Forget that the stories tend to be self-aggrandizing and factually dubious; the actual writing in celebrity memoirs is often brittle and awkward, in part because they’re trying to capture the celebrity’s speaking voice. Jane reminded me of that this morning when she read me a paragraph she found online from the recent autobiography of Mike Huckabee (someone we don’t often quote around the house).
Even autobiographies from entertainers you like tend to be boring, which makes it all more exciting when you come across a paragraph as full of life as this one from Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys, in which she chronicles how the members of her band, the Slits, carried themselves:
When we were on a TV show in Holland, Mike Oldfield’s sister, Sally, was on the same bill. She had a single out at the time (“Mirrors”). Sally was dressed in a peasant gypsy-type dress and warbling away in a breathy little-girl voice. We went up to her afterwards and told her she was shit, that she was compounding stereotypes and doing a disservice to girls, that she should take a good look at what she was doing and how she was projecting herself and be honest about who she was. She burst into tears. We do that sort of thing all the time.
(For more on the Slits’ influence, you may wish to see the brief note I wrote for BoingBoing after Ari Up died, in which I quote the great Amy Rigby.)
My latest post for work: A new theremin, a new way to learn, a new way to work together
My latest post about blogging for work: Blogging for business: you are no longer just you
The trick, even if you are no longer just you, is to figure out how to bring as much of yourself as you can.
Enjoy the recursion …
I think it was in the Old West because there were Indians, and it was dusty and stuff. He married this Indian girl, this guy’s daughter, and he kept yelling off a cliff, “I am Pete!” I don’t really don’t know why he was doing that.
Now 65, Richard Thompson lives in Pacific Palisades in a cottage with a small pool in back, as well as a modest guesthouse with an island theme — a surfboard lodged in the rafters, sofa cushions with a palm-frond pattern, a mural of Polynesian bathing beauties smiling down from the wall. Teddy briefly lived in the guesthouse when he was first starting out in the music business, but now Richard uses it as a recording studio. As they set up, Richard and Teddy untangled cords and fiddled with equipment. Richard worked barefoot and wore black cargo pants; Teddy, who has his mother’s expensive tastes, wore skinny jeans. They talked about some sounds they were going to try out later that day, including the hurdy-gurdy, of which Richard is a fan. “It’s very easy to play,” Richard said. “It’s simply hard to play well.”
“Which one will you be doing?” Teddy asked.
– Teddy Thompson’s Folk-Rock Family Reunion (Susan Dominus, NY Times Magazine)
It’s hard for me to describe at this late date how exciting this was in 1981: funkiest thing around, outstanding antiwar song, all of George Clinton’s promises finally coming true. Prince hasn’t done anything that’s moved me since the 1996 double-shot of Chaos and Disorder and Emancipation, but this is still thrilling and I’m grateful to this site for unearthing it.
The effect on the business was profound, as if Chuck Berry had walked into a Glenn Miller show and started playing guitar.
– One of many, many wonderful sentences in David Carr’s remembrance of Ben Bradlee
The whole column is worth reading and probably worth memorizing, but if you’re in TL;DR mode at least read the full paragraph in which that sentence arrives:
So in 1969, [Bradlee] conjured Style, a hip, cheeky section of the newspaper that reflected the tumult of the times in a city where fashion and discourse were rived with a maddening sameness. The effect on the business was profound, as if Chuck Berry had walked into a Glenn Miller show and started playing guitar. He expanded the vernacular of newspapering, enabling real, actual writers to shed the shackles of convention and generate daily discourse that made people laugh, spill their coffee or throw The Post down in disgust.
Earlier tonight, right after dinner, in an attempt to delay having to clean the kitchen, I took the dog for a walk. One of the places we stopped was a convenience store across the main street, a place where the employees are reasonably friendly to me and exceedingly friendly to the dog.
At the convenience store, I saw that the clerk was having trouble communicating with a young woman who was unable to explain to him what she wanted to buy from the store’s small drugstore section. She spoke only Spanish; the clerk spoke only English. I handed her my smartphone, thinking she might type what she wanted into the search box. Then, maybe, the phone could translate and we humans could figure it out together.
She took the phone, and typed, without hesitation or error, “pastillas para el periodo menstrual,” I directed her to Midol, used the smartphone to translate the words on the box into Spanish, and she was soon on her way.
That young woman was remarkably poised for someone who was in menstrual pain and likely not enjoying talking, or trying to talk, to two strange men about it. I didn’t consider it at the time, but now I realize how impressive she was in the moment.
Because she spoke only Spanish in a place where no one else did, it was quite a lot of work for her to advocate for herself and get what she needed. I hope it ended well, but if it did there was some luck involved.
That got me to thinking about some of the unluckiest people at the edge of our country right now, the many thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America desperate to get away from the violence in their home countries and into the U.S. One of their biggest problems right now is that they don’t know how to communicate in English, the language of power, making it much harder for them to advocate for themselves.
When I hear the anger and outrage so many express against these children, I want those who people who feel that anger and outrage to imagine what life might be like for them, only partway through a long and tortuous journey, having trouble describing their most basic and personal needs. And then I want them to think about how they might want to be treated in such circumstances if they faced similarly bad luck.