti, welcomed their daughter home to their house less than a mile from Disneyland in Anaheim. Brother Eric was two years old when Gwen was born.
The Stefanis were an average American family for 1969. Dennis and Patti were high school sweethearts who had performed in a folk group called the Innertubes during college. When they married, they decided to settle down and raise children. Dennis became a marketing executive for Yamaha, which produced musical instruments and band equipment. Patti went to work as a dental assistant, but quit her job to stay at home when the children were born. They shared their love of music with their children, playing records of folk artists such as Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris at home and taking the family to concerts.
Gwen was three years old when her sister Jill was born, and two years later, brother Todd joined the family. The Stefani children found many creative ways to entertain themselves. Eric enjoyed drawing cartoons and playing the piano, and he often convinced Gwen to sing with him. The children held puppet shows for their friends and family. Like many girls, Gwen and Jill played house, but in their version, speaking was not allowed. The girls sang all of their conversations, and their game became known as "musical house."
Playing dress-up was also a favorite pastime. Patti Stefani taught Gwen and Jill to sew when they were very young, and they often made their own clothes, accessories, and Halloween costumes. At about the age of twelve or thirteen, Gwen developed her first fashion hobby. She liked to shop at thrift stores and then take the clothes home, take them apart, and resew them to suit her own personal style. Her bedroom turned into a tiny design workshop filled with clothes. When asked about her passion for sewing, she told People, "Everyone knew not to walk in my room without shoes on 'cause of the pins."2
The Stefani parents encouraged their children to be creative, but they also worked to raise children rooted in strong values. They were devout Catholics and taught their children to pray and attend church. The Stefanis were protective of their children and more conservative than other parents were. Eric, Gwen, Jill, and Todd were expected to observe their curfews and follow household rules. The family was structured yet close-knit, and the children felt loved and supported by their parents.
Gwen also found support and inspiration in her older brother, Eric. Whether he was cartooning, playing piano, or just hanging out with friends, Gwen felt that he was always doing something fascinating. Because he was outgoing and enjoyed attention and Gwen was quieter and more reserved, she was happy to let him try new things first and live in his shadow. Gwen trusted her brother, and he had a way of convincing her that she could do things she was afraid to try.
As she was growing up and in her teens, Gwen loved watching movies. Old Hollywood films and glamour became a fascination for her. She loved watching black-and-white movies starring Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, and Sophia Loren. Her bedroom was covered in pictures of Marilyn Monroe. She loved the elegant dresses, elaborate rhinestones, and graceful styles of the movie wardrobes from the 1930s and 1940s, especially the flowing lines, figure-hugging skinny silhouettes, and upswept hair. The looks were conservative, yet feminine, and they would inspire her fashion tastes over and over again.
Her love of Old Hollywood would later provide Gwen with inspiration for her high school prom dress. Gwen made her own dress, copying a gown worn by actress Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock's movie Rear Window.
The Sound of Music
In 1965 The Sound of Music appeared in movie theaters across the United States, and it became an instant classic. Audiences loved the story of Maria, a young woman aspiring to become a nun at a convent in Austria. Mother Abbess, believing that Maria has another calling, sends her to serve as a governess for seven children. Maria quickly wins over the family and unexpectedly falls in love with their father, a retired captain in the Austrian navy. Shortly after they marry, their family must escape Austria to avoid the Nazi influence that is infiltrating their homeland.
The movie is filled with memorable music by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, such as "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "My Favorite Things," "I Have Confidence," and "The Sound of Music." The movie won five Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, and best music. Julie Andrews, in the role of Maria, was nominated for best actress.
As Gwen Stefani's favorite movie, The Sound of Music has influenced her throughout her life. In her music video for "Wind It Up," Gwen imitates scenes and costumes from the film and borrows music and yodeling from the song "The Lonely Goatherd."
Gwen loved many movies, including the musical Annie, but one of the most captivating for her was The Sound of Music. A romantic musical, it tells the story of an Austrian naval captain who falls in love with the governess he hires to watch over his seven children. One of the most popular films of its time, Gwen considers it her favorite movie.
Gwen became a fan of Julie Andrews, who played the troubled Maria, and identified with her character. In the movie, Maria makes her own clothes, and she even makes play clothes for all seven children using the fabric from old draperies. "I feel like there are similarities between me and Maria," Gwen admits. "We both like to sing and sew."3
The Stefani children attended Loara High School in Anaheim. Feeling she needed to lose weight, Gwen joined the swim team and swam well enough to earn the nickname "Frog." She joined the marching band as a piccolo player. Her cheerful and outgoing personality during high school also earned her the nickname "Sunshine."
Gwen's conservative upbringing influenced her teen years. She never had a boyfriend and did not have a large group of friends, but she did have one very close and important girlfriend. Although she took school seriously, Gwen struggled with her grades and worried that she might not get into college. She would often daydream in class about getting married or draw pictures in her notebooks.
Like many kids, Gwen was very attached to the family dog—a small, blond-colored Lhasa Apso named Marilyn, after Marilyn Monroe. Gwen eventually started calling the dog "Lamb," since it followed her everywhere, as in the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
While in high school, Gwen started her first job. She took a position at a Dairy Queen restaurant, where her work included a lot of cleaning. She and her fellow employees spent a lot of time eating when managers were not around. That experience taught her that she would always have to watch her eating habits or risk gaining a lot of weight.
Gwen remained well liked and confident in high school, yet she stood out from her fellow students. She did not enjoy the same styles or music as other teens. Her wardrobe had a heavy tomboy influence, with jeans and track suits, and she favored a brand of shoes known as Doc Martens. The footwear was a clunky brand of shoe favored by punk rockers and goth kids. Yet Gwen did not abandon femininity. Makeup was important to her, and she blended girlish makeup with her boyish styles. This mixture of tomboy and girlishness would become a trademark style for her.
Gwen enjoyed the dance music of the 1980s, but her favorite style of music was ska, a cross between reggae and punk. Both Gwen and her brother Eric became hooked on ska when they discovered a song called "Baggy Trousers" by a British band called Madness. Gwen began following ska music and dressing in the punky style of British ska. For a time, she wore only black-and-white clothes and hoop earrings.
The Ska Music Style
Ska music got its start in Jamaica in the late 1950s. It has a distinctive sound that uses guitar, bass, piano, drums, and horns, especially saxophone, trumpet, and trombone. The rhythms of ska are designed for dancing and are what many people associate with the Caribbean flavor of music. Ska was enjoyed by many people and spread throughout the world.
The ska movement faded in the late 1960s, but it saw a revival in England in the 1970s. Musical groups blended ska with punk rock music that was popular at the time, and the new style became known as two-tone ska. Groups such as Madness, The Selecter, and The Specials were at the fore-front of the new ska scene, and these groups caught the attention of Eric and Gwen Stefani.
Two-tone ska also faded, but in the 1990s, another revival came along. Third-wave ska drew heavily from two-tone ska, and it can be heard in the music of bands such as Fishbone, The Toasters, Reel Big Fish, and No Doubt.
Gwen and Eric searched out other ska music and looked for local ska bands. A passionate piano player, Eric experimented with the ska style. Gwen recalled that she would often wake up in the morning to the sound of Eric banging away on the piano.
Although Gwen enjoyed singing just for fun, she had never felt a desire to sing in public. Eric, on the other hand, thought about joining a band, and he experimented with writing songs. He convinced Gwen to sing his first song, "Stick It in the Hole," which was about a pencil sharpener. Eric had always encouraged Gwen to sing with him when they were little, and in high school he again pushed her to sing.
Because of Eric's encouragement, Gwen soon discovered that she had a good singing voice. He convinced her to take part in a high school talent show, and she sang a song called "On My Radio" by a ska band called The Selecter.
Gwen flaunted her own personal style and her love of The Sound of Music for that event. She and her mother duplicated one of Maria's dresses from the movie—a fitted tweed dress with a short cape that Maria wore the first time she met the children she was to care for. In the movie, one of the children described the outfit as the ugliest dress she had ever seen, but Gwen was completely in love with it.
"The first time I ever went on stage, at a high school talent show—the dress I wore was the dress that Maria wears when she sings 'I Have Confidence.' The drop-tweed dress. I had that dress. I made it,"4 she remembered fondly. As much as Gwen loved sewing, she was on the verge of discovering that she had another great talent waiting to be tapped.
As Gwen was finishing her sophomore year of high school in 1985, Eric graduated from Loara High. He began forming a band with friend John Spence, whom he had met working at Dairy Queen. Both of them were huge fans of ska, funk, and punk music. Eric had been impressed by his sister's singing ability in the talent show, and he asked her to join his band as a backup singer. Gwen was reluctant to sing in a band but agreed to try it. The threesome considered calling their band Apple Core, but eventually settled on No Doubt, one of John's favorite phrases.
No Doubt had been born. The band heavily favored the ska sound but did not try to copy other ska bands. No Doubt incorporated rock, reggae, punk, and any other styles that suited them. During the summer of 1986, Eric and John recruited six other musicians, including saxophone and trumpet players.
John Spence served as the group's lead singer, and true to the punk style, he screamed out lyrics more often than he sang them. His trademark was a fuzzy hat that he called his "fuzzy furry." And he drew screams from fans by doing backflips onstage.
Rounding out the band were Eric on keyboards, Alan Meade and Gabriel Gonzalez on trumpet, Tony Meade on saxophone, Jerry McMahon on guitar, Chris Leal on bass, and Chris Webb as drummer. Gwen sang backup and shared vocals with John. They played for the first time at a party on December 31, 1986. Over the next few months, they played at more parties while they looked for a chance to play at a club or local concert.
The band's first major appearance came at Fenders Ballroom in Long Beach, California, on March 12, 1987. No Doubt appeared second in a lineup of fourteen bands, with a group called The Untouchables as the main act. That night, a musician named Tony Kanal was in the audience. Tony was drawn in by the sound and style of No Doubt, and within a few weeks learned that the band was looking for a new bass player to step in for Chris Leal. Tony auditioned for the band and was invited to join. Within a few months, he was recognized for his organizational talents and also became the band's unofficial manager.
While Tony was settling into his new roles with No Doubt, Gwen was finishing her senior year of high school. She graduated from Loara High in the spring of 1987. Her deepest secret at the time was that she had developed a crush on Tony, and she waited for the right moment to reveal her feelings.
In the summer of 1987, after playing at a party, Gwen asked Tony to go for a walk. She kissed him, but Tony told Gwen it would not work for them to date since they were in the band together. Gwen could not take nofor an answer—she was in love with him. Soon Tony admitted that he had feelings for Gwen. They agreed to date but swore to keep it a secret.
Gwen's life became busy and hectic during the summer and fall of 1987. The band was working hard to write music, practice, and look for chances to perform. Gwen enrolled at California State University at Fullerton to study art. In addition, she worked a job at the makeup counter at the Anaheim Plaza Mall. And she continued to date Tony in secret.
As the months passed, No Doubt received one of its biggest breaks. The band was invited to play at The Roxy, a famous club on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. For more than fifty years, the Sunset Strip had been a Hollywood hot spot filled with rock and comedy clubs, restaurants, boutiques, nightclubs, and celebrities. The Strip was made famous in movies and television shows. Gwen and the band knew that a performance at The Roxy could get them noticed by new fans—as well as record executives who sought out new talent. It would be the chance of their lifetimes.
John Spence pushed the group to practice every day and to polish their act. As their December performance drew near, the group looked forward to their big opportunity, but they also felt tremendous pressure to do their best. Then a tragic and unexpected event happened.
On December 21, 1987, the band learned that John Spence had taken a gun to an Anaheim park and committed suicide. He left a two-page letter explaining that he was unhappy. He felt terrible pressure about the band. But none of his friends suspected that John was in such anguish. All of them were devastated, and Eric in particular wished he could have done something to save his friend.
At first, the band decided to quit. They had lost their lead singer and did not want to continue without their friend. Yet they knew that John would want them to keep playing. The band members pulled themselves together and put on their performance at The Roxy. During the performance, they announced that it would be their last concert.
No Doubt dissolved as they grieved for John. As the days passed, they gradually realized that he would have wanted them to stay together and continue their music. They decided to try again and keep No Doubt alive, and they chose Alan Meade to take over the lead vocals.
John's death reminded his friends of the importance of loved ones. It inspired Gwen and Tony to stop hiding their romance, and they announced to the rest of the group that they were seeing each other. Eric and the others were worried at first that the relationship would harm the group, but eventually they all came to see that it was the right thing for Gwen and Tony. All of them accepted the romance, and it became just another facet of the band's makeup.
The spring of 1988 brought a new face to No Doubt. Jerry McMahon said farewell to the band, and Tom Dumont joined the group as its new guitar player. Tom had previously played in a heavy metal band but had grown tired of the out-of-control fans associated with heavy metal and wanted to play concerts that were more about the music. Tom was impressed by No Doubt's sound and quickly adapted to its style.
Alan Meade had taken over the band's vocals but quit after less than a year to take care of his pregnant girlfriend. Eric Stefani felt that Gwen was the best choice to step in as lead singer. The idea terrified Gwen, but because she trusted her brother, she agreed to try singing up front instead of in the background.
Throughout 1987 and 1988, the band began to develop a following. They played more concerts, in particular as opening acts for the punk/ska/funk band Fishbone and the punk band The Untouchables. No Doubt also recorded demo tapes, and fans eagerly purchased them at their shows. The band had struggled through some hard times, but with their newfound acceptance by more fans, everyone was willing to work hard and see where No Doubt might eventually end up.