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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mental health, nostalgia, poor judgment, psychology, social media

AITA? Nah… I don’t think so, even if you do…

Lately, I’ve been following Reddit Ridiculousness on Facebook. Every day, the person who runs that page shares certain over the top threads from the Am I The Asshole page on Reddit. I don’t follow Reddit much myself, but it seems to me that the person who shares the threads on Facebook deliberately picks the posts in which the person asking is very obviously NOT the asshole. Sometimes, the posts are a little bit triggering and provoke unexpected enlightenment. I share them with my friends and conversation develops. I like it when conversations develop, since they promote understanding… especially among people I actually know offline. A friend might reveal something about themselves as they comment on these threads which offers insight into who they are as people. Sometimes, I can relate.

For instance, back in my college days, I had a lot of “issues”. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety. The reason I didn’t know I was depressed was because I had been that way for so long that it was “normal” for me. I was always a very emotional person. Everything affected me, even really stupid things that should not cause me a moment’s pause. I would either think something was insanely funny and laugh inappropriately, or I would be so overcome with shame, humiliation, or anger that I would melt down in tears. I had a real problem regulating my emotions to the point at which some people thought I was bipolar (I’m not). I’m now surprised I got through those years without some kind of black mark on my permanent record.

I was also suffering from “disordered eating”. I hated my body, so I would attack it by doing unhealthy things. I used to skip meals all the time, which would make me kind of temperamental and mean. I hated going to the dining hall for many reasons. One time I didn’t eat for a few days, but then I broke the fast by drinking a lot of beer. I tried to exercise a lot. I wish I could say I did it because it made me feel good, but I probably mostly did it for optics, and to escape my roommates. I often thought of suicide, mainly because I didn’t know what to do with myself or why I was born.

My problems with dieting started when I was about eleven years old. I grew up with three sisters, and they were constantly dieting and running to lose weight. One of my sisters was like a rodent. She would always eat half of things and leave the rest in the packaging for someone else to find. We actually did have mice in our house, so this wasn’t a very hygienic practice. It was also very annoying for obvious reasons.

I never was one to be ritualistic about food. I didn’t count bites, hide food, or eat a certain number of bites. I would just skip meals. Because I went to a highly residential college, people would notice and sometimes say things to me. I would feel both embarrassed and kind of gratified that anyone cared. I’m sure it was annoying behavior, though… and I’m not particularly proud of it. Sometimes I did it for attention, and sometimes I did it because I actually wanted to self-destruct.

There were other times, besides my college days, when I engaged in these kinds of weird food related behaviors. I usually did them when I had to live with other people who weren’t family, but I did it with family, too. Often, I would skip meals after my dad yelled at me, criticizing my weight or appearance or touching me on the back, telling me I had “fat” I needed to lose. I remember one distinctly humiliating incident involving my father. My mom had been trying to force us all to lose weight and I ate more than my dad thought I should have. So he screamed at me and said, “You hog!” A few days later, my mom asked me what I was “living on”, since she hadn’t seen me eat. That was the only time I remember her ever being concerned, even though I regularly skipped lunch at school. My parents were very image conscious, and I never really did seem to measure up, at least when I was a child. They often had a complaint about my appearance, personality, the way I smelled after being at the barn, or even the way I laughed. So I tried to change, sometimes in the very needy, attention seeking ways that I thought might “show them”. It was all very stupid and immature, but I was definitely not the only one doing it.

There were times when skipping meals caused negative consequences… like the time I lost out on Champion of my division at the state 4H horse show because I had neglected to eat. I was so dazed when we finally got in the show ring that the judge never saw me and my beloved Rusty. We had won first place in the first class, but didn’t even make the “cut” for the second. After the class, we went back to the barn and I was unbraiding Rusty’s tail when I heard my name, summoned back to the ring. It turned out we’d ended up tying for Reserve Champion and had to hack off for the honor, which Rusty and I won. As I was accepting the ribbon, the judge asked me where I had been! Maybe the end result would have been the same if I hadn’t been so focused on not eating instead of what we were doing. Either way, I felt like such an asshole after that class because we hadn’t done our best and it was my fault.

We won this class out of maybe 75 ponies or so… I was shocked.

We could have been champs! Oh well… this was still kind of a thrill. Not a day passes that I don’t miss Rusty. He was my best friend.

Although I was never a thin person, I did used to skip meals all the time. Most of the time, I didn’t seem to suffer any ill effect, except on the occasions when I would faint. But even those episodes didn’t seem to be because I skipped meals. It was more because I would be drinking something on an empty stomach, swallow too hard, cause myself a lot of pain, and have a vasovagal response. I haven’t had one of those fainting episodes in a long time, but when I was younger, they happened occasionally.

When I think back on those days, I feel like an asshole for wasting my youth on so much nonsense. It really was a waste of time to be so obsessed with something as pointless as dieting and weight loss. But in those days, it felt very important. I felt like no one cared, even though I know now that that wasn’t the truth. The truth was, in those days, there were people in my life who cared about me. They just weren’t necessarily my parents. I do know my parents loved me, but they had their own issues, and were trying to run their own business. And I had “crashed” their party by being born when they thought they were done having children. I was too loud, too opinionated, and too rambunctious and obnoxious at a time when they had hoped to relax.

Because I often cracked jokes, people thought I was witty and funny, and they equated being funny with being happy, which I definitely was not. The ability to make people laugh is not a sign that a person loves life. Just look at the number of comedians who have committed suicide or suffered from substance abuse problems. I know a lot of people like to point to Robin Williams as an example of a brilliant comic who committed suicide and hold him up as a poster child for treating depression and suicidal ideation. Personally, I don’t really lump Robin Williams in with people like Richard Jeni and Ray Combs.

Although Robin Williams did commit suicide, he also had a devastating neurological illness that was going to kill him after it made him lose his mind. Robin Williams had Lewy Body Dementia, which is absolutely horrifying. That was the disease that ultimately killed my dad, and after seeing what my dad went through, I would never judge someone for opting for suicide instead of going through that hell. Actually, I generally try not to judge people for committing suicide in most cases. I don’t think it’s my place. Now, I might judge someone for attempting suicide when it’s obvious they’re doing it to be manipulative. But even in those cases, I figure a person has to be hurting a lot to go to that extreme for attention. On the other hand, having to live with someone who pulls kind of manipulative bullshit is also hell.

It bugs me when people hold up Robin Williams as someone who just needed a caring friend and some antidepressants, and that would have prevented him from killing himself. Although he reportedly didn’t know he had LBD when he took his life, he did already have the symptoms of it. Having seen my dad go through that disease, I can tell you that it legitimately makes people irrational, taking away their minds as it wastes their bodies. Think Parkinson’s Disease mixed with Alzheimer’s Disease and all of the indignities that go with either of those diseases; then think of having to suffer both at the same time. That pretty much sums up LBD. Robin Williams was diagnosed only after he died, and doctors said it was one of the worst cases they had ever seen. And it had come for him heartbreakingly early. Robin Williams was only 63 when he died. My dad was 81 when he died, but he’d been suffering from LBD for years.

In just a few months, I’ll be 50 years old. I don’t know what I have to show for it, which sometimes bothers me. But then I realize how much time is wasted on stupid shit, like social media. Yesterday, I quit a Facebook group because I got “modded” for something really trivial. In the past, I might have stuck around and tried to argue with the admin. But when I got a message saying that a comment of mine was “removed by an admin” and I should “click for feedback”, I just shrugged and said to myself, “this group is not for me.” And I said “fuck it” and clicked the “leave group” option. Then I wondered for a moment if that was the admin’s goal… to drive people away. But they’ve got 15k members, anyway, so my presence isn’t needed. Then I said “oh well” and took the dogs for a walk. By the time we got back, my mind was on something else… finishing my latest jigsaw puzzle, which I didn’t manage to do.

Why so serious? I’m in the middle, second row, looking depressed, as I often did in the early 90s… and also in the 80s. I was a lot thinner and prettier in those days, too. I should have enjoyed it more, and fretted and obsessed much less. I came very close to quitting this choir because of a row I had with someone. Ironically, it was my dad who talked me out of doing that.

I remember college to be a lot of fun, but it was also a cesspool of people who were dealing with personal problems that most of us knew nothing about. There was often a lot of silly drama and high school antics that went on in those days… things that I thought were so significant at the time, but I now see were ridiculous. I can remember judging people for the way they behaved, without ever really considering why they behaved that way. Years later, I have had the chance to reassess a few people I used to dislike because I didn’t know them very well, and they didn’t know me. I don’t always get those second chances, though, so when they happen, I try to be grateful.

I have since learned that most people who seem like assholes really aren’t; they’re just dealing with something big that no one else knows or cares about. And I think people in their teens and twenties tend to be mired in a lot of drama, anyway. In many cases, it’s really petty drama, but even petty drama can seem huge when a person doesn’t have the life experience they get as they age. On the other hand, there are some unfortunate souls who never learn from the petty dramas and act like they’re about sixteen when they’re in their fifties. Those types of people are always fun to deal with… and in many cases, they really are the assholes that become the banes of everyone else’s existences.

These days, I don’t skip meals very often. It’s probably because Bill notices when I’m hungry and feeds me. He says he can tell when I’m hungry by the way I look, and the fact that I will sigh a lot and get short tempered. I’ll flush red, then get pale and shaky, then plunge into confusion if it goes on for too long. It amazes me that I used to be able to go without eating for as long as a couple of days or more. I can’t do it anymore. I feel pretty sure if I tried, I’d probably pass out… or Bill might decide I am the asshole and file for divorce. I do still have issues with depression, though, and sometimes anxiety, although that’s not as bad as it once was, either. I don’t even cry very often at all anymore, although I still laugh a lot and crack inappropriate jokes… or fart loudly at the breakfast table. Okay, maybe I am the asshole for doing that. Fortunately, Bill doesn’t mind laughing with me.

Thanks to Livingston Taylor for this… it could be my theme song for life with Bill.

Even when I feel like a huge failure when I look at my life and where I feel like I *should* be, I realize that where I am isn’t actually a bad place to be. At least I managed to marry someone who likes me just the way I am. Yes, he also loves me, but more importantly, at least in my opinion, he likes me. He doesn’t want me to change. He doesn’t call me names or tell me I’m disgusting. He doesn’t say he’s sick of me, as my father did on more than one occasion. He also doesn’t do things like pee in the toilet and leave it for me to discover, as my dad did on occasion when I was in my twenties and temporarily living in his house. Somehow, in spite of everything, I found the right man… at the very least. As Livingston Taylor sings, “I Must Be Doing Something Right”. 😉 At least he doesn’t think I’m the asshole, right?

There’s a lot of wisdom in this song. Just remember… just about everything is insignificant, when it comes down to it.
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