book reviews, celebrities, mental health, music

Repost: Judy Collins shares her thoughts on Cravings…

And here’s a repost that was originally written May 13, 2017. It appears as/is.

I have loved Judy Collins’ beautiful music since I was about 18 years old.  She’s recorded so many beautiful songs over the years and inspired others as well.  Although I knew she’d had trouble with alcohol and eating disorders, I didn’t know the extent of her problems until I picked up her latest book, Cravings: How I Conquered Food.

Published on February 28, 2017, Cravings offers readers insight into what may have caused Judy Collins’ issues with booze and food.  Collins’ theories may also be helpful to other readers.  The book is also about Judy Collins’ life, so if you read it, it helps to also be interested in her life story.  I suspect a lot of younger people may not be fans of Judy Collins’ music, although I think they should be.  I should also mention that this is the first book I’ve read by Judy Collins, so I wasn’t perturbed to read about her life.  Others who have read her earlier memoirs might feel like parts of this book are reruns.

Here Judy sings “Someday Soon” with Stephen Stills, who famously penned “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” in her honor.

Collins writes that when she was growing up, she loved all things made of flour, sugar, wheat, and corn.  She was addicted to sugar and would eat sweet things constantly.  That sugar obsession later turned to unsightly pounds and a neverending compulsion to eat more.  She eventually went on to become bulimic and would binge and purge to the point of developing a vocal cord hemangioma.  It almost destroyed her voice.

And one of my favorite versions. I love the piano player on this. They made a wonderful live album from the Wildflower Festival.

As she got older, Collins took up drinking and smoking.  She became an alcoholic and, for many years, would even drink heavily before and after taking the stage.  Although she indulged in self-destructive behavior, Collins somehow knew that what she was doing was dangerous.  She sought help from doctors, most of whom told her she didn’t have a problem.

Eventually, Collins realized that there was a link between her cravings for sugar, flour, wheat, and corn and her addiction to alcohol.  She eliminated the problem foods from her diet and adopted what looks to me to be a paleo diet.  She says now her weight is stable and she know longer has such intense cravings for unhealthy foods or booze.  She also credits spending time in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and employing the Grey Sheet Diet Plan for helping her to stop the insanity.

“Suite Judy Blue Eyes”

Aside from explaining her secrets to eating and drinking success, Collins writes about her son, Clark Taylor, who sadly died after committing suicide.  Collins herself attempted suicide, although she doesn’t delve too much into her experiences with suicidal ideation.  Before he passed, Clark fathered Judy Collins’ only grandchild, Hollis, who is now herself a mother.  I enjoyed reading about Judy’s family and can tell that she loves them very much.  She writes that not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about and miss her son.

I also enjoyed reading about Collins’ musical training.  Originally, she was trained as a pianist and she studied great and challenging classical works.  I never knew Judy Collins was once being groomed for the classical music world.  As she became a teenager, she was lured into folk music.  She picked up a guitar, learned how to play, and began to sing.  I was astonished to read that she once had a very limited vocal range.  Work with an excellent voice teacher eventually stretched her range to about three octaves, quite respectable for a singer.  I have always liked her voice for its ethereal quality.  I think my own style is kind of like hers.

Anyway… I thought Cravings was well-written and engaging.  It didn’t take forever to finish.  Because I haven’t read Collins’ other books, the material and new for me.  It’s also relevant for me personally on many levels.  I liked that she drew in interesting examples from history to backup her theories about diet, drinking, and health.  I learned something new in those passages.  And, given that Judy was born in 1939 and is still making albums and writing books, I figure she must be doing something right.  I recommend her book to those who are thinking about reading it.

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Repost: A review of Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

Here’s a repost of my review of Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. It was written November 20, 2017, and appears here as/is.

Last month, Tom Petty’s tragic and unexpected death left many fans saddened and surprised.  I was among the masses of people who was shocked by the news that Tom Petty, front man of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, had suddenly passed away of a massive heart attack.  He died on October 2, 2017, less than three weeks before he would have turned 67 years old.

I read many comments from people who were lucky enough to catch his last concerts.  Petty was on tour from April until late September 2017.  By most accounts, he had performed as well as ever.  I never got a chance to see Tom Petty perform live, but his music was a big part of my personal soundtrack when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.  I own a few of his albums, as well as recordings made by associated acts like Stevie Nicks.

September 25, 2017… his final concert, about a week before he died.

When Tom Petty, died I decided I wanted to read more about his life.  I downloaded Warren Zanes’ 2015 book, Petty: The Biography.  After several weeks of concerted effort, I finally finished the 336 page volume.  The fact that it took me so long to finish is not necessarily a comment on the book’s quality.  I was impressed by the work that went into this book.  Zanes has a Ph.D. in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester, was himself a member of the Del Fuegos, and he writes well.  I think I read more slowly nowadays because I read on an iPad and get distracted by things like Facebook.

Anyway, Zanes has written a very comprehensive book about Tom Petty’s life up until 2015.  He starts at the beginning, when Petty was a boy in Gainesville, Florida, with an abusive father who “beat the ever loving shit out of him” and didn’t appreciate his artistic bent.  Despite Earl Petty’s attempts to quash his son’s creativity, Tom Petty was destined to be a star.  He even learned how to play guitar from a fellow star, Don Felder, who is also a Gainesville native.  I knew about Felder’s tutelage, because I’ve also read Felder’s very entertaining book about his time in The Eagles.  Of course, that was published about ten years ago, before anyone knew that Petty would die so suddenly.

Zanes covers Petty’s early life, including his experiences with his very first bands and the eventual creation of Mudcrutch, the band that would preclude Petty’s Heartbreakers.  He covers how Petty and his bandmates traversed the United States from Florida to California, where Petty eventually settled.  Apparently, California was more agreeable for a man of Petty’s artistic vision.  He brought his first wife, Jane Benyo, with him and had two daughters there.  But although Tom and Jane were married for 22 years, their union wasn’t particularly happy.  Zanes does a pretty good job explaining why and remains even-handed and respectful. 

I also got a kick out of Zanes’ description of Petty’s Aunt Pearl, his father Earl’s twin sister.  Apparently, even though Earl Petty hadn’t liked his older son being so artsy, he later grew to appreciate his son’s musical success.  Apparently, Mr. Petty wore his satin Heartbreakers jacket all over town and would party with whomever wanted to come over and celebrate his famous son.  Zanes wrote that Petty was kind of disgusted by it and apparently Petty said something to the effect of, “God only knows how much pussy he got because of me.”  No, I never knew Tom Petty personally, but for some reason, I can imagine him saying something like that.  He just always seemed like that type of guy.

I got some unexpected insights reading this book.  For instance, I never knew that the 1994 album, Wildflowers, was Petty’s “divorce” album.  I also never knew that the title track, “Wildflowers”, was Petty talking to himself about his situation.  According to Zanes’, Petty’s first wife, Jane, was mentally ill and difficult to live with.  Although they had two daughters, the second one, Annakim, was born during the years when things began to get rocky.  Nevertheless, Petty loved his daughters and even briefly had custody of Annakim.  Zanes also includes commentary about Petty’s second marriage to Dana York, with whom he had a stepson named Dylan.

I was surprised to read that Zanes’ book was not “authorized”.  It seemed to me like Zanes had gotten cooperation from Petty and his friends.  I never got the sense that anything about this biography was disrespectful or scandalous, so I can’t imagine why Petty would have objected to it.  Zanes’ characterization of Petty is very sympathetic, appreciative, and complimentary.  But most of all, this book offers a detailed look at Petty as an artist.  I’m sure Zanes is now enjoying increased book sales due to Petty’s recent passing, but in my opinion, he deserves it. 

If you’ve been looking for a comprehensive book about Tom Petty’s life, I recommend Warren Zanes’ Petty: The Biography.  I think he did a good job.  Four stars out of five.

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Repost: Two book reviews about Karen Carpenter’s life…

These two related book reviews, written for Epinions in 2007 and 2010, are both about books written about Karen and Richard Carpenter. They appear here as/is.

The almost complete Carpenters story…

The cover for the paperback version of this book. I have the hardcover edition.

For years I’ve enjoyed listening to music by Richard and the late Karen Carpenter, popularly known as The Carpenters. The Carpenters will forever be known for their ability to create and cover 70s era pop confections like “Top Of The World”, “Close To You”, and “Superstar”. Richard Carpenter provided his considerable arranging talents and piano playing. Karen Carpenter contributed her unforgettable voice. Together, the Carpenters were a musical force who reached fame and fortune while they were still in their 20s.

In April 1994, the late Ray Coleman published an authorized biography called The Carpenters: The Untold Story. I was quick to purchase a hardcover copy of this book and I’ve read it several times. Unfortunately, it seems that Coleman’s very comprehensive and informative biography is no longer in print. Nevertheless, I think it’s a must read for anyone who is interested in the Carpenters’ careers.

Coleman includes brief information about Karen and Richard Carpenters’ ancestry and childhood, as well as information about the time they spent in New Haven, Connecticut before they moved to Downey, California to pursue their music careers. The biography continues with the story of how the Carpenters were discovered, their meteoric rise to fame, and Karen’s and Richard’s legendary demons. Karen Carpenter was, of course, afflicted with anorexia nervosa, whereas Richard developed a drug addiction which led to a stay at the Meninger Clinic in Kansas. There are two photo sections with pictures of the Carpenters as kids and adults. There’s even a copy of an essay Karen Carpenter wrote for school.

The Carpenters’ story has been told and retold by different sources. The television movie The Karen Carpenter Story was shown for the first time in 1989. There is also an independent unauthorized film called Superstar available, which was made with Barbie dolls. Check out YouTube and you’ll find plenty of news and interview clips documenting the rise and fall of the Carpenters. In my mind, Coleman’s book is the only source that really provides a glimpse into who Karen and Richard Carpenter were as people. Although this book was written with the Carpenter family’s cooperation, it doesn’t cast the family in a perfect light. Though Karen had the voice of an angel, she didn’t always behave like one, especially when it came to Richard’s love life. And Richard Carpenter, talented as he is, also comes across as a bit stodgy and demanding.

This is not a short book, but I always enjoy reading it; Ray Coleman had a way with words. The only drawbacks I can think of are that this book is not as easy to find as it once was and the story ends in 1994. Richard Carpenter is still around, having married his cousin Mary Rudolph (she was the adopted daughter of his aunt) in 1984 and fathered five children. He still performs and he’s always tweaking the Carpenters’ sound and repackaging their music. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who wants the lowdown on the Carpenters’ career.

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And now, my review of Randy Schmidt’s book, Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter…

Karen Carpenter’s life and death…

The cover of Randy Schmidt’s book.

It’s hard to believe that Karen Carpenter, who had one of the most recognizable voices of the 1970s and early 80s, has now been dead for 27 years. I remember quite clearly the day she died, February 4, 1983. I was ten years old and riding in a car with my dad to visit my sister, who was at that time a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University. An announcer came on the air and said that Karen Carpenter had died that morning. I asked my dad what had killed her and he said “Starvation.” He didn’t elaborate, but it wasn’t much longer before I first heard about anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder that plagued Karen Carpenter’s final years and eventually led to her sudden death at age 32.

Karen Carpenter was, of course, part of the brother-sister pop duo the Carpenters. The other half of that duo was her older brother, Richard. While Karen had that magical voice that made their music so appealing to so many listeners, it was Richard who was known as the “brains” behind the outfit. He wrote and arranged songs, occasionally sang, and played piano like a genius. And in their very close-knit family, Richard was apparently the most important child, especially to their mother, Agnes Carpenter.

Author Randy Schmidt has just published Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter (2010). I happened to find it two days ago, while playing with the Kindle my husband Bill just gave me for my birthday. Karen Carpenter’s story has always fascinated me and I do enjoy the Carpenters’ music, saccharine as it often is. I downloaded it and managed to finish it within several hours of dedicated reading. Considering the fact that this book is well over 300 pages long, that was quite a feat and a testament to my interest in the book.

Overlapping biographies

Back in 1994, the late author Ray Coleman wrote The Carpenters: The Untold Story. Coleman was a well known biographer of rock worthies as well as the editor-in-chief of Melody Maker magazine. Coleman’s book about the Carpenters was very comprehensive, so I was somewhat surprised to find Schmidt’s new book. Having read Little Girl Blue, however, I did notice that Schmidt had consulted many of Coleman’s works in Melody Maker and Coleman’s biography of the Carpenters in order to write this book. In fact, I even recognized a couple of paragraphs that appeared to come verbatim from Coleman’s book, which I have read several times since 1994. Coleman’s biography of the Carpenters, which Schmidt does list in a very comprehensive bibliography, obviously served as a major source for Schmidt’s Little Girl Blue. Why, then, if Ray Coleman had already written the Carpenters’ story, did Randy Schmidt need to write another book specifically about Karen Carpenter?

What I think Little Girl Blue offers…

What sets Little Girl Blue apart from The Carpenters: The Untold Story is that Schmidt managed to get information from sources other than those approved by Richard Carpenter. In particular, Randy Schmidt interviewed Karen Carpenter’s close friends, Frenda Franklin, Olivia Newton-John, and Karen Ramone. Karen Ramone was also interviewed for Coleman’s book, but from what I gathered in Little Girl Blue, Schmidt got more details, particularly about the time period when Karen Carpenter was in New York City in 1979-80, recording her one and only solo album, Karen Carpenter, with Karen Ramone’s husband, Phil Ramone.

Schmidt also updates Carpenters fans on things that have happened since Coleman’s book was published. For one thing, Karen Carpenter’s solo album, which had been shelved back when it was created, was finally released in 1996. For another thing, Richard Carpenter has become the father of five children– only three of them had been born when Coleman’s book was published. Schmidt also writes about why the Carpenters’ remains have been relocated from their original resting place at Forest Lawn in Cypress to Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California.

What’s good about Little Girl Blue

Besides the fact that Schmidt updates fans on all things Carpenters, this book includes some photos– a few of which I had not seen before in Coleman’s book. Schmidt writes well and I appreciated the fact that he spoke to a lot of different people in order to give readers a less whitewashed version of events. Schmidt provides more details about Karen Carpenter’s ultimately doomed marriage to Tom Burris, making him out to be an enormous gold-digger.  If what Schmidt writes about Burris is completely true, it’s tragically ironic that she married him.  One of Karen Carpenter’s biggest fears was, allegedly, marrying a man who was a gold-digger.

Schmidt also makes Karen Carpenter’s mother out to be an extreme control freak, who refused to let either of her children grow up and be normal adults. Schmidt even interviewed actors Mitchell Anderson and Cynthia Gibb, who famously played Richard and Karen Carpenter in a 1989 movie of the week called The Karen Carpenter Story, which played on CBS on January 1, 1989.

What’s not so good about Little Girl Blue

Like I mentioned before, Ray Coleman had already written a superior biography about the Carpenters. I am very familiar with Coleman’s book, which is unfortunately now out of print. I do think there’s room for two biographies about the Carpenters– but– it was pretty clear to me that Randy Schmidt leaned on Ray Coleman’s work quite heavily. In fact, there were a couple of instances in which it appeared to me that he’d actually copied some paragraphs or at least paraphrased them to the point at which I knew I had read them several times before. I didn’t have Ray Coleman’s book next to me as I read Schmidt’s efforts on my Kindle, but I feel pretty confident that I’d be able to find the text in question. Reading Schmidt’s work pretty much felt, to me, like the literary equivalent of a re-run.

Should you read Little Girl Blue?

If you are a diehard fan of the Carpenters’ music, you may already know a lot of the information Randy Schmidt reveals in his biography, especially if you’ve already read Coleman’s work. However, if you missed Coleman’s book and can’t get a copy of it, Little Girl Blue is definitely worth reading. Personally, I think I liked Coleman’s book better, though Schmidt does offers some new information, particularly on things that have happened since 1994. And I do think his interviews with Frenda Franklin give this book a perspective that is lacking in Coleman’s book. I do wish, however, that I didn’t feel like I had already read parts of Little Girl Blue.

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Repost: Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart write their life stories in Kicking & Dreaming…

I am reposting this May 2014 review I wrote of Ann and Nancy Wilson’s, book Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll. For some reason, I never shared it on my blogs, so technically it’s not a repost from them. It was originally published on PopRockNation, and appears here as/is.

I have admired Ann and Nancy Wilson, talented sisters from Seattle, for as long as I can remember. These two women are among the most respected women in rock & roll. They have enjoyed a career that has spanned over four decades and are longstanding members of a band that has had chart topping songs since the 1970s. Heart is one of a very few bands that has enjoyed that kind of success and Ann and Nancy Wilson were integral to making that success a reality.

Since I am myself a singer and I do love my rock & roll, it seemed natural that I’d want to read Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll. The book was published in 2012, but I just got around to reading it. This book was a lot of fun to read and made me like the Wilson sisters even more than I did before. Ghostwriter Charles R. Cross did a masterful job in making this book sound as if it came straight from the Wilson sisters. When I finished reading, I felt like I’d love to know them as friends.

Back in 2008, Ann Wilson released an album called Hope & Glory. It consisted of duets she did with a number of different famous singers like Elton John, Alison Krauss, Gretchen Wilson, and Wynonna. I remember thinking at the time that the album was very left wing and political, since the songs were mostly covers of anti-war songs. I am married to a man who is about to retire from the Army, so the subject of war is a personal one for me. I bought this album when it first came out and listened to it fairly regularly for a time. At the time, I had no knowledge of the Wilson sisters’ own history with the military. I didn’t know they were Marine brats.

Ann Wilson covers Neil Young’s “War of Man” with help from Alison Krauss.

Ann, Nancy, and Lynn Wilson were the three daughters of John (Dotes) and Lois Wilson, a Marine and his wife. As kids, they had the typical military brat upbringing, with constant moves stateside and abroad. They spent time in Asia, with a couple of years in Taiwan, then came back to California, where Ann had been born in 1950. Eventually, their father left the Marines and became a teacher. The family made a permanent home in Bellevue, Washington, where Ann and Nancy Wilson blossomed into talented musicians who would one day be world famous rock stars.

Kicking & Dreaming is a very engaging book. Each chapter starts with an amusing rundown of what the chapter is about… kind of like a synopsis one might read in a TV Guide. Each sister’s voice is identified before she spins an old story of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, then growing into a music career. The Wilson sisters were fortunate enough to attend schools that promoted the arts, and that helped lead them to learning their craft.

At the age of 12, Nancy Wilson was a good enough guitar player that she was teaching others how to play. Ann was becoming a notable singer, with a big voice that seemed custom made for singing rock & roll. She and Nancy cut their teeth on songs by Led Zeppelin and Elton John. In Heart’s early days, the band’s bread and butter was capably covering songs made famous by other people. They would sneak their original material into their set lists at high school proms and in clubs. Many of the earliest shows were in Canada, because one of Heart’s original members had been a Vietnam draft dodger and couldn’t be in the United States. Consequently, Heart was originally more of a Canadian act… and they even got to play Michael J. Fox’s prom!

Heart sings Magic Man, a song they explain in their book.

The Wilsons are both big fans of rock music, too. There are some charming stories in Kicking & Dreaming about Ann and Nancy growing up, going to concerts, and going on quests to see certain rock worthies in concert. In one chapter, Nancy relates the story of how she borrowed money to buy a ticket from a scalper to see Elton John in concert. The ticket turned out to be fake and she almost got arrested when she tried to use it. Undaunted, she scaled a fence and snuck into the venue to see Elton anyway… and many years later, he became a friend and was the very first person to hear their 2012 album, Fanatic, as they were producing it in a hotel room! Another anecdote is about how Nancy and a friend went on a fruitless quest to find Joni Mitchell’s farm in Canada. Ann and Nancy eventually did meet Joni years later. What struck me about the Wilsons is how grounded and normal they seem; here they are big stars themselves, yet they write of being starstruck when in the presence of people like Paul McCartney.

Kicking & Dreaming doesn’t shy away from the more painful topics, either. Ann and Nancy Wilson had to deal with sexism from music business executives and fellow rock stars alike. In one anecdote, the Wilson sisters write about touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd and, because they were women, being tasked to watch the young son of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer, Artimus Pyle. Pyle basically dropped his kid off with Ann and Nancy and expected them to babysit while he went out on an “errand”. The boy ended up spending the night with the Wilson sisters. Artimus Pyle was later in the 1977 plane crash that killed several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd; he was seriously injured, but ultimately survived.

I also read about Ann Wilson’s struggles with obesity and alcoholism and the health problems that came from those issues. I read about both sisters’ quests for motherhood, which they both achieved, though not through giving birth themselves. They share details about their love affairs and friendships, some of which were with fellow famous people. It made for fascinating reading. I have a lot of empathy for both of them, even as I realize how lucky they are to be so talented and successful. Of course, being talented and successful is no barrier to personal demons and psychic pain; they have both dealt with their fair share. Fortunately, they are close to each other and their older sister, Lynn. They also have many lifelong friends, including Sue Ennis, a songwriter they met when they were just girls. Sue Ennis is a member of the Lovemongers, a band the Wilson sisters formed in the 1990s. She also teaches songwriting and music business classes at Shoreline Community College in Seattle, Washington.

An energetic Heart performance of “Straight On”.

I got a big kick out of the chapter in which Nancy Wilson writes about Sarah Palin’s political campaign ripping off Heart’s big hit, “Barracuda”. When Sarah Palin was a teenager, she played high school basketball and was so aggressive on the court that she was called “Sarah Barracuda”. Naturally, Heart’s big song seemed perfect for her campaign, except Heart never gave permission for her to use the song. No one in the band agreed with Palin’s Republican ideals. Moreover, the song, which was written in the 70s, is about the sleaziness of the music business. Nancy notes that it was kind of ironic that Sarah Palin’s camp would want to use it to promote Palin as a potential Vice President of the United States. In the long run, it turned out Palin’s use of “Barracuda” was lucky, since it got new people listening to it and wanting to know what the song meant.

“Barracuda” in 1977.

Kicking & Dreaming is a fantastic read for Heart fans or for anyone who just likes a rock & roll memoir. Ann and Nancy Wilson have dealt with all kinds of adversity throughout their long careers, yet they still seem like really cool women from Seattle who just want to rock and roll and are lucky enough to get paid to do it for millions of people. I highly recommend their book.

According to Nancy Wilson, Ann and Nancy got paid a lot of money to make this ad!

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Repost: LaToya Jackson’s life story circa 1992…

And finally, one last repost for today… I originally read this obscure book in 1992 and reviewed it for Epinions in 2011. It appears here as/is.

I’ve been on a Golden Girls kick lately, so picture it, May 29, 1956, Gary, Indiana.  A fragile infant daughter is born to Joseph and Katherine Jackson.  As the fifth of nine children (a tenth child, Marlon Jackson’s twin brother, died shortly after birth), she will grow up one of the middle children in a powerful family musical dynasty.  But on the day of her birth, her family is poor. 

La Toya Yvonne Jackson would grow up watching her talented brothers form a group called The Jackson Five.  She would see her brother, Michael, become “the king of pop”, and her sister, Janet, become a successful actress and pop star in her own right.  And La Toya Jackson would try to branch out on her own with musical albums and television appearances.  She would never match the success of her siblings.  But in 1992, she would publish a book that, she claims, her family would never want the public to read. 

La Toya Jackson may not have been as famous as any of her brothers or her sister Janet, but in 1992, she was in the midst of a scandal.  Married, to her svengali-esque manager, Jack Gordon, from 1989 until 1997, La Toya Jackson was persuaded to publish her 1992 memoir, La Toya: Growing Up in the Jackson Family.  This book has long been out of print.  I picked it up at the now defunct Peoples’ Drug Store, which had an outlet in Farmville, Virginia, where I went to college.  At age 19, I read this book for the first time and learned about the Jackson family as told by La Toya Jackson to her ghost writer, Patricia Romanowski.  I have since read this book several more times.  It’s not that I’m a big fan of La Toya’s or even the Jacksons as a whole.  It’s just that this is a pretty interesting book.  And it even came out before the mini series about the Jackson family that is always playing on VH1.

LaToya talks about the book.

Family ties and the JWs

La Toya Jackson starts at the beginning, describing her parents’ histories.  Katherine Jackson, nee Katherine Scruse, came from Russell County, Alabama.  La Toya Jackson and her siblings called her mother’s father, Prince Scruse, “Daddy”, while they called their own father by his first name, Joseph.  La Toya explains that no Jackson child could ever be spoiled.  Joseph Jackson was a hardworking but very strict father.  Katherine Jackson was a loving and God fearing mother. 

When La Toya was young, her mother became a Jehovah’s Witness.  La Toya writes that her grandparents felt sorry for the children because they could no longer celebrate Christmas, so they would buy them presents and take them to Christmas parties.  Katherine Jackson permitted the holiday celebrations because she saw that they brought her children joy; other than that, everyone except for Joseph converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and followed its teachings.  La Toya includes some interesting information about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, as well as some interesting anecdotes about her experiences with the faith.  She also writes that no one was forced to convert to the Witnesses; everyone did so voluntarily, though some of her siblings eventually abandoned the faith.

Joseph Jackson… not sparing the rod

By La Toya Jackson’s account, Joseph Jackson was a big believer in corporal punishment.  She writes that she was an excellent student, but shy in class.  One day, she brought home a report card that explained that her work was outstanding, but the teacher felt she was too quiet and shy and therefore wasn’t mature enough for the next grade.  She recommended holding La Toya back a grade.  La Toya paid for that note home with a severe beating.  Joseph locked her in a bathroom and threw a book at her, ordering her to read it.  Her brothers and sisters sidestepped her sobbing, bleeding body as they washed up for dinner.

The family business   

La Toya Jackson explains how fame changed her family.  They moved from their tiny Gary, Indiana house to southern California and purchased Hayvenhurst, the famed Jackson compound.  She dishes on what it was like to be a young adult living in that house with her brothers.  She sheds some light on what it was like to live with Michael at the height of his Thriller fame.  She also makes some stunning allegations about Joseph Jackson and his penchant for abuse, both physical and sexual. 

Brides, Prince, Playboy, and sideshows…

La Toya writes about her brothers’ marriages and romances.  She includes one particularly lurid account of her brother Jackie’s romance with Paula Abdul, which happened when he was married.  It may be worth the price of the book just to read about what happened to poor Paula at the hands of Jackie’s wife, Enid.  She writes of the variety show the Jacksons put on in the 1970s as an answer to another big religious family’s television fame, The Osmonds.  She also offers an interesting account of meeting Prince, who evidently took a liking to her and completely freaked her out.

La Toya also writes about her decision to do a spread for Playboy magazine.  Given her strict religious upbringing and fastidious nature, the decision to pose for a men’s magazine was not without scandal.  If you read La Toya’s book, you will get her thoughts about that experience, at least as it was in 1992. 

We Are The World…

Though I am definitely old enough to remember the original recording of “We Are The World”, I did not know La Toya was a member of the choir.  She includes some very interesting anecdotes about what it was like to sing that landmark song with musical legends of the 1980s, like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Steve Perry, Kenny Loggins, Kenny Rogers, Bette Midler, Dionne Warwick, and so many others.  I have to admit, I really miss the 1980s sometimes and reading about “We Are The World” before Justin Bieber sang it really kind of feeds my nostalgia.

A grain of salt…

It’s important to take this book with a grain of salt.  First off, when this book was written, La Toya was on the outs with her family.  She was married to her manager, Jack Gordon, whom she describes in this book as the love of her life.  Years after this book was published, she later described him as abusive and exploitative.  It’s hard to know where the truth lies.  Secondly, La Toya has publicly recanted a lot of what she wrote in this book.  There have, however, been other accounts that allege abuse and strife within the family.  

My thoughts

I’m not too sure how seriously I should take La Toya Jackson’s book.  I think it’s well written and it’s certainly titillating enough.  I’m sure that there is truth to much of what La Toya writes.  However, I also realize that she grew up in the shadow of Hollywood and at the time this book was written, had reason to sensationalize and embellish.  It seemed to me this book was written purely to make money, both for her and her greedy ex husband, Jack Gordon.

I appreciated the fact that La Toya included pictures.  It was kind of cool to see the Jacksons in all their 1970s splendor, at  a time when I was too young to appreciate them.  I also liked some of La Toya’s family anecdotes.  She implies that she enjoyed a very close relationship with her family, until everything went south…  From what I can tell, that closeness is back, now that she’s not with her former manager anymore.  This book was also published right before La Toya released an album, which seems like a slick marketing move.

On the other hand, I think this book is entertaining and will probably be interesting to Jackson fans.  Yes, it’s lurid, and maybe it’s not the whole truth.  But if you want to get your hands on every scrap of information about the Jackson family, it may not be a bad idea to pick up this book. 

Overall  

If you like the Jacksons and are interested in trivia, you might want to read La Toya’s book.  I’ve certainly read worse.

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