Book Review: The Actor’s Life-A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer

Back in the day, I believe it was in the year 2006, when MySpace was still a thing and we were all friends of Tom, Jenna Fischer wrote a post on her MySpace page where she discussed the trials and tribulations she faced as an aspiring actor. Already well-known as  the sweet and vulnerable Pam Beesly on The Office, Ms. Fischer’s MySpace post resonated with a lot of people, even people with no acting ambitions.

Now Fischer has turned that MySpace post into something more with her book The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide that is at turns both a memoir of Jenna’s journey to acting success and a wise and practical primer for aspiring actors.

Fischer fell in love with acting and performing as a child. She took acting and dance classes and performed in both community and school productions, including acting as the Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof, which must have been quite a challenge for a someone going to all-girls Catholic school.

After earning a degree in theater at Truman State University in Missouri, this St. Louis native packed her bags and headed out to Los Angeles. All Fischer had was her college diploma, a beat up car and some saved up cash. But she also had a big dream to make it as an actress in both television and in film. She thought it wouldn’t be long before she saw her name on the marquee of movie theaters or among the credits of a hit television show.

Boy, was she wrong. It took her eight years to finally become a success on The Office and in movies like Blades of Glory and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. And in that nearly decade long road, Fischer dealt with the good, bad and ugly of being an aspiring actor, which she isn’t afraid to share in The Actor’s Life.

When it comes to the survival guide, Fischer offers sound advice on getting the right headshot, getting into the film and television’s actor union SAG (Screen Actors Guild), and building one’s resume as an actor. She also advises on finding and keeping an agent and manager.

Fischer also discusses in detail the arduous auditioning process, the heartbreak, the glory, and how to keep going on.

Want to know what it’s like to be on the set as an extra, a bit player saying three lines in one scene, a guest star or part of the main cast? It’s not glamorous, but once you’re performing, you’re reminded why you chose acting as a vocation.

Of course,  even once one makes it things don’t go smoothly. Pilots for TV shows don’t get picked up,  shows get cancelled, speaking parts get edited out,  a movie bombs at the box office even if you’re an established name. You may even get fired. Fischer was recently fired from a TV show. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She’s now the star of the ABC show Splitting Up Together, which is filming its second season.

Interspersed throughout The Actor’s Life are Fischer’s tales of getting speaking parts on hit shows like Spin City and That 70’s Show, working less than desirable office gigs, falling apart at The Pottery Barn because she felt like such a loser, filming kissing and sex scenes, her wonderful relationship with her manager Naomi Odenkirk, and the dos and don’ts on how to behave on the set.

Fischer also discusses creating opportunities by generating DIY acting projects and how the iconic book The Artist’s Way helped her on her journey as did actor and friend Molly Shannon.

Within the pages of The Actor’s Life include inspirational quotes by a diverse collection of people-Einstein, Sheryl Sandburg,  Marilyn Monroe, Jon Hamm and Debra Messing.

I enjoyed reading The Actor’s Life,  starting with an introduction by Steve Carell who played the bumbling Michael Scott on The Office to Fischer’s loving acknowledgements to family, friends, and colleagues at the very end.

The Actor’s Life is honest,  funny and wise. Fischer’s writing voice is empathetic, truthful and warm. It’s a must read, and not just for actors. I’m using it as a guide as I get my writing career back on track.  I also think this book is ideal for teachers, guidance counselors, and college career centers.

It was The Office that made me a fan of Jenna Fischer and The Actor’s Life is one reason why I remain a fan.

Well that,  and we both suffer from MCG-Midwestern Catholic Guilt.

 

Book Marks

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The best movie adaptations of famous books according to the Stylist.

Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky’s list of his best books on film making.

Essential reading on the movie industry according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The Vulture’s list on the 100 best screenwriters.

Good Reads’ list of essential biographies, autobiographies and memoirs written by old school movie stars.

Good Reads’ list on film reviewing that movie buffs should read.

Great movie scenes that took place in libraries.

Great movies scenes that took place in book stores.

Writer Digest’s guide on writing adaptations for film.

The late Ursula K Le Guin’s list on the books that meant the most to her.

 

 

 

Book Review: Up All Night-From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist by Rhonda Shear

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I’ve often used the phrase “if so and so didn’t exist we’d probably have to invent them.” I’ve used them so often that it’s become a tired cliché. Note to self: Make one of your New Year’s resolutions to come up with a new phrase.

But I don’t have to apply this to Rhonda Shear. Shear is all about invention and re-invention. In fact, Shear is a potpourri of re-invention, a sex kitten who has lived nine lives, and will probably live nine more. And she dishes the dirt and tells her tale in her biography, Up All Night-From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist.

During her life, Shear has been a New Orleans beauty queen and a struggling and striving actress who got to kiss Fonzie from the TV classic Happy Days.  Shear later became a stand-up comic and host of the popular USA network program Up All Night, fueling the fantasies of horny teenage boys, grown men and probably a few lesbians. Shear is also a hopeful romantic who found her way back to her teenage love, now husband, Van Hagen. And last but now least, Shear is now a successful “bimboproneur,” inventor of the Ahh Bra and other underthings, which she sells on HSN.

Life began very modestly for Rhonda Honey Shear born and raised in New Orleans. Named after movie star Rhonda Fleming, Shear’s parents, Jennie and Wilbur Shear, doted on little Rhonda and got her involved in dance lessons at a very young age. It was then and there Shear knew she was destined to stardom. She began to compete (and win) local beauty pageants. She also found the love of her life, Van Hagen and together they had a sweet but somewhat volatile teen-age courtship. After high school, Shear got a BA in communications from Loyola University.

After she received her degree, Shear moved to Los Angeles, where she tried to make it as an actress. She got parts in D-list fair but also got a role in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. She guest starred on quite a few TV shows like the aforementioned Happy Days, and shows like Cheers and Dukes of Hazzard. Shear. (But she also had to deal with a lot of #metoo issues from some unsavory types in the age before the “Days of Weinstein and Roses.”)

It was through these appearances Shear was able to hone her comedy skills, which inspired her to do her own comedy act. She spent plenty of time working at some questionable clubs but also did her act at iconic comedy showcases like the Comedy Store. She worked a lot with other comics like Gilbert Gottfried, but also developed a comedy act with other funny ladies.

But her teenage swain, Van Hagen, was still on her mind. Through the power of social media, she found her high school honey and once again they connected in a way not often seen other than in Hollywood romantic movies.

But Shear also had dreams of owning her own business and along with her new hubby, created a successful lingerie and lounge wear company, which after a few struggles is doing very well and is sold both via HSN and her website Rhondashear.com. One notable item from her line is the Ahh Bra, an actual comfortable bra!

Up All Night is composed of three parts, part one is about Shear growing up in the Big Easy, part two is about her life in Hollywood and part three is about her life in Florida with hubby Van Hagen and her life as a successful business women. These three parts are composed of chapters Shear calls lessons, lessons which include: Beauty Matters, Don’t Wait for Opportunities, Create Them and Love Has No Expiration Date.

Is this book perfect? Of course not. At times I found it a bit rushed and not fully developed. I wish Shear would have gone deeper into various phases of her life. At times, Up All Night just skimmed the surface. I wanted more cake, less frosting. Perhaps, Shear’s life would be better served through several volumes of her life story. But it’s very likely her publisher wanted to pack it all into one book.

Some of the advice Shear offers verges on Hallmark card clichés or something you might find on a bumper sticker or a fortune cookie (but then again, the advice is pretty good and I think Shear’s heart is in the right place-she really wants to be there for the reader).

Oddly enough, I found myself quite interested in her life as a beauty queen. This could be because I’m from the land of the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin, where women where cheeseheads, not tiaras.

And as a fledgling jewelry designer with a mad love for Martha Stewart and lesser known ladies of business, I gobbled up her tale about developing her business, coming up with the Ahh Bra, and other sexy and also comfy lingerie and lounge wear designs. And I appreciate how Shear shared the good, the bad and the ugly of running one’s business, how she made her mark on HSN and life as a lady mogul. When it comes to our breasts, ladies, I don’t care if you are an A Student, packing a couple of killer Bs, a tempest in a C cup or a cornucopia of riches, a comfortable bra is every women’s birthright!

Ultimately, I grew to like Shear and her brand of feminism. Feminism is often open to interpretation (not too mention misunderstanding). You can be a feminist in so many ways, and Shear more than proves it.

Brag Book (Not About Me)

Tari Jordan!!!

Readers of this blog are quite familiar with Tari. She’s written several guest posts at The Book Self. She also wrote a review of the movie 68 Kill for my other blog Popcorn In My Bra featuring her favorite actor, the multi-talented Matthew Gray Gubler. Tari is a huge fan of the television show Criminal Minds featuring Mr. Gubler as resident genius of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) Dr. Spencer Reid. Ms. Jordan is the resident genius of her blog Criminal Minds Fans, where she has written about the show for several years now.

Recently Tari got treated to an amazing adventure.

She and her friend Ryka got to visit the Criminal Minds set and learned about the blood, sweat and tears that makes Criminal Minds happen!

But don’t take my word for it. Be a lamb and learn about Tari and Ryka’s excellent journey at Criminal Minds Fans.

(Squeals up in 30 milliseconds)

Once again, congratulations Tari. No matter, what you’re always a winner is my book!

Book Review:Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E Smith

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to take things so literally. When picked up Ms. Smith’s book, I truly thought it would be about collecting records (or musical downloads considering it’s the 21st century), with intelligent and knowledgeable essays about various musical genres, musicians, singers, songwriters and how they can affect you as a woman and a lover of music.

After reading Record Collecting for girls, I now realize why we are told “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

On paper Smith seems like the coolest girl in the universe. She honed her love of music while in college. For nearly a decade she was the music programmer and manager of label relations at MTV. She chose videos for 20 of MTV’s musical platforms. Reading about her tenure and her multitude of accomplishments truly excited me as a reader…and to be honest, kind of intimidated me.

But Smith’s time with MTV was the only thing that impressed me as I kept on reading and discovered her experience with music has all of the depth of a 12 inch extended re-mix of Duran Duran’s classic song “Hungry Like the Wolf.” I was hoping for a younger version of one of my favorite music journalists Lisa Robinson. Sadly, Smith is just another “Becky,” more boy crazy than a true connoisseur of music.

Record Collecting for Girls is more of a memoir of Smith’s various boyfriends; for the most part music is secondary. After a while, I started thinking, “Okay, I get it, Courtney. Guys think you’re hot. Now will you please write more on why music is such an important part of your life?”

For someone who spends a lot of time discussing her boyfriends, Smith has all the charm of a constantly skipping vinyl record while teaching us on the difference between “groupies” and “wives.” And she wastes no time ripping apart one of the most famous groupies of all time, the lovely Pamela Des Barres (who was married to rocker Michael Des Barres for quite a long time). To Smith, Des Barres is nothing but an airheaded twit who allowed herself be exploited by rock and roll greats. To Miss Pamela’s credit, she is quite forthcoming when it comes to the good, the bad and ugly of being a woman and a fan in the world of rock and roll. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She’s also a vastly superior writer to Smith. Smith’s derision towards other female rock fans is truly “mean girl.”

When it comes to women who play music, most of her wasted ink is on both the Bangles and the Go-Gos. There is nearly zilch on other lady music luminaries like Debbie Harry, Patty Smith, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Carol King, Annie Lennox, Joan Jett, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Nina Simone or Janis Joplin. Other bands with a strong female presence like Heart, Sonic Youth, The Talking Heads, The Runaways, The Velvet Underground or The Breeders also don’t get much of a mention. Also pretty much ignored? Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Jewel, Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrisette and any band related to the Riot Grrrl era.

Smith also ignores the positive female icons of hip hop like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Missy Elliott, Salt n’ Pepa, and TLC.

As for well-known female millennial artists like Taylor Swift, Kesha, Katy Perry, Rihanna, or Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj or Janelle Monae? Forget about it.

Smith does go on forever when it comes to Madonna, but who hasn’t? And she does have a love for the Pussycat Dolls. I won’t hold that against her; for there is a place in my heart for both Bananarama and the Spice Girls.

Now what about the men of rock and roll? Smith has a particular dislike for the Smiths because guys who like the Smiths also are fans of serial killers. Gee, I’m not exactly a fan of someone who spells Morrissey’s first name wrong. It’s Steven, not Stephen.

And FYI Courtney. It’s Berry Gordy, not Barry Gordy and it’s “Jennifer Juniper,” not “Jennifer Jupiter.”

Now that I’ve written that sentence I am several IQ points stupider. Or should I say “stupiter?”

Her chapter on The Beatles vs. The Stones hardly breaks new ground. And her chapter on the various songs couples choose as “our song,” break up songs, and songs for making out won’t keep Rob Sheffield up at night.

There are some highlights. She provides lists of songs at the end of each chapter that might help you pick out new music to listen to and she writes well when writing about some of her favorite artists, which include REM, Fiona Apple, Elvis Costello, Stevie Nicks, and Sleater-Kinney.

But other than those few crumbs, Record Collecting for Girls is a waste of time. Smith’s writing is both hollow and pretentious. You’re better off reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, or at least renting the John Cusack movie of the same name.

Book Review: Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? The Tale of a Teen Rock Wannabe Who Almost Was by Craig A. Williams

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Many a teen boy has dreamed of strapping on an electric guitar, joining a band, playing to cheering crowds, getting it on with groupies and achieving both fame and fortune. For most of them, this is just a dream. But for Craig A. Williams, this dream was nearly a reality, and he documents his experiences in his book, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants?

While still in his teens, Williams played lead guitar in an LA-based heavy metal band, Onyxx (later, Onyxxx). Originally called Onyx, the band added the extra xx-s to avoid copyright infringement due to a hip-hop group also named Onyx. And perhaps because their band was just too much rock for one measly X. Managed by a Loni Anderson look-alike, Onyxxx journeyed from small school gigs to the hottest clubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

Williams first embraced his musical dreams when he wrote a song using his Casio keyboard. The seeds of musical greatness were sown, but Williams knew making music on a Casio keyboard was too dorky for words, so he picked up an electric guitar. Soon he joined forces with some high school chums — lead singer Tyler, bassist Sunil and drummer Kyle — and formed Onyxxx.

Laying the groundwork for rock and roll stardom, Onyxxx went from playing for their classmates in suburban LA to less than enthusiastic audiences at seedy dives. Despite these humble beginnings, Onyxxx’s manager believed they could make it big, and be the New Kids on the Block of glam heavy metal. It was the pre-grunge days where Guns ‘n Roses, Poison and Motley Crue were MTV staples. Before long Onyxxx were playing shows at such notable venues like the Troubadour and the Roxy. Their shows garnered them a sizable fan-base, including some very willing groupies. Williams thought he had reached the pinnacle of rock and roll paradise when he autographed a girl’s breast for the very first time.

But like lots of other rock bands on the verge of fame, Onyxxx had to deal with their share of problems. Tyler, though a charismatic frontman, was often a total jerk to those who crossed his path. Sunil was frequently bullied due to his East Indian heritage. And despite being a drummer, Kyle didn’t have the best sense of rhythm. Onyxxx also dealt with trials familiar to anyone who has seen at least one episode of VH-1′s “Behind the Music,” including rampant drug use, unsavory club managers, psycho fans and fighting among band members.

But Williams had other issues that probably weren’t bothering Axl Rose or Tommy Lee at the time: the life of a teenaged boy. When he wasn’t rockin’ out on-stage, Williams argued with his parents about doing his chores and his homework, studied for exams, and tried to maneuver the halls of his high school. Williams lived in two very different worlds, which kind of made him the Hannah Montana of glam heavy metal (egad, remember a time when Miley Cyrus was known as Hannah Montana and not a girl who uses a foam finger the way the inventor never intended?).

Sadly, Onyxxx was not meant to be. Even without the drug use, mismanagement and squabbles among the band members, glam heavy metal was about to be toppled by flannel-clad grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. By their senior year, Onyxxx was on the verge of breaking up. They were also on the verge of adulthood, which included college, jobs and other not exactly glamorous responsibilities.

Onyxxx’s loss is our gain. Williams proves himself to be an entertaining writer. He is able to look at his rock and roll past with both insight and humor. He’s self-deprecating and at the same time he is truly proud of almost grabbing the brass ring of stardom. Any rock fan who treasures his or her copy of Appetite for Destruction will get misty-eyed over days gone by. And kids who think of Bret Michaels as a reality TV star, not the lead singer of Poison, will be able to relate to a teenage Williams’ desire for freedom and fun. Williams is a fresh new voice, and has written a very honest book about the music industry. Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? is a head bangin’ good time.

Book Review: A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak

As a child I adored Shel Silverstein’s books, The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends, among others having a special place in my heart. In fact, I think I treasure them now more than I did when I was a little girl. I always had an inkling Silverstein did more than write children’s books and my inkling proved true when I read Lisa Rogak’s biography A Boy Named Shel.

To call Silverstein a Renaissance man is putting it mildly. Not only was he a prolific children’s author, he was also a cartoonist, singer/songwriter, screenwriter and playwright. He also led a rather interesting personal life.

Born to a Jewish family and raised in Chicago, Silverstein attended Chicago School of the Fine Arts but was soon drafted into the Army. While in the Army Silverstein began to draw cartoons and later, once he returned to Chicago, he drew and published cartoons for several magazines.

But it is after he began to get his cartoons in Playboy when Silverstein’s multi-layered career really began to shine and lead to greater success. He also began to write songs, mostly of a folk variety and formed his own folk group. But one of his most famous songs is the country/novelty song “A Boy Named Sue,” which became a huge hit for the late Johnny Cash. Silverstein’s songs were also sung by Judy Collins, Dr. Hook, Marianne Faithfull and Emmylou Harris. Silverstein co-wrote many songs with Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, both remained lifelong friends with Silverstein.

Silverstein also wrote a great deal of scripts for the stage, film and television at times co-writing scripts with others, including David Mamet. One of the most popular television programs Silverstein wrote for is the Generation X classic “Free to Be…You and Me.”

Professional success led to personal success, especially when it came to the ladies. To put it bluntly, Silverstein was a playa, and many of his experiences as a playa were due not only to his success, but to him hanging out a great deal at the Playboy Mansion. Despite being a bit of a man ho, many of his carnal conquests remember him fondly for when he was with a woman he really made her feel special and he was often honest with them, claiming he was not the type to settle down.

Still, Silverstein did have children, a daughter and a son, and though he loved them he wasn’t exactly the ideal father. And as I read A Boy Named Shel, I learned as much as Silverstein was revered by the children who read his books, his relationship with children (both is own and those of his friends) could be described as complicated.

In fact, complicated pretty much sums up Silverstein as a human being and a creative individual. At times he was a total bon vivant, the life of the party. At times, he was very reticent and private. He was meticulous when it came to his writing and drawing, but often dressed like a homeless person. When it came to his children he experienced both tragedy and triumph. He could be both kind and cruel.

And other tidbits I learned about Silverstein included eschewing driving after being in a bad car accident. He was nominated for an Oscar. He wrote travelogues and was quite the globetrotter. And he lived all over the country.

All of this living in one life should have made A Boy Named Shel a scintillating read; but as I kept reading this book, especially as I neared the end, I found myself bored. Rogak writing style is dull and lacks a certain punch that keeps you wanting to learn more and more. She is way too repetitive and dry, which I soon found rather insulting to Silverstein’s legendary legacy and his output as a truly original artist that entertained audiences for decades and continues to entertain nearly twenty years after Silverstein’s death. Perhaps, this book would have served better as an article. In the end I just mourned that Silverstein never wrote his own memoir.  Now that would have been a book.

Still, I am grateful I learned more about Shel Silverstein. I will never stop loving those children’s books that delighted me as a bookish little girl, and am now inspired by Silverstein’s creative output to sharpen myself as a Renaissance woman. Perhaps, if you read A Boy Named Shel and connect with his work
, you, too will feel inspired.

Book of Love: Meryl Streep

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I’ve been a fan of Meryl Streep since I was a young girl. And as a writer and a freelance journalist who has written about arts, culture and entertainment from all over the globe, I want to say her Golden Globe’s speech made me puff up with pride and gratitude. Here is  a transcript of Ms. Streep’s speech, h/t The New York Times:

Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year, so I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said: You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island; Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids in Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in London — no, in Ireland I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a girl in small-town Virginia.

Ryan Gosling, like all of the nicest people, is Canadian, and Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this, so: An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. O.K., go on with it.

O.K., this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in the Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing: Once, when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something — you know we were gonna work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.

As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.

And here is Ms. Davis’s introduction for Ms. Streep:

She stares. That’s the first thing you notice about her. She tilts her head back with that sly suspicious smile, and she stares for a long time. And you think: Do I have something in my teeth? Or does she wanna kick my [expletive] — which is not gonna happen?

And then she’ll ask questions. “What’d you do last night, Viola?”

“Oh I cooked an apple pie.”

“Did you use Pippin apples?”

“Pippin apples, what the hell are Pippin apples? I used Granny Smith apples.”

“Oh. Did you make your own crust?”

“No, I used store-bought crust. That’s what I did.”

“Then you didn’t make an apple pie, Viola.”

“Well that’s because I spent all my time making my collard greens. I make the best collard greens. I use smoked-turkey chicken broth and my own special sauce.”

Silence. I shut her down.

“Well, they don’t taste right unless you use ham hocks. If you don’t use ham hocks it doesn’t taste the same. So how’s the family?”

And as she continues to stare you realize that she sees you. And like a high-powered scanning machine she’s recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She waits to share what she has stolen on that sacred place, which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable, the most known familiar, the most despised relatable. Dame Streep. Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone. I can only imagine where you go, Meryl, when you disappear into a character. I imagine that you’re in them, patiently waiting, using yourself as a conduit, encouraging them, coaxing them to release all their mess, expose, to live. You are a muse. Your impact encouraged me to stay in the line.

Dame Streep, I see you. I see you. And you know all those rainy days we spent on the set of “Doubt”? Every day my husband would call me at night and say, “Did you tell her how much she means to you?”

And I said, “No, I can’t say anything, Julius, I’m just nervous. All I do is stare at her all the time.”

He said, “Well, you need to say something. You’ve been waiting all your life to work with this woman. Say something.”

I said, “Julius, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

“O.K. you better do it tomorrow because when I get there I’m going to say something!”

I haven’t said anything. But I’m gonna say it now. You make me proud to be an artist. You make me feel that what I have in me, my body, my face, my age, is enough. You encapsulate that great Émile Zola quote that if you ask me as an artist what I came into this world to do, I, an artist, would say, I came to live out loud.

I Read It So You Don’t Have To: Miss O’Dell-My Hard Days and Long Nights with the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved by Chris O’Dell

6455172I’ve always been interested in reading rock and roll memoirs, especially by people who were behind the scenes. But when these books are written by women they are usually written by wives, girlfriends and groupies. Now I like these books; Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band is one of my favorites. But I want to read books by women who actually worked in the music business. So when I came across Chris O’Dell’s Miss O’Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights With the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Women They Loved I thought I had hit the jackpot. Chris O’Dell worked for the Beatles’ Apple Records and managed several rock tours. Surely, she’d have some great insight on what it was like to be a women in a mostly man’s world and perhaps provide some inspiration to young women who want to do more than provide favors to roadies and rockers. Sadly, Chris O’Dell’s memoir turned out to be a huge disappointment.

Miss O’Dell begins in the late 1960s. O’Dell is living in Los Angeles. A chance meeting with Beatles’ insider, Derek Taylor, leads to her getting a job in London at the Beatles’ fledgling Apple Records. It’s never quite established why Taylor thought she’d be such an asset. Did she already have the experience and impressive professional track record? Or was it because she was an attractive blonde? Okay, I shouldn’t hate. Given the chance, I would have jumped at this opportunity.

While at Apple O’Dell does things that are done at any other office. She answers phones, delivers messages and procures lunches. But she also gets to do lots of cool things. When the Beatles played their infamous concert on top of the Apple building, O’Dell was right there with them, soaking up all that rock and roll energy. Any Beatles fan would give his or her eye teeth for such an experience. Lots of rock gods and goddesses roamed the halls of Apple, and O’Dell can’t help but get a little bit fan girlish over the famous people she met. I can’t say I blame her for this. If I had gotten a job at U2’s Principle Management, I would have been squee city. “OMG! Bono said ‘hi’ to me! I can’t wait to tell my mom!”

However, O’Dell soon gets bored and high tails it back to LA. She lives with musician Leon Russell for a time. He had written the song “Pisces Apple Lady” in her honor. Unfortunately, the relationship soon sours. Bored once again, O’Dell begs to get her Apple job back, and is off to London. This turned out to be a common theme with O’Dell. She goes to London, gets bored. She goes to LA, gets bored. Rinse and repeat.

It’s not long before O’Dell is managing major rock tours. She manages tours for Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Rolling Stones, and later in the book, Echo and the Bunnymen. Not surprisingly, debauchery was a huge part of these tours. Music seemed to take a back seat to snorting up cocaine and sleeping with any available musician, not too mention a lot of fighting among band members and tour staff.

No book about the 1960s and 1970s would be complete without a lot of passages about drugs and sex. Miss O’Dell is no different. However, instead of finding these passages shocking or salacious, I was bored. Reading about endless drug and alcohol-fueled happenings was truly tedious. I could barely stifle my yawns. O’Dell also slept with lots of musicians. Ho-hum. By the time O’Dell mentioned she slept Mick Jagger, I thought, “Who hasn’t? Mick Jagger has probably slept with every third person on the planet. That man would shag a shoe.”

O’Dell also writes about the intense friendships she had with many musicians and their wives/girlfriends, especially George Harrison and Pattie Boyd and Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen. She describes in very full detail of the long conversations she had with these people and the fun times they had. But she seemed more like a free-loader than a good friend. She takes a considerable loan from George Harrison, and never pays him back. While house-sitting for Eric Clapton, she decides to paint his kitchen yellow and orange and then runs off. She later stiffs him on a hotel bill. She constantly took advantage of her rock and roll friends’ generosity, never showing any appreciation. And when she later sleeps with Ringo Starr while he is still married to one of her friends, I wanted to shake her.

It doesn’t help the book’s writing itself is clumsy and amateurish. But what I couldn’t take was the lack of character development on the part of O’Dell. Sure, she does get over drugs and alcohol addiction, but this turning point in her life is given a scant few pages. Never once does she show any remorse for her actions or any semblance of growing as a person. O’Dell is very self-absorbed but not exactly self-aware. Also, she totally ignores the huge cultural and social changes of the era. O’Dell’s memoir takes place during “I am Women. Hear Me Roar” second wave feminism, yet she never mentions what it was like to break ground as a woman in the world of music. I don’t know if all the drugs dulled her memory or she couldn’t be arsed to care.

I wanted to love this book, but I almost threw it across the room. Miss O’Dell isn’t inspiring or even that interesting. However, I do hold hope that a woman who was a true pioneer in the behind-the-scenes world of music will write her memoir. Suzanne de Passe, please write your memoir.

Retro Review: Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz

slaves-of-new-yorkHas it really been thirty years since Tama Janowitz’s collection of short stories Slaves of New York was released? I read it a several years after its initial release, and to me, a young girl who grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, Slaves of New York and Janowitz just defined the Big Apple to me, the way her WASPy peers Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney and their literary offerings never did. But then again, as a dorky, most definitely non-WASPy kind of girl, this shouldn’t surprise me.

Imagine a Pre-Guiliani New York of the 1980s. This was before Times Square was completely cleaned-up and Disney-fied, Donald Trump was just a loud and tacky business man, not the GOP candidate for president (yes, a much kinder, simpler time), “greed is good” was the mantra of every yuppie sporting slicked back hair and suspenders, the World Trade Center defined the Manhattan skyline and “Sex and The City” and “Girls” weren’t notions in the heads of Sarah Jessica Parker and Lena Dunham.

Slaves of New York is a collection of intermingled stories of struggling and hustling painters, designers, performance artists, writers, and other creative types. One creative type we meet is Eleanor who is in her late twenties and trying to make it as a jewelry designer. She lives with her boyfriend, Stash, who is a graffiti artist, temperamental and only fleetingly devoted to Eleanor, sometimes going for days without speaking to her for some minor infraction on her part.

As a jewelry designer, Eleanor feels she is a failure and is frustrated by her lack of artistic and professional success. Furthermore, she desires more of a commitment from Stash, marriage, but that is isn’t about to happen any time soon.

And even though Eleanor knows she should fully break free from Stash, find someone better and concentrate more on her jewelry designs she doesn’t. Her relationship with Stash isn’t just about love; it’s also about having a place to live. Eleanor can’t afford to pay rent all on her own; yes, the rent is too damn high!

Another slave of New York is Marley Mantello, the protagonist of five of Janowitz’s tales. Marley fashions himself of a genius painter, on the verge of being the “next big thing.” What he lacks in actual talent and skill, he makes up in sheer bravado and being a legend in his own mind. He pays no mind to those who merely orbit his universe. Yes, Marley is unbelievably obnoxious and best to be ignored if one runs into him. But there are times when tragedy befalls him, and he shows a true humanity that makes you feel a smidge of compassion, like when his sister commits suicide.

Other stories between the covers of Slaves of New York include a man who claims to be rich and takes unsuspecting women “jewelry shopping “at Tiffany’s. Why he does this, he can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s just easier to pose as an eccentric man of considerable means, rather actually be the poor guy he actually is.

Other tales told include one of man, Victor, who suffers from a cocktail of ailments, neuroses and acid reflux being just a couple of them. Cora gets involved with Ray, not for love, but through him she can a cop a decent meal now and then and some free furniture for her new apartment. She should feel guilty, especially considering she’s graduate student of women’ studies; but hey, she’s just trying to survive. And in another tale, a spoiled, rich girl, after getting expelled from college and enduring a brief marriage, dabbles in prostitution and heroin (haven’t we all?).

But for me, Slaves of New York, is Eleanor’s story. Like me, Eleanor is from a small town, both befuddled and in wonderment the city and all it has to offer. She’s desperate to fit into the artistic, creative, madcap world that surrounds her, but finds herself coming up short. She’s such a naïve lass that she doesn’t realize a fashion designer she has coffee with is gay, which reminded me how shocked I was the first time I saw two guys making out at a party even though I had no problem with gay people. And I can only imagine the look on my face when I saw some ladies snorting coke in at a dance club bathroom; I’d seen Scarface on cable, for goodness sake! And aside to my mother, I have never done coke, okay?

We now live in very different time that existed in 1986. Business moguls are now rock stars, and rock stars aspire to be moguls. Google is a verb, people don’t want to be artists, but instead they want to be brands, and we let our social media define us. Yet, Eleanor’s tale is eternal. We want to be independent, desire success, express ourselves in a creative matter, and still want the stability and security we think only a marriage will offer. Sure, at times Slaves of New York is sentimental, dated read, but I still found it entertaining and can still relate to Janowitz’s debut.