Diva-graphies (Book Reviews)

The Ciccione Siblings--Before the Literary Backstabbing

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.  Mine consisted mainly of sitting on the sofa watching the all-day Christmas Story marathon on TBS while my brother and his girlfriend grilled some ribs on the barbeque.  It was kinda dull, kinda awkward, but also awfully comfortable.  And the ribs turned out pretty darn good!

I woke up today (the 26th) and for the first time felt like I had completely gotten over my jetlag.  And with the weather finally California-esque, I hopped on my bike once again to hit the road (though not literally this time, thank God).

I knew I had to do it as soon as my hands were healed enough for me to grab the handlebars.  It’s like when Madonna fell off that horse and broke a zillion bones but got back on that horse the first chance she had.  She was quoted as saying that she knew she had to do it; otherwise, she’d be afraid to do it forever.  I took her words to heart, and fortunately, no more fear here, thank you very much.

It really shows that there is a whole lot one can learn from great divas, whether it be their courage, their style, their travails, or their triumphs.  So in their honor, here are my reviews on the diva biographies I’ve read in the last few months:

LIPS UNSEALED by Belinda Carlisle

You may remember Belinda in her bubbly, chubby Go-go incarnation or from her more sophisticated, redheaded solo days.  Well, it turns out she was high as a kite through it all.  “Mad About You” could’ve been about coke; “Heaven is a Place on Earth” was pretty much what she was thinking when was snorting it.  A particular “Yikes” moment is when she drops off her son at his school and then goes to the school restroom for a quick hit because she can’t even wait to go home first.   Full credit to Belinda for her unflinching honesty and willingness to take full responsibility for all her troubles.  GRADE:  B.

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE by Pat Benatar

It’s interesting.  Despite her tough rocker chick persona, it turns out Pat Benatar was first and foremost a smart businesswoman.  There’s no drugs, no scandal to talk of here.  Rather, the conflict in her bio comes from the record industry itself.  She recounts the sexism she had to face through her career, from the execs who demanded she go out and do promos within days of a miscarriage to the radio DJs who’d make comments like “Why don’t you come over and sit on my lap, honey?”  It’s actually pretty interesting to read about, and Pat also gives a very detailed account of the recording process behind her best-known albums and songs.  Things get a bit too cheesy when she goes on (and on and on) about how wonderful her husband is, but ultimately, Pat shows that one can rock without being self-destructive.  GRADE:  B.

LIFE WITH MY SISTER MADONNA by Christopher Ciccione.

Obviously, there’s a moral dilemma here.  I’m not big on someone selling out a family member for a quick buck, which is what Madonna’s little brother is undeniably doing here.  But once you get over that, this is one heck of a fun read on the Material Girl.  Madonna’s life story has been told time and time before, but Christopher, having been a member of her inner circle for much of her career, offers up new, wacky stories for the very first time.  And to Christopher’s credit, he doesn’t do a “Sister Dearest” hatchet job; he gives her ample credit for the good she’s done while also describing the ways in which she’s hurt him (apparently Madonna can be a bit self-absorbed and temperamental at times–you don’t say!).  Ultimately, this book is gossipy, tawdry, sometimes even pathetic (Christopher’s insistence that his drug use–strongly frowned upon by Big Sis–was strictly “recreational” is worth a few eyerolls), but it’s just too much fun to resist in the end.  GRADE:  A.

KATE BUSH:  UNDER THE IVY by Graeme Thompson

With Kate Bush being notoriously private, it’s pretty much a sure thing that we’re never going to get an autobiography out of her.  (Seriously, even a new album seems like it may be asking for too much–we had to wait something like 15 years for Aerial.)  So this unauthorized bio is about as close a look into Kate’s life and work process that we’re probably ever going to get.  Thompson suceeds in presenting a meticulously researched career retrospective, and while clearly a fan, he manages to stay fairly objective throughout the book.  However, Kate Bush has been iron-determined to remain an enigma throughout her career, and Thompson never manages to shed any real light on just what’s been going on in that mysterious head (and heart) of hers.  He presents Kate’s genius, yes, but he doesn’t provide any glimpse into what lies behind it.  GRADE:  C.

OPRAH: A BIOGRAPHY by Kitty Kelley

Oprah may not be a pop star, but if she released a CD tomorrow, is there any doubt that it will go straight to #1 and break all sorts of records?  Oprah is Oprah, which means she can be anything she wants to be, basically.  From what I’ve heard, Kitty Kelley is known to be a “poison pen” biographer, but she actually stays pretty respectful here.  While she does suggest that Oprah isn’t quite as faultless as she seems (really, who could be?) and has exaggerated aspects of her rags-to-riches success story, she never drags Oprah through the mud outright and never tries to undermine Oprah’s philanthropy and achievements.  Similarly to the Kate Bush book, we don’t get a look into Oprah’s innermost thoughts and secrets, but a document on Oprah’s life is interesting enough in itself to deserve a read.  GRADE:  B+.

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