celebrities, mental health, modern problems, psychology

Repost: Depression is not the “common cold” of mental illness…

I wrote the post below on June 9, 2018, when we were blissfully ignorant of the oncoming pandemic and all of the other shit that has happened in the past few years. I’m going to leave this post mostly as/is. I still feel this way in 2022, and I think that now, more than ever, we should be very careful about blowing off people who seem depressed.

This week, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two much beloved, highly successful, incredibly talented people, suddenly decided to end their lives.  The news of both suicides came as a total shock to me.  I was especially blown away when I heard about Bourdain.

There’s a trite saying that depression is the “common cold” of mental illness.  I usually cringe when I hear that, though, because most people don’t die of the common cold, which can cause temporary misery, but usually goes away without any lingering effects.  Depression can be serious enough to cause death.  When depression is a factor, I don’t think of suicide as someone selfishly taking their own lives.  I think of it as a terminal event, much like people who have cancer or diabetes have terminal events that kill them.  What’s more, depression can go on for many years unabated.  It doesn’t necessarily clear up in a week or two like a cold does.

At this point, I don’t know why Anthony Bourdain committed suicide.  Kate Spade’s husband has publicly come out to say that his wife had struggled with depression for many years.  Maybe Anthony Bourdain was also depressed.  I hesitate to assume I know why Bourdain decided to end his life.  The truth is, at this point, I really don’t know.  Most likely, he also suffered from the so-called “common cold” of mental illness.  Except depression is not really like the common cold at all.  

When Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014, many people were angry and outraged.  Initially, it was said that he’d had terrible depression, and he most assuredly did.  Many people felt he was simply weak and gutless for taking his life.  Then, some weeks later, it came out that Williams had been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia.  A lot of people don’t know anything about Lewy Body Dementia.  It’s not one of those diseases that gets a prominent face in the media.

My father had Lewy Body Dementia with Parkinsonian features.  I watched it take him from being an independent man with a sharp mind and a strong body, to a frail shadow of himself.  My dad was in his 70s when he was diagnosed with it.  It was devastating for him and for my mom, who spent at least six years taking care of him.  In the weeks before his death in July 2014, he was getting so debilitated that my mom was considering putting him in a nursing home.  It was becoming too hard for her to take care of him, even with the home health aides she had helping her.

Robin Williams was 63 when he died and, according to his wife, his case of LBD was very severe.  Although Williams died by his own hand, it was really the LBD, co-morbid with depression, that killed him.  Perhaps Bourdain was also facing a health situation that led him to kill himself.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he was just very depressed and simply decided that living was too painful.  I don’t know.  I actually couldn’t blame him in any event.  I have no idea what he was dealing with in his personal life and could never fully understand it even if I did.

I read that Bourdain died in Kaysersberg, France.  Bill and I were in Alsace two weeks ago and had made tentative plans to visit that town while we were there.  We didn’t end up going, but resolved to visit on a later trip to France. (2022- We did finally visit Kaysersberg two years ago, months before COVID took over the world).  It’s strange to think that this man, whose innovative food and travel journalism I only recently discovered, was just a mere two hours away from me when he died.  The area where Bourdain exited this existence is absolutely beautiful.  Given that he had very French roots, it almost seems fitting that he chose to die in France, even if I’m sorry it happened the way it did.

I only recently– like within the past three weeks– started watching Bourdain’s show, Parts Unknown.  I started watching it because Bourdain had visited Armenia and I was curious about what he thought of it.  I was so impressed by the show he did on a country where I spent two years of my life.  My years in Armenia were pretty difficult.  In fact, my own issues with depression worsened significantly when I was there.  However, twenty-one years beyond my time in Armenia has left me with mostly good memories.  I don’t think as much about the profound feelings of worthlessness I experienced there… and so many years hence, I realize that my time there was not at all wasted.  It only seemed that way at the time, partly due to my life inexperience and partly due to the distorted thinking that comes from being depressed.

One thing I’ve noticed all week is that some people are sharing their own stories about depression.  Other people are imploring their friends and loved ones to “reach out” if they feel suicidal.  Many people are also sharing the suicide hotline.  I’m going to be frank and say that the repeated posts about the suicide hotline kind of get on my nerves.  It’s not because I don’t think people should know about and use the hotline.  It’s more because simply sharing that phone number is about as effective as offering “thoughts and prayers”.  Besides, not everyone who is depressed actually realizes they are depressed.  I didn’t know I was depressed until it had been going on for years.

Clinical depression causes a host of symptoms that make “reaching out” extremely difficult.  Depression robs people of their self-esteem and energy.  You might encourage your withdrawn friends to “reach out” and remind them that you’re always there to listen.  But in the mind of a depressed person, you’re not really talking to them.  Even if you were specifically talking to them, reaching out takes energy and courage.  And sometimes people say they want their friends to reach out, but then they aren’t actually available or interested.

Sometimes, instead of really listening and empathizing, well-meaning people try to cheer up their depressed friend by telling them about all the “good” things they have.  Personally, I think telling someone who is depressed and anxious to “buck up” and “get over it” is pretty much the worst thing you can do.  It’s very likely to backfire.  Someone who musters the courage to reach out, especially to someone who has encouraged them to do so, does NOT need to hear about all the apparently awesome things they have to live for.

Please don’t tell your depressed friend that they are being selfish, overly dramatic, or self-centered, either.  Shaming doesn’t help.  It only makes things worse.

What many depressed people really need is someone who listens to what they have to say and assists them in finding their way to a person who is qualified to help them.  Listen to your friend without interrupting.  When they tell you what’s on their mind, say something that validates their feelings and indicates that you understand that they need help.  You could say something like, “It sounds like you’re very overwhelmed right now.”  If you can’t help them yourself, you could say,  “Let’s find someone who can help you with these problems.”  That’s certainly better than, “I can’t believe you’re depressed.  Look at all this cool shit you have!  I’d kill to live in your house with your hot wife (or husband, as the case might be).”

On the surface, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had everything to live for.  They were both very successful in their careers.  Both were parents of young daughters.  Both had achieved financial success and had friends who adored them.  They were adored by strangers, too.  Still, somehow they both still made the decision to commit suicide.  They aren’t alone.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is on the rise in the United States.  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain no doubt had access to medical help that too many people in the United States don’t have, yet they still died by suicide.  Common colds don’t usually end that way, at least not in people who are basically healthy.    

I may have to watch more of Bourdain’s shows.  I’ll have to read at least one of his books.  He left behind so many gifts. Although he died by his own hand, and some people think that was selfish of him, I think he was a very generous person to share his talents with the world.  While I don’t own any of Kate Spade’s quirky creations, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of handbags my friends own.  They’ve been sharing those pictures all week, letting everyone know that Kate Spade mattered to them.  Sadly, when you have depression, you don’t notice that you matter to others… and when they tell you that you do matter, you don’t necessarily believe what they say.  Depression is a major mind fuck.  It’s really nothing like a cold.  And getting over it takes time, effort, money, and the ability to give a damn.

ETA in 2022: Fellow blogger and frequent commenter Alexis wrote this on the original post…

It’s interesting that you mentioned the “common cold of mental illness” analogy. A psychiatrist lecturer I heard in my second year disputed that analogy, saying that if a physical illness metaphor were needed or in any way beneficial, that depression would more correctly be described as “the ‘lupus’ of mental illness.” As with lupus, some people with depression mostly manage to function with medication. Others are never well but aren’t quite terminal. Others with either lupus or depression will lose their lives to the conditions. Depression is far from being a mostly self-limiting condition.

I had read another person refer to depression as the “diabetes” of mental illness. That also seems more like a realistic comparison of depression to a physical illness than a cold. At least if it’s clinical depression and not a situational depression.

Another commenter– DaBrickMaster– wrote this…

Depression should not be underestimated by any means, and it’s hard for someone who has never experienced it to understand. I went through a depression that slowly crept up on me several years ago, and it felt like I was trapped in an unescapable despair that I just wanted to end. I’m thankful for my parents and doctors who were there to support me to successfully get me out.

I realize now that many people out there aren’t so fortunate, and I just can’t imagine how one can get out of depression on your own. So if someone is stuck in a rut, I won’t hesitate to be there and help out.

Thanks for sharing this post, @knotty, and I’m terribly sorry that you and your family had to suffer from depression and LBD. They are most definitely NOT like a common cold.

And this was my response…

Thanks for the comment and for reading. I’m grateful I got through my depression and I’m happy that you got through yours. I think a lot of people just don’t understand it unless they’ve experienced it. The thing that made me realize that depression is a real illness was the process of feeling better and the rational thinking and mental clarity I finally had. It was like someone turned on a light.

I still have my blue days, but nothing so far like what I experienced twenty years ago. I hope I never feel like that again.

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Repost: A look at Linda Gray’s The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction

Here’s an as/is repost of a book review I wrote for my original blog. It appeared on February 6, 2017. I was reminded to repost this review after watching The Love Boat, yesterday. Juliet Prowse was a guest star and they showed off her fabulous legs. I was reminded of Linda Gray, writing about her “stems”.

Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of Dallas.  They offer a flashback to my youth, a time when I didn’t care about things like politics.  I was very young when Dallas first started airing and a young woman when it finally went off the air.  So, I guess for that reason, Dallas is a comfort.

Many people know that actress Linda Gray played a pivotal role on Dallas.  She was Sue Ellen Ewing, J.R. Ewing’s long suffering alcoholic wife.  Later, Gray starred in Models Inc., an Aaron Spelling spin off of the 90s hit Melrose Place, which was itself a spin off of Beverly Hills 90210.  Models Inc. flopped and was cancelled after one season.  But in 2012, a reboot of Dallas came along and Gray was able to be Sue Ellen again for three seasons.

I like life stories, so that’s probably why I decided to download Gray’s 2015 book, The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction.  I finally got around to reading it and finished it yesterday while in my sick bed.  It’s basically Linda Gray’s life story mixed with the odd recipe, cute anecdotes, and Gray’s self help philosophies.  I understand the book was written to commemorate Gray’s 75th birthday.  She still looks good.

I learned some new things when I read this book.  I never knew that Gray had polio when she was a child.  She spent several months in bed and almost ended up in an iron lung.  Fortunately, that treatment ultimately wasn’t indicated and Gray eventually recovered.  Gray is also the daughter of an alcoholic.  Her mother, who was apparently a very talented artist with a great sense of style, drank to numb the boredom of simply being a wife and a mother.  I’m sure growing up with an alcoholic mother gave Gray some cues as to how she should play alcoholic Sue Ellen.

There are a few anecdotes about Dallas, as well as a couple of funny stories about Larry Hagman, who was one of Gray’s dearest friends.  Gray also writes about how she came to capture the part of Sue Ellen.  Although she’d been a model and commercial actress for years, at the time she got her big break, she was married, 38 years old, and the mother of two kids rapidly approaching adolescence.  Her husband had not wanted her to work, but Gray was finding life as a housewife unfulfilling and boring.  She went against her husband’s wishes and soon became a star.  The marriage fell apart, but Gray finally found a purpose other than being a mother and a housewife.  She thrived.

I did take notice when California born and bred Gray wrote about learning how to speak like a rich woman from Dallas.  She writes that she met Dolly Parton, who told her to just emulate her.  Gray said Dolly didn’t sound “Texan”.  She asked Dolly where she was from and claims Dolly said “Georgia”.  Um…  Dolly Parton is not from Georgia!  She’s from Tennessee!  I guess Gray isn’t a fan of country music.  Gray ended up finding a voice coach who taught her some tricks.  She also hung out at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas a lot, to see how rich women from Dallas behaved.

I mostly enjoyed Gray’s book.  It looks like she wrote it herself, with no help from a ghost writer.  I think she did a fairly good job, although there are a few small snafus like the one I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  I liked that Gray came across as very normal and approachable. 

On the other hand, toward the end of the book, she offers some advice to her readers that I don’t think she herself takes.  For instance, she writes about how off putting it is when people brag.  She kind of does some bragging herself.  Not that I wouldn’t have expected her to brag somewhat; she is a famous actress who has had an unusual life.  But it does seem disingenuous when an actress tells her readers about how annoying she finds braggarts right after she writes about her “come hither” eyes and “amazing stems” (legs).  Acting is not exactly a profession for people who aren’t a little bit self-absorbed (although I am sure there are exceptions).  Self help advice from a celebrity often rings hollow anyway.  A little bit goes a long way. 

At the end of the book there are pictures.  Many of them are too small to see, at least on an iPad. 

I probably could have done without the self help sections, with the exception of Gray’s life “principles”, which were cleverly conceived and included funny anecdotes.  She also includes a couple of recipes– one for a conditioner she uses on her hair and another for some kind of meat pie she made for her kids, which doesn’t seem to jibe with her advice to eat clean.

I give this book 3.5 stars on a scale of 5.  It’s not bad, and parts are interesting and enjoyable.  But self help advice usually puts me off, anyway.

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Repost: What’s it like to be Arnold Jackson’s best friend? Shavar Ross gives us the scoop on being “Dudley”!

Here’s a reposted book review from March 6, 2018. It appears here as/is, as I consider what the subject of today’s fresh content will be. Lately, I’ve been watching tons of 80s era sitcoms. I find them oddly comforting.

Today’s title probably only means something if you were around in the late 70s and early to mid 80s and watched TV.  That period of time happened to be during the prime years of my childhood, when we had no Internet and TV was the thing rotting everyone’s minds.  I was a big fan of the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, which was an enormously popular and successful show during that time period.  It’s been really sad for me, and for a lot of my peers, to watch the cast of that beloved show die off, one by one.

As of 2018, Conrad Bain, Dana Plato, and Gary Coleman are all dead.  So are Mary Ann Mobley, Nedra Volz, and Dixie Carter.  But we still have Todd Bridges, Janet Jackson, Danny Cooksey, and Shavar Ross, who played Arnold Jackson’s (Gary Coleman’s character) best friend, Dudley Johnson.  To this day, the only other Dudley I know of is Dudley Moore.  I don’t think “Dudley” is a very popular name these days.  According to Shavar Ross, his character “Dudley” was named after someone on the Diff’rent Strokesproduction crew.  I learned that little tidbit and a handful more when I read Ross’s book, On The Set of Diff’rent Strokes.

The theme song for the famous sitcom that Gary Coleman so hated…

Ross published his book in 2007, when Gary Coleman and Conrad Bain were still alive.  Nevertheless, the cast of Diff’rent Strokes did seem to have a bit of a curse.  Dana Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999, having previously fallen into an abyss of drug addiction, porn, and crime.  Nedra Volz, who played housekeeper Adelaide, had died years earlier of old age.  Todd Bridges is still living, but he had some serious problems with drugs and was even tried for the attempted murder of Kenneth “Tex” Clay, a Los Angeles area drug dealer.  And Gary Coleman just plain seemed pissed off at the world.

At the beginning of Ross’s book, he explains that the book isn’t about all of the scandals that plagued the cast of Diff’rent Strokes.  Instead, he focuses on his experience getting cast in the role of Dudley.  He also explains that he likes to write the way he speaks, so the book won’t be as grammatically correct as it could be.  That made me twitch a little, but it’s fair enough, I guess.  I only spent about $3 on the book, anyway.

I managed to read Ross’s book in a couple of hours.  The only reason it took longer than an hour or so, is because I had to take a brief nap while I was reading.  This book is only 36 pages and contains no pictures.  It starts off with a brief history of Ross’s family of origin.  He was born in the Bronx and his parents separated when he was six years old.  His dad was an actor who decided to move to Los Angeles.  His mom took Ross and his half sister to Macon, Georgia so they could be close to family while his mother went to college. 

Ross went on a vacation to California to see his father at Christmas time.  During that visit, he was discovered by a top children’s talent agent named Evelyn Shultz.  Shultz noticed him when he was watching a play starring Kim Fields, who later became famous in her role as “Tootie” on The Facts of Life, which was a highly successful spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.  Ross writes that he was a fan of Diff’rent Strokes and had watched it in Georgia on a black and white portable TV.  When the opportunity came up for him to audition for a part playing Arnold’s best friend, Dudley, he jumped at it, beating out about 250 kids.

Ross’s first appearance on Diff’rent Strokes was on a 1980 episode called “Teacher’s Pet”.  His father was one of the extras on that episode, which was about Arnold’s dad, Phillip Drummond, asking out Arnold’s teacher after meeting her at a parent/teacher conference.  The teacher began to dote on Arnold, causing his friends to tease him.  The chemistry was good enough on that episode that Ross was asked to be a recurring character.

Basically, that’s about it for Ross’s story, which I think is a real shame.  I appreciate that he didn’t want to share any dirt on the series.  I imagine it would have been tempting to do that, since the show was so popular.  He does offer a few superficial insights about Gary Coleman and the rest of the cast, but a lot of what he wrote was stuff I already knew.  Like, for instance, Coleman loved trains.  If you watched the show, you’d know that.  He basically says Dana Plato was “nice” and Todd Bridges was “cool”.  Janet Jackson was very “sweet and shy”.  I think he could have gone into more detail without stooping to spreading gossip.

Also, while I think the book is basically well-written, especially for someone who flat out writes that he isn’t concerned with proper grammar, there are a lot of typos and some misspellings.  I understand that editing is a chore, but it really wouldn’t have taken much to polish this book a bit more and give it a more professional air.

A funny rehash of Diff’rent Strokes’ most special episode, ever.

Finally, I can’t believe Ross didn’t write more about the episodes themselves.  Anyone who watched Diff’rent Strokes knows that Ross was featured in a very special two part episode called “The Bicycle Man”.  That episode, in which the late LDS character actor Gordon Jump starred, was about child molestation.  The show handled the subject in a rather G-rated fashion, but it was still pretty shocking material at the time.  It would have been interesting if Ross had dished a bit about that episode.  But maybe it was too traumatic for him. 

I do know that Ross eventually became a pastor, so maybe some subjects are taboo.  He’s also been married for a long time and has two kids.  It would have been nice if he’d written more about his family and his life beyond his acting career.  That would have been interesting reading and he wouldn’t have been guilty of spreading dirt.  He could have written more about how he broke into acting.  The way the book reads now, it sounds like he went on vacation, lucked into meeting an agent, and *poof*, he was an actor.  I think he could have offered more details and a more accurate accounting of his time.  What did his family think of his success?  Did his mom stay in Georgia with his sister?  Did Shavar Ross live with his dad?  He addresses none of this in his very brief book.

Although I appreciate that Shavar Ross took the time to write his book, I think On The Set of Diff’rent Strokes could have been a whole lot better.  I don’t think it’s terrible as much as it is incomplete.  It’s just a very short book and doesn’t reveal much at all.  I think if a person is going to go to the trouble of publishing a book, he or she should make the book worth reading.  This book probably doesn’t reveal anything that a determined researcher can’t find online.  But, on the positive side, it’s cheap, and Ross straight up says he’s not going to dish much.  At least I didn’t spring for the paperback version, which sells for $7.95.

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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: 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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