book reviews, music

A review of On and Off: An autobiography by Stephen Bishop…

Some time ago, I started following singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop on Facebook. I think I did so because I am a child of the 70s and 80s, and he’s written and sung some songs that have endured very well over the years. I love his original song, “On and On”, and as someone who saw Tootsie when it was in the movie theaters, I love his version of “It Might Be You”. I also love “Separate Lives”, which was used in the 1985 film White Nights. The famous version of that song was done as a duet by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, but Stephen Bishop wrote it as a solo.

No, Phil Collins didn’t write this song. It was composed by Stephen Bishop. I like both versions, but I think I prefer Stephen’s solo.

I remember a few years ago, I did a karaoke version of Stephen’s solo version of “Separate Lives”, and some mansplaining guy on SingSnap left me a congratulatory comment, then “informed” me that it was originally a Phil Collins song. I was annoyed by that comment and wrote, “No, it’s actually a composition by Stephen Bishop. It’s HIS song. Phil Collins just made it famous.” Yeah, maybe a little bitchy on my part, but if you’re gonna try to school me on something, especially when it’s about music, at least be RIGHT! Just a little pet peeve of mine… but I write about it to establish that I like Stephen Bishop’s music and have for a long time. I am, on the whole, a Bishop booster.

One of my favorite songs by Stephen Bishop.

So, when I learned that Stephen Bishop had written and self published his autobiography, I was interested. I like to read non-fiction, and especially enjoy autobiographies and biographies. However, having followed Stephen Bishop on Facebook and noticed some of his postings, I hesitated to pull the trigger. I’m going to be very honest. Stephen Bishop mostly comes across as very nice, and likely does his own social media, which I think is mostly a good thing. However, sometimes he also seems a little fawning and obsequious to me. I noticed that he was strongly urging people to read his book, which I guess is understandable. But there’s something to be said for letting a work stand for itself. If the subject is compelling, people will come to it. Some of his efforts to sell the book seemed a little too enthusiastic. On the other hand, having followed him on Facebook, I can believe that this book was authentically written by Stephen Bishop, in his own voice– for better or worse.

Anyway, I downloaded the book in late July and just finished reading it yesterday. I’m left with a mixed mind about On and Off. Overall, I’m not sorry I read the book. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about Stephen Bishop. For instance, before I read his book, I didn’t realize that Bishop was raised in the Christian Science faith. His mother, who was from Key West, Florida, was a devoted adherent to the religion, and she dragged her son to church every week. However, in spite of his mother’s fervor for Christian Science, it’s quite clear to me that Bishop is no longer a follower. He includes a couple of anecdotes about the religion, which to many people will probably seem exotic.

Stephen Bishop didn’t grow up with his father, who was himself a musician, but made a living selling insurance. However, his father was in his life, even if Bishop’s “creepy” stepfather Kim was the more constant figure. Bishop makes it plain that he didn’t really like his stepfather, but he includes a number of stories about him, as well as a few photos. Although his mother was southern, Bishop was born and raised in San Diego, California. He makes it sound like there were some people in his community who were like surrogate parents to him. I can relate to that. I had a few of those “surrogate parents” myself, when I was growing up.

Some of Bishop’s stories are pretty funny. Some are just bizarre. A lot of his stories are genuinely entertaining and interesting, even if I was left scratching my head a few times. Bishop, to his credit, fully acknowledges that he’s been involved in a number of “weird” situations, which I can relate to, as someone who has also been in some truly odd predicaments myself. But I think some of the weird stories could have been replaced by more in depth writing about his life in the music business, as well as his upbringing.

Livingston Taylor does a nice job covering Stephen Bishop’s song, “On and On”. I notice that Stephen Bishop left him an appreciative comment. I’m a big Livingston Taylor fan, too. Especially when he’s in concert.

Prospective readers should know that a large portion of Bishop’s book consists of anecdotes, many of which are unrelated to each other. I guess it makes sense, as Bishop has made a name for himself writing songs, and most songs are short. Songwriting is not the same kind of writing as authoring a book is. I guess I was just a bit frustrated that the book was kind of mishmashed– with numbered anecdotes in some places, and portions that were more of a connected story in others. I also strongly believe that this book could have used an editor. There are some typos, and Bishop is frequently redundant, writing as if he’s speaking to his readers.

You know how sometimes, when you’re telling a story to someone, you might make a statement, go slightly off on a tangent, then come back to the original topic? That’s kind of what Stephen Bishop does. A little of that is okay, but it happens pretty frequently in this book. An editor would have streamlined the redundancies and perhaps connected Bishop’s life experiences in a more straightforward manner. I guess if I had to use musical terms, I would describe Bishop’s book as staccato, rather than legato. Maybe I just prefer legato writing to staccato, but that’s just me. I’m sure others like the short snippets that aren’t connected.

Stephen Bishop performs at the 1983 Academy Awards wearing a bespoke suit that he says he still owns. “It Might Be You” is one of the few Bishop hits that he didn’t write. I love this song.

One thing I did notice and appreciate about On and Off is that it’s a quick and easy read, and some of Bishop’s stories about other celebrities he’s met are interesting. However, I also noticed an implication that maybe he didn’t feel like he was a big enough star. He writes about how he was once good friends with the movie director John Landis, and Landis had both used his music and given him bit parts in his films. Bishop was famously cast in Animal House, and he includes the funny story about how he ended up singing “I Gave My Love a Cherry” in that film and two guitars were sacrificed for the sake of comedy.

Landis, who directed Michael Jackson’s video, “Thriller”, even used Bishop in that video. But Bishop writes that one day, he called Landis at home and found that his phone had been disconnected. Landis later told him to only call him at the office, but when Bishop did that, he would end up leaving messages for his old friend with a secretary, and Landis wouldn’t return his calls. Then he concludes that Landis had “cleaned house” and stopped talking to people who weren’t “big enough”.

I’m not a celebrity myself, so I don’t know what that world is like. Maybe there’s some truth to Bishop’s conclusions about Landis. However, having watched him post oily platitudes on other celebrities’ pages on social media, I kind of wonder if maybe Bishop doesn’t realize how he might come across to some people. Obviously, the man is a talented musician, singer-songwriter, and actor. He’s won Grammy and Oscar nominations for his work. I don’t think there’s a question that he’s got star quality. However, he does sometimes seem to be a bit socially awkward and unaware. Case in point, below is an excerpt about an interaction Bishop had with the late John Belushi:

[Belushi] knew that I was friends with Eric Clapton, and that really impressed him. John asked me when I was going to see Eric again. I happened to be going to England the next month and told Belushi that I would say hello to Eric for him. As luck would have it, I hung out with Eric a lot on that trip. I mentioned to Eric that there was this talented actor named John Belushi on a television show called Saturday Night Live in the United States. Eric immediately knew who I was talking about and shrugged a little bit and said, “He’s the guy who does the imitation of Joe Cocker right? I’m not so sure about that guy…” After I returned from England, I remember having a conversation on the phone with Belushi in a phone booth. John sounded so eager and like a little kid saying, “Did you mention me? Did you say that I’m his biggest fan?” I said, “Gee, John, I feel really bad, but Eric doesn’t like that Joe Cocker bit that you do.”

“Oh, really?” John said, very disappointed. “Oh, okay…”

Bishop, Stephen. On and Off: An autobiography by Stephen Bishop (pp. 193-194). Stephen Bishop Music/Windsong Entertainment . Kindle Edition.

Bishop continues that he found out that Belushi was on LSD at the time and had a “bad trip” after what he told him about Clapton’s negative response regarding Belushi being a fan of his. Then he writes, “I felt really bad about that.” First off, the idea that Belushi’s “bad trip” had anything to do with Bishop telling him that Eric Clapton wasn’t a fan of his is kind of egotistical in and of itself. And secondly, it seems to me that there was no reason to tell Belushi that Clapton “wasn’t so sure about him”. He could have simply told Belushi that Clapton had seen him on Saturday Night Live and left it at that. I didn’t think that what Clapton allegedly said sounded that bad, anyway. It’s not like he called Belushi an asshole or anything. He just said he wasn’t so sure about him. But it seems to me that telling Belushi that Clapton didn’t like him was kind of an unnecessary and tone deaf move in the first place.

Eric Clapton is another subject in and of itself. Bishop very frequently mentions his friendship with Eric Clapton, and writes more than once that Clapton is a fan of his. He also writes that Aretha Franklin once asked him for his autograph, following with a comment that seems kind of like “humble bragging”, when he writes that he “worshiped her”. There are a number of name dropping, “false humility”, “humble bragging” moments in this book. A good editor could have toned down this tendency so that it was less annoying and off-putting, and more entertaining and informative.

My guess is that Stephen Bishop sees himself as a great writer. And, you know what? He IS a great writer… of pop songs. Writing a book is different, and I think he should have had some help writing his story. That’s just my opinion as a “nobody” out here in blogger land. But, on the positive side, I mostly did enjoy Bishop’s book. He’s lived an interesting life. I will also continue to enjoy Stephen Bishop’s music, but with a new understanding that I didn’t have before I read his autobiography.

Bottom line– I do think On and Off is worth reading if you’re a fan of Stephen Bishop’s music. However, I’m also reminded of the old saying… “You should never meet your heroes.”

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Ex, lessons learned, mental health, music

It’s important to B.S.U.R… exactly who you are… Life lessons from James Taylor

There’s an old song by James Taylor that comes to mind as I type today’s blog post. The song, “B.S.U.R. (S.U.C.S.I.M.I.M.)”, comes from his 1979 album, Flag. Although a lot of critics might not share my opinion, I think Flag is a wonderful album. It’s probably my favorite of JT’s older albums, probably because it’s the one I remember best from when I was very young… my introduction to him, as it were. Yes, that album includes a cringey disco cover version of “Day Tripper” by The Beatles… which, actually, is kind of a guilty pleasure to me. But it also includes several good songs, including James’s wonderful rendition of “Up On The Roof”, which I prefer to all other versions. And it also includes the aforementioned “B.S.U.R.”, which has James’s ex wife, Carly Simon, singing backup, and some very wise lyrics.

Be as you are…

Here are the lyrics to “B.S.U.R.”, in case you’d rather not play the video.

She’s been holding on too long
Hoping I’m gonna change
Giving it up just a little bit more
Each time I come home
Looking and acting strange
Putting her down for putting up with me

Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am
Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am

Do you think you might improve me
Trying to take control?
Watching every little thing I do
Just like a bleeding movie
Just like a leading role
Mama, this ain’t me
And I don’t believe that’s you

Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am
Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am

First you make believe
I believe the things
That you make believe
And I’m bound to let you down
Then it’s I who have been deceiving
Purposely misleading
And all along you believed in me

So, we circle around one another
Playing a guessing game
Strangers at this masquerade
Pretending to know each other
We strain to catch a name
And never see the mistakes we must have made

Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am
Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am

(songwriter is James Taylor)

Just for the sake of context… in 1979, James Taylor and Carly Simon were the parents of two young children. They had been married for about seven years. In spite of the wise lyrics in this song, James was actually in a bit of trouble. He was a notorious drug addict, suffered from depression, and, according to Carly Simon’s book, he had a habit of cheating. It’s interesting to note that the “flag” used for this album’s cover is the international maritime signal for “man overboard”. Indeed, in 1979, James Taylor might have very well felt like a man overboard.

Carly Simon reportedly wanted James to settle down and be more of a family man (another great song by James Taylor). But, as James titled his next album, Dad Loves His Work. He wasn’t going to change. They were divorced by 1983, and perhaps spurred on by the 1981 drug overdose death of his close friend, John Belushi, and the 1983 death of his friend, Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, James got over his heroin and methadone habits.

But Taylor still struggled a lot with depression and considered retiring from music. He was asked to go to Rio de Janeiro in 1985 and play a music festival, which was recorded and put on an imported CD. I actually own a copy of it, courtesy of one of my sisters who gave it to me for Christmas in 1990. James was so well received in Rio that he got a second wind, and he subsequently released another album called That’s Why I’m Here. I distinctly remember reading the liner notes and saw that he’d dedicated the new album to Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Taylor would go on to consider retiring again, after losing his father and his brother, Alex, on James’s 45th birthday in 1993. Alex was also a severe alcoholic.

So… what’s all of this backstory got to do with “B.S.U.R.”? Well, I just think this song, and its very astute lyrics, offers some sage pearls of wisdom. So many of us try to be someone we aren’t. It’s usually because someone else has told us that there’s something “wrong” or “inadequate” about who we are. Sometimes, there is a legitimate issue that needs to be changed. Like, for instance, getting treatment for an addiction or character flaw– say philandering or lying. I’m not referring to issues like those. I’m referring to little criticisms about things you can’t easily change about yourself, like becoming a night owl if you’re a morning person. Or becoming an obsessively neat person, if you’re naturally more of a slob. Or acting like someone you’re not, simply because someone else thinks they would prefer that alternative version to your authentic self.

This morning Bill and I were talking, as we often do over our weekend breakfasts. Bill was telling me about a dream he’d had this morning. He was typing it out, because he sends his dreams to his therapist, who specializes in Carl Jung’s techniques. Dreams are an important part of their work. Bill has really been enjoying working with the therapist. He’s learning a lot about himself, revisiting decisions he’s made. Some of the decisions he made because he wanted to please other people. He didn’t want to disappoint important people in his life, so instead of doing what was best for him, he would acquiesce to what other people wanted. The end results of not advocating for his own self-interests sometimes led to disasters that affected a whole lot of other people. For more on this, you can read this post.

It occurred to me as we were talking that somehow, Bill got the idea from other people that who he was wasn’t enough. He bought into the idea that he needed to change. When he was growing up, he was often compared to his grandfather, a man he never got to meet, because his grandfather had died when Bill’s mom was 14. Apparently, Bill’s grandfather was a really wonderful man. And Bill was repeatedly told that he was “just like” his grandfather. It was as if some of his family members thought he was reincarnated somehow. It wasn’t enough for Bill to be who he was. He was expected to be like a dead man he’d never even met. It was impossible, and disconcerting. Why wasn’t it enough that he was Bill, a marvelous man in his own right? Why did he have to be someone else?

Later, he married his ex wife, a woman with whom he was completely incompatible and didn’t love the way he should have. He married her because she had him convinced that she was his one shot at having a family. Throughout their almost ten year marriage, he bent to her will and tried to change for her every whim. She criticized everything from his taste in music to the length of his hair. She didn’t like his choice of career and wanted him to leave the military. She wanted to live in a house that was a money pit, mainly because she thought it looked like a house she’d seen in a snow globe. She wanted him to be Mormon. She constantly drove him to “change”. Who he was wasn’t enough for her. Meanwhile, she was just fine with herself as she was and was unwilling to amend some of her own destructive habits, like buying things when she had no money to pay for them.

Bill wanted to please his ex wife, so he worked many hours at low paying jobs that didn’t suit him. He gave in to her demands that he have a vasectomy, live in a town where there were few jobs suitable for his skills, grow his hair, become a Mormon (which included giving up alcohol and coffee and wearing special underwear), leave the military, support his ex stepson as if he was the boy’s father, support Ex’s sister and her child on his tiny salary, let Ex spend his money on whatever she wanted, and let Ex handle the bills… which she handled by not paying them. By the time he cried uncle and let go of the marriage, he had been through bankruptcy and foreclosure and she had him convinced that he was a terrible person… so bad, that she could easily replace him with her next victim, #3.

Wow… if Bill was such a terrible person, why is it that we’ve been so happily married for almost 19 years? Do I seem like the kind of person who would marry a jerk? I have a lot of flaws myself, but I can tell you for certain that one flaw I don’t have is “people pleasing”. I don’t stay with people who make me unhappy. Not if I can help it. I don’t have a tendency to attract abusers. I’m probably too outspoken for them.

In any case, I love Bill just the way he is. I always have. He doesn’t need to change anything fundamental about himself for me. I think that’s why it’s so easy for us to be with each other.

Now… that doesn’t mean that there aren’t habits I’d like for him to change. Like, for instance, I’d like him to say no to me sometimes. I’m not always right. Bill likes to be a leader, but sometimes he gets a little bit wishy washy because he doesn’t want to disappoint me. But what ends up happening is, I end up disappointed anyway. Here’s an example of what I mean.

A couple of weeks ago, when we were in Switzerland, Bill had his heart set on visiting Carl Jung’s house and museum. Jung’s house and museum have very limited visiting hours and one typically has to book tickets in advance. Bill had done that, and we had an appointment to go to the house and museum at 2:00pm. But before we went, we visited a church to see Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows.

Now, I wasn’t particularly wedded to either of these activities. I would have been happy just to sit on the boat cruise and take a tour around Lake Zurich. But because Bill wanted to explore Jung, I was happy to do that with him. However, one thing that is a must, and something that we both know about me is that I need to eat when I’m hungry. I get really “hangry”, and when I get like that, things can get unpleasant in a hurry. So, as our time for the museum appointment approached, I told Bill I wanted to have lunch. He looked at his watch and got flustered. It was just after noon, and he was afraid that if we sat down to have a nice lunch, we would miss our appointment.

So I said, “I guess this means hot dogs for lunch, then?” I don’t really like hot dogs very much, but I could see that’s where were headed. I would have been just as alright with getting fast food.

But Bill hadn’t even decided how we were going to get to the museum. Would we be driving or taking the boat? He wanted to leave that to me, and hadn’t told me ahead of time. He asked me what I wanted to do.

I got irritated and said, “You wanted to lead. This is an activity that you want to do. I’m along for the ride. I know you want to go to the museum, but you know very well what happens when my blood sugar crashes.” I also needed to pee, and that wasn’t helping matters.

So we finally decided to take the boat. Sure enough, the only food available near the dock was the Swiss version of hot dogs… or currywurst or the like. So we had hot dogs and Coke for lunch. Bill was upset, because he thought he’d let me down. It’s true that hot dogs weren’t necessarily what I would have preferred for lunch, but I was willing to have that if it meant I wouldn’t be hangry. But he was beating himself up over the hot dogs. That wasn’t the issue, as far as I was concerned. I just wanted there to be a firm plan so everyone’s needs could be met.

It turned out the boat had concessions anyway, but our trip to the museum was just thirty minutes. It was just as well that we had our sausages. And next time, hopefully, we’ll make plans that are a little more than half baked, especially for something important, like visiting a museum that has limited opening hours.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting a partner to change certain habits like being too much of a people pleaser or being wishy washy. But I do think it’s wrong to ask them to change major aspects of who they are. I do think it’s wrong to demand that they make permanent alterations to themselves– yes, even like having a vasectomy or plastic surgery– if they would rather not do that. I think it’s wrong for a person to think they can change or “fix” someone– mold them into someone else– especially when their idea of what they want changes every day. And with Ex, it seemed very much like her idea of the “right” person was fluid and ever changing. There was always something to criticize, and I certainly don’t think she’s the best judge of what needed fixing in others. She didn’t enjoy Bill for the wonderful man he is. She wanted someone else. Perhaps she wanted someone who only exists in romance novels… I don’t know. But she didn’t want or deserve Bill, and as it turned out, he didn’t want or deserve her.

I think “B.S.U.R” is a surprisingly wise song, even though James Taylor was dealing with many personal demons and, perhaps, even serious character flaws of his own. I do think James has redeemed himself, and done a lot of work to be a better and happier person. It helps to be introspective and seek help to overcome things like addiction and mental conditions like depression and anxiety. He’s obviously not the same person he was in 1979, and that is to his credit.

As for Bill… I have never not loved and appreciated him for who he is. I love everything about him. No, he’s not perfect, but neither am I. We work on these things together. And I am so very proud of him and happy for him that he’s exploring things that interest him, like Carl Jung. He’s learning to play guitar, too, and trying to improve his skills in Spanish and German, because he wants to, and it interests him. Those are things that will enhance the wonderful person he is. I love him the way he is… and I will always advise him to “B.S.U.R.” Because asking anything else of him is asking for certain disaster. Life is hard enough without being married to a person who is constantly demanding that their spouse expend energy to be someone they’re not.

It’s also okay to say “no” sometimes. In fact, sometimes it’s essential, and the initial disappointment will spare everyone a lot of aggravation and grief. It’s okay to sometimes put your needs first… because, as they say before every flight, you should always put on your own oxygen mask, before you try to help someone else. If you don’t consider your own needs, you can’t be of optimal assistance to anyone else. So take a lesson from James Taylor and “B.S.U.R.” It’s easier and more sustainable than being someone you’re not.

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