Sunday, March 8, 2020

Idol Reading: Elton John and Leif Garrett

I rather like the tandem review format; it seems many books I read share a common theme, particularly those that aren't about the same subject. These memoirs are by two of the biggest names of the 70s.

Me by Elton John

So I have an Elton John story. Sometime in the mid-00s I had a job with a web design firm. One of the firm's clients was an entertainment venue; we handled site updates and support, but a third-party server hosted the site. It came to pass that Elton was scheduled for a special performance there - a big deal since it wasn't a large venue and...well, it's Elton. The venue site was to sell tickets direct, which was important because it meant they'd profit more from those sales than from other vendors.

Well, you can guess what happened the day of the sale. Site crashes, go boom. Both of my bosses are away at a meeting to renew a contract with another client, and both decided to turn off their phones because...well, Important Meeting. I'm the girl who answers the phone and never touches the venue client, and on this day I'm answering angry phone calls that are coming every five minutes. It means nothing that the crash is a server issue we cannot control. I'm the only one in the office. It's my problem to solve. For every phone call I make to the server company, I get two back from the client. Tick tock, they're losing ticket sales and people are calling them.

When my boss turns on his phone, he discovers dozens of voicemails from me calling him every horrible name that comes to mind. My degree is in English; I know lot of words. Once we manage to get the site fixed the show is sold out. My boss told me later that our contact informed him that due to the botched sale, "Elton is so mad at you."

I can't tell you if Elton still bears a grudge. I did learn, while reading Me, that he makes no mention of this incident, so perhaps the hard feelings have softened. Or else, this story isn't worth mentioning in the same tome as Elton's lifelong journey to a good place. Me is a thoughtfully written history rich in insecurities and yearning for acceptance, white powder, and serendipitous fortunes. It's not without a few mysteries that remain so, either - Elton's reluctance to go deep into his brief marriage to Renate Blauel inspires questions, yet ultimately they give way to admiration for the way he protects those memories.

I must admit, I came into this book expecting more bravado and brag - attitude to match the costumes - but at the end you meet a person of great generosity and talent who, despite having the love of millions of fans, wants the love of family. The book surprised me and I'm glad I took the time to read it.

I'm also sorry about the tickets, even though I really had nothing to, forget it.

Rating: A

Idol Truth: a Memoir by Leif Garrett

I should have memories of Leif Garrett, but I don't. It's strange given that, although his tenure as a teen idol was brief, it happened in a time where other names I can recall were elevated. I remember the Cassidy brothers, Andy Gibb, Donny Osmond, and pre-Thriller Michael Jackson, and their music. I remember the blinding gaudiness of 70s variety television, which was Leif's milieu. I just don't remember seeing or hearing much.

Garrett wrote Idol Truth, as he explains in the foreword, to talk about what really went down during the handling of his teen idol career, basically negating some of what VH1's Behind the Music told us. Garrett delivers a personal history of minute details in very short paragraphs, and a searing indictment of his management team - people more concerned with profit than his well-being. We can tsk at Garrett's long stretch of drug abuse and womanizing, but considering the lack of authority watching out for the welfare of a child (yes, a person under 18 is a child, and this industry pushed Garrett into situations most adults never experience) may just leave you shuddering.

Be aware of a number of content warnings: underage sex, drugs, suicide talk. The brevity of chapters in Idol Truth make Garrett's story read like a long arc of vignettes and you may finish in a day. However, this did make the narrative a bit choppy for me, more so with a number of repetitions in the story.

Rating: C

Sunday, February 23, 2020

All Hail the Queens

Try as I might to conquer IRL stuff, it gets the best of me. I keep on reading, keep on chiseling away at this site. I read these a while back and let them linger in my mind. They seem to go together; you may want to read them in tandem yourself.

A Song For You: My Life With Whitney Houston by Robyn Crawford

I didn't know what to expect going into A Song For You. While I didn't follow Whitney Houston's career, or the tabloid press that hounded her in life and death, I picked up things here and there. I'd heard lesbian rumors, I'd heard her family had her in a metaphorical headlock for much of her career, I heard her death might have been an Illuminati sacrifice (seriously, Google it but don't tell them I sent you).

With regards to the first two items, Robyn Crawford uses this opportunity to clear some air, and it's not done in a sordid way. This book reads in a sincere voice, one that almost breaks at the sad parts if you can hear it in your mind. I get that what Robyn felt for Whitney transcended friendship, camaraderie... and her frustration at watching the Houston family's treatment of the singer is palpable. It simmers, but I get the impression she is holding back a greater anger, and perhaps the sordid details people whisper on the Internet. It's like Crawford is caught between wanting to tell the truth and wanting to protect Whitney, even though nothing can touch her anymore, and in the end mourning her inability to prevent a tragic end.

Rating: B

God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop by Kathy Iandoli

I love that a book like this exists. Iandoli is a journalist with decades of immersion in the hip-hop scene, and the result of her knowledge and access to influential figures in the genre is this comprehensive history. Iandoli traces the timeline of women's involvement in rap from parties in apartment building common rooms to jaw-dropping response records (read: The Roxanne Wars - I hadn't realized there was more than one "Roxanne" out there) to the present day. Iandoli's style is loose and engaging, injected with a touch of humor - a quick jab to readers waiting to "get to the chapter about Nicki Minaj" made me smile - and acknowledgement that the book might not be 100% complete. It may only mean there are still stories to discover, and perhaps a revised edition will appear one day.

Rating: A-

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Beautiful Ones by Prince

Oh, where do I even begin?

Don't take that the wrong way, now. The Beautiful Ones is many things. It's a glimpse into the life of one of the most fascinating people of our time. It's a weighty delight, filled with snapshots in muted 70's colors. It's a revelation, a peek at the foundation of what we loved best about Prince.

More than that, it's an attempt at something big, and a sad reminder of mortality. Prince's name is above the title, and his spirit is present here, but one can only wonder what we could have had if he lived long enough to put more of himself into this book.

Prince was to have collaborated with journalist Dan Piepenbring on The Beautiful Ones. In reading Piepenbring's lengthy introduction, we learn that Prince had several handwritten pages and a specific vision for a book. Prince wanted to end racism with it, and in asking Piepenbring to define "racism" he got a textbook answer. Despite that, he agreed to work with the man.

If you were to ask me what racism is, I would say fear. Fear is an amazing motivator that drives one to self-preservation. Fear of poverty, for example, might lead a person to hoard money and buy generic, rent movies from the library and pack lunches. I believe some take it further through aggressive behavior designed to keep certain people from succeeding, if only to maintain one's higher (safe) status. I can't speak for Prince, but maybe he wanted to eliminate that fear through his work, as though to say we can all stand in the same place without worry.

We will never know the true content of this book. What we have is a story in four parts, one of which belongs to Piepenbring. I doubt we'd have seen such a long introduction had Prince lived, and in this intro is the concern that a book without Prince would become nothing more than a collection of things.

That's what we have here, though. It's nice to see the pictures and the original treatment of Purple Rain, but I thought the heart of the book rested in the actual pages Prince wrote, which are presented here as scans of his handwriting and in text. This is a graphic heavy book, best read in print or in a good reading app, and once you pass this section you may be tempted to skim the rest if squinting to read cursive isn't your thing.

I enjoyed what I read, but on the same note I mourned what could have been. That's why I find it challenge to rate The Beautiful Ones. An A for content and especially Prince's contribution and B- for execution, though I can't fault Prince or Piepenbring for that. I don't want to make a habit of not rating books, but in this case (like with Neil Peart's Far and Wide) I'm abstaining.