Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb

Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder
Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities
by
Claudia Kalb

Rating:

Charles Darwin was a worrier, Fyodor Dostoevsky was a compulsive gambler, and Howard Hughes had OCD. Was Andy Warhol a hoarder or simply a collector? Was Albert Einstein autistic or just focused? And how do these and other personalities compare to the rest of us? You might be surprised at how similar their quirks and problems are to our own personality oddities.

In this excellent collection of mini biographies, Claudia Kalb looks at twelve famous personalities and explains their known or likely battles with mental illness. In her extensive research, she studied medical journals, interviewed mental health professionals, and consulted numerous scientists and academic researchers. In addition to a compassionate explanation of the problems these entertainers, artists, musicians, leaders, writers and groundbreakers suffered, Kalb wonders how many would have fared had they been accurately diagnosed and treated with modern methods. Some would have been better able to battle their conditions, but would others have lost their creative sparks?

Here’s a quick summary of the successes these famous people achieved and the problems they faced.


Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Andy Warhol

    

Marilyn Monroe was a sex icon, but she likely suffered from borderline personality disorder. An empty and lonely childhood left her feeling abandoned and, while she rose to superstar status, she never overcame these feelings. She sought help, but the treatment at the time did not necessarily help her. Modern therapy for this condition teaches patients how to move forward with their lives.

Howard Hughes made his millions in filmmaking and aerospace, but he was an obsessive worrier about germs. As an adult, Hughes became progressively obsessed with the rituals of germ avoidance and also became addicted to painkillers. Hughes would probably have benefited from modern treatment which includes behavioral therapy and mindfulness treatment.

Andy Warhol was fascinated with many things and could not throw them out. He believed and lived that more was better. Kalb writes, “Hoarding may provide comfort to those who feel neglected,” but would he have been able to create and become a famous pop artist if he’d received treatment?


Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln, Christine Jorgensen

    

Princess Diana was always in the public eye and her marriage to Prince Charles was not the fairy tale we thought it would be. She dealt with these pressures in private and developed bulimia nervosa. To her credit, she went public with her battle and helped others by raising awareness about eating disorders.

Abraham Lincoln knew he was depressed and sought treatment, but many argue that the 16th President of the United States was a better leader during the Civil War because he was able to realistically view both sides of the battle. Lincoln was also known for his sense of humor. Perhaps he instinctively understood that laughter made him feel better.

Christine Jorgensen was born male, but from early on, she knew she was different. In 1950, she went to Sweden, had sex reassessment surgery and came back a woman. Kalb explores the many questions of gender identity and sexual orientation. In this case, Jorgensen took charge of her gender dysphoria and led a happy life.


Frank Lloyd Wright, Betty Ford, Charles Darwin

    

Frank Lloyd Wright was a famous architect, but he may also have had narcissistic personality disorder. He wasn’t much of a family man and was slippery with his facts; instead he focused on his building designs. Perhaps his creative mind would have dulled if he’d been treated.

Betty Ford was First Lady to President Gerald Ford, but she was also an alcoholic and addicted to painkillers. She made her battle public, and opened the Betty Ford Center to help others overcome addiction. Just like Princess Diana, telling the world of her struggles led to better understanding and treatment for others.

Charles Darwin suffered from anxiety, but he managed to develop the controversial theory of evolution. He had stomachaches, headaches and many other ailments, including panic attacks and was certain he would die of these conditions. Doctors were unable to find a cause.


George Gershwin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Albert Einstein

    

George Gershwin was a prolific composer and he most likely had AD/HD. He ran wild as a boy, but music rescued him. It was his way of finding focus and was also his salvation. Would he have written “Rhapsody in Blue” if he’d been treated?

Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested for political crimes, was subjected to a mock execution and sent to Siberia for four years. He had a tumultuous personal life, was forever in debt and became a compulsive gambler, but he also wrote Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Idiot. Dostoevsky was determined to quit gambling and he did at age 49.

Albert Einstein had a larger than normal brain, preferred to be alone and was always disheveled.  He also came up with the theory of relatively. Perhaps he was on the autism spectrum, but could he have envisioned his theories if he’d been treated?


The above summaries give you an idea of what these famous people faced, but Kalb goes into greater detail and helps you understand their conditions as they relate to the general population. I recommend Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder to readers who enjoy history, biographies and studies about mental health.

Images from Pixabay and Wikipedia

I read Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder  as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a book suggested by a librarian.

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Other books of interest:

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – historical fiction about Frank Lloyd Wright
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam – autobiographical account about struggles with OCD
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – biography about Steve Jobs, his career and personality
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer reviewed by Austin Vitelli – great fiction about a 9-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome who loses his father in 9/11
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – romantic comedy about a guy on the autism spectrum and his search for a wife

David Bowie – A Life by Dylan Jones

David Bowie – A Life
by
Dylan Jones

Rating:

Some rock performers are successful because they have a spark and are in the right place at the right time. Rock stars are in a different category. They reach the top because underneath, their image is a genius that propels them. They are vulnerable to the same insecurities and excesses, but their need to create results in an expression that rises to the top.

Dylan Jones brings out this quality in his book about David Bowie, a rock legend who hit the scene in the 1960s and for decades delivered music, art, film and stage performances through ever-changing personas. David Bowie – A Life is a compilation of interviews and quotes from nearly two hundred people and spans the performer’s career until his death in 2016. It is a terrific view into a complicated and private person.

Born in 1947, David Jones grew up in a suburb of London. His father was an entertainment promoter and introduced his son to many types of music, as did his older brother. He attended art school, formed a band called the Spiders from Mars and, in 1969 had his first hit, “Space Oddity.” He married Angie Barnett in 1970 and they had a son in 1971. Their lives were anything but quiet and domestic, however, as they lived in an apartment in Haddon Hall, a large villa outside London, filled with artists and musicians, including the Spiders, and a place that became an intensely creative and collaborative community.

From the beginning, Bowie reinvented himself many times, adapting personas and performing before larger and larger audiences. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s will remember Ziggy Stardust, glam rock, the Thin White Duke, and many other later shifts in image and music. Bowie had his hand in all types of creative expression. He wrote, painted and appeared in several films and also onstage, including a highly praised Broadway performance in The Elephant Man. He continued to create until just before his death and his final music video, “Lazarus,” is widely viewed as the singer’s ultimate goodbye.

Quotes from band members, friends, agents, producers, journalists and random one-time meet-ups give a big picture of a complex person. While often manipulative of the press, Bowie is credited with, through his androgynous persona, making a generation of youth feel comfortable and accepted with their sexuality.

Readers will also learn about the cutthroat business of rock music, about agents, promoters, being on the road, bad feelings about borrowed ideas, as well as how his records were made. Bowie’s vast amount of knowledge reflects an insatiable curiosity in everything that was going on about him and is part of all his music. I especially enjoyed reading about his competitive friendship with Mick Jagger and about his longtime personal assistant and gatekeeper, Coco Schwab.

Bowie had many demons including lifelong feelings of isolation, a family history of schizophrenia, a failed marriage and a cocaine addiction. These factors both contributed to and taxed his creative years. As for the drug addiction, Bowie admitted that what made him quit was his realization that he had become a horrible person. Bowie married supermodel, Iman, in 1992 and they led a quieter life his later years, however, during that time, he surprised his fans with two albums he had written and recorded in secret.

At 554 pages, this comprehensive book is expertly arranged. I took my time and often jumped onto YouTube to re-watch his many music videos and performances. I recommend David Bowie – A Life to anyone who enjoys music biographies and to anyone who likes to know about creative geniuses, for, whether or not you were a Bowie fan, he was one of those. In addition, while readers may never truly know who the real David Jones was, the universal comment from all was that David Bowie was always a charming man to meet.


I received a copy of David Bowie – A Life  from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


I read David Bowie – A Life as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a book about a musician.


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Book Talk – Prairie Fires – The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

I was lucky enough to get this book from our family grab bag on Christmas. Thanks to my sister for having me in mind when she bought it!

Prairie Fires is a new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie books. Published in November 2017, it’s written by Caroline Fraser, who is the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series.  Here’s a brief description from the book jacket:

“Millions of readers of Little House on the Prairie believe they know Laura Ingalls – the pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains and the woman who wrote the famous autobiographical books. But the true saga of her life has never been fully told. Now, drawing on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries, and land and financial record, Caroline Fraser masterfully fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. Revealing the grown-up story behind the most influential childhood epic of pioneer life, she also chronicles Wilder’s tumultuous relationship with her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, setting the record straight regarding charges of ghostwriting that have swirled around the books.”

I always wondered about Rose Wilder and what her real story was so I’m looking forward to the hard facts about this relationship. The book includes some terrific photographs, early days and later, with details that will no doubt remind readers of stories about the Ingalls family.

I’m a big fan of stories about pioneer times and the Little House book series, having read the books to our son when he was little. I’m hoping for a long winter so I can get into this book soon!

Click here for more information about the Little House series.

Are you a fan of the Little House book series? Did you grow up watching the show on TV?

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Bunny Mellon – The Life of an American Style Legend by Meryl Gordon

Bunny Mellon – The Life of an American Style Legend
by
Meryl Gordon

Rating:

Rachel Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon was born into an affluent family (think Listerine and Gillette), married into an even richer family and lived a life of unimaginable wealth. Known to most as Bunny Mellon, she was friends with Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis and, because of her expertise in horticulture, was specially chosen by President Kennedy to redesign the White House’s Rose Garden. Bunny Mellon’s circle comprised the ultra-rich and well-connected. She and her second husband, Paul Mellon, son of Andrew Mellon, spent their married life acquiring artwork, purchasing, building and decorating homes in Virginia, New York, Cape Cod, Antigua and Paris. And while Paul indulged his love for horses, Bunny immersed herself in designing the perfect gardens to complement their impeccably decorated homes. They made sizeable artwork donations to the National Gallery of Art and Paul’s philanthropy extended to many other worthy causes.

In 2003, Bunny, at age 93, became fascinated with North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Edwards reminded her of President Kennedy and she was sure he was going to be the Democrats’ next rising star. She contributed millions of dollars to his campaign and to supporting organizations, and in 2007, sent secret money to Edwards’s personal account. He used that money to support his pregnant girlfriend, Rielle Hunter, while his wife battled Stage 4 breast cancer.

Throughout her life, Bunny had intense friendships with such notables as jewelry designer Johnny Schlumberger and fashion designers Cirstóbal Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy. Over many decades, Bunny cultivated and discarded many other friendships. Despite her wealth, Bunny endured much sorrow and heartache. The Lambert and Mellon families were loaded with sibling rivalries, feuds, affairs, divorce, estrangements and multiple plane crashes.

In this detailed biography, Meryl Gordon tells Bunny Mellon’s hundred plus year story. She begins with Bunny’s privileged childhood, elite education, and first marriage to Stacy Lloyd, Jr. and introduces Paul Mellon in a parallel build-up. Much of the book covers their married years, socializing with celebrities, dignitaries and royalty and, of course, buying things. Gordon also includes a great deal of the Kennedy story and American politics.

I enjoyed reading this biography, but I felt the book was too long and heavy with tedious details. I also tired of reading about Bunny’s talent for horticulture and love of nature and long descriptions of flowers and how they were arranged.

In addition to the length, I was frustrated by the author’s interpretation of thoughts and suggestions as to how Bunny, Paul and their friends may have felt in different situations. There were also times when the author’s opinions seemed to be mixed into the facts. Gordon’s thorough research and reporting would have been enough for most readers.

Nevertheless, Gordon does a great job depicting an extraordinary life. Bunny used her money to live extravagantly and foster friendships and she found beauty in nature, a theme that helped fill one of her many needs. Bunny died in 2014 at age 103.

I received a copy of Bunny Mellon from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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What’s That Book? Seized by the Sun by James W. Ure

whats-that-book

TitleSeized by the Sun

Author:  James W. Ure

Genre: YA Nonfiction

Rating:  5 stars

What’s it about?  The life story of Gertrude Thompkins, a World War II pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. In 1944, Thompkins was flying a P-51D fighter plane when she disappeared during a short flight from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Her plane has never been recovered and she is one of thirty-eight female pilots either confirmed or presumed dead.

Gertrude was raised in New Jersey and was the daughter of a wealthy business man. Her childhood was often unhappy and marked by a debilitating stutter. These years were consumed by her father’s endless efforts to cure her of the same affliction that plagued him and her mother’s depression. After high school, she earned a college degree in horticulture and traveled the world before she discovered a love for flying. It was her confidence in the air that finally cured her stuttering.

The book describes the rigorous WASP training and explains how the female pilots flew fighter planes to bases to be loaded with arsenals before enlisted male pilots flew into battle. The author includes many interesting details about the times and women during World War II. I enjoyed learning that the reason pilots wore silk scarves around their necks was to keep their necks from chafing as they constantly turned their heads to check their course.

How did you hear about it?  I saw it on our library’s online listing of new Young Adult books. I was attracted to the cover and immediately clicked on the book description.

Closing comments:  I knew a little bit about the WASP program, but didn’t completely understand what the female pilots did in the war effort. I had never heard about Gertrude Thompkins and was impressed with her fearless ambition.

Seized by the Sun is an excellent story for readers of all ages. The book includes many photographs and interesting sidebars and offers a great way to learn about history. It is part of the Women in Action Series of biographies.

Contributor:  Ginette


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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What’s That Book? Gunslinger by Jeff Pearlman

whats-that-book

Title:  Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre

Author: Jeff Pearlman

Genre: Biography

Rating:  5 stars

What’s it about?  This is a great, thorough biography on Brett Favre, the NFL great who played almost 20 seasons in the league, mostly for the Green Bay Packers. While the author doesn’t ever directly interview Favre for the book, you quickly forget that, as it’s clear that dozens of people were interviewed for this story. Play-by-play action is almost always boring in game stories, yet Pearlman has a way of making a game more than a decade old sound as exciting as if you were watching it on TV.

He paints Favre’s character without holding back — this is by no means a book chronicling only the best moments of his football career. It goes through the personal struggles that Favre endured such as drug addiction and rampant infidelity, but just when you think he’s a terrible human being, you realize he has another side. Another side that proves humans are more intricate and complicated than they appear in a news article or a TV segment. Pearlman finds a way to force the reader to put their own values and morals to the test. Are some of the things Favre did unforgiveable? Is he just a fun-loving guy who gets carried away sometimes? Did the constant spotlight make some of his actions inevitable? Everyone will have their own opinion, but the argument is by no means one-sided. In an age where fans are forced to grapple with whether to cheer for a player who’s committed a crime or moral wrongdoing but still plays for their favorite team, this story shows this isn’t a new problem.

The author captured the unconditional love that the city of Green Bay had for Favre, which then turned on him temporarily when he signed with the rival Minnesota Vikings. There’s a reason he’s arguably the first name that comes to mind when you mention Packers’ greats. Not many players were truly idolized like Favre was by Packers’ fans.

It is hard to find fault in this book. The vocabulary is impressive without sounding like he’s trying to brag. The story is a good length without feeling like it lasted as long as Favre waffled over retirement. It is, above all things, fair. Obviously, it would’ve been great to hear directly from Favre, but there are enough interviews with other people to make up for that.

How did you hear about it?  I followed the author on Twitter and he had been talking about the book a lot when it was released in 2016, so I decided to give it a try.

Closing comments:  I am not usually much of a biography guy, but this might change my mind. It’s one of those stories where you don’t have to be a Packers fan to enjoy it. You don’t even have to be a football fan. You’re certain to go back and forth on whether you like the legend that is Brett Favre, and that’s what makes him such a fascinating character.

Contributor:   The author of this review is Austin Vitelli. He currently works as an assistant editor for Matrix Medical Communications, a medical publishing company. He is a recent journalism graduate from Lehigh University. He is a huge NFL fan, specifically the Philadelphia Eagles. You can view his website here or follow him on Twitter here.


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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From the early archives: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Celebrating four years of blogging – and sharing some early book reviews!

stevejobsSteve Jobs
by
Walter Isaacson

Rating:
4 book marks

This biography gives us the full picture of Steve Jobs, good and bad. It is a detailed history of Jobs, his life and his creations at Apple, NeXT, Pixar and Apple again. And it’s a look at the impatient frustrations of a perfectionist who, with the genius of vision and presentation, liked to distort reality, had poor people skills and thought no rules applied to him.

I don’t know what to think of Steve Jobs. He derived his happiness from creating and was driven to do so. Isaacson shows a man who manipulated people, berated them, and often ignored his wife and children. He regularly took credit for ideas that came from his creative team and rearranged facts to benefit his point, all with no regrets. But time and again he enabled people to achieve the impossible by refusing to believe that something could not be done.  The combination of persistence and genius made him a remarkable man.

AND…Steve Jobs gave us the Mac, fonts, graphics and desktop publishing. Then he gave us the iPhone, the iPod, iTunes and music. He allowed us to re-experience the feelings we used to have in record stores as we excitedly flipped through albums and heard new music on the store speakers. Then he gave us the iPad, movies and books all with a touchscreen. He knew what we wanted, just as he said, before we knew what we wanted.

This was a very interesting read. My only negative comment is that it was sometimes repetitive, particularly on the subjects of distorted reality and Jobs’ belief in closed-end product design. I also thought the author often portrayed Jobs as too much of a beloved hero in the second half of the book, once Jobs returned to Apple. But then again, that’s when we got all these great products. And I don’t think I could live without them!

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Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

little-house-on-the-prairie-set

Little House on the Prairie Book Series
by
Laura Ingalls Wilder

(and other titles by Roger Lea MacBride,
Melissa Wiley, 
Maria D. Wilkes and Celia Wilkins)

Rating:
bookmarks-5a

It all started when our youngest son was in second grade. “My teacher is reading us a great book,” he told me one day. “Little House in the Big Woods. Do you know that book, Mom?” I knew the book, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and, of course, the hit TV show that came after Little House on the Prairie.

So when we were looking for something to read together, he asked if we could read Little House in the Big Woods again. “You’ll like it Mom,” he told me.

little house in the big woods piclittle-house-on-the-prairie

I had the vague memory that these Little House books were more for girls than boys, but when we finished Little House in the Big Woods and then Little House on the Prairie, I remembered that there is plenty in these pages to keep a young boy interested. There are stories in every chapter about hunting and the dangers of living a frontier life. The conflicts between settlers and Native Americans are presented matter-of-factly and that makes them real. Illness and hardship, loss and set-backs occur regularly. Drought and bad weather ruin crops and threaten the family’s livelihood. Wilder also includes long descriptions of how things were made and the hard work that went into building log houses, doors, windows, sleighs and furniture.

But the stories are more than that. There is warmth and kindness in these books. As a mother, I like the family dynamic and the message it sends. The children in these books are far from spoiled and are happy with what they have. Laura Wilder’s writing style is both gentle and straightforward as she tells us what it was like for her to grow up during this time. She doesn’t sugarcoat and I like that.

When we finished the first two books, we moved on to Farmer Boy, one of my favorites. The months passed. We read a chapter each night. We watched Laura grow up. We watched her family move into town, watched Laura meet and marry Almanzo and start her own life. And then came Rose, Laura’s daughter.

farmer-boy-jpg
Ms. Wilder stopped writing at the end of The Laura Years, but Roger Lea MacBride, a long-time family friend, picked up with The Rose Years and continued writing in the same style as Ms. Wilder. We read about Rose and her family traveling in a covered wagon and settling in the Ozarks. We watched her grow into an independent spirit, move to New Orleans to finish high school and start a career.

Not ready to stop, we went backwards in time and read about Laura’s great-grandmother, Martha as a young girl in Scotland, written by Melissa Wiley. Wiley has also written a series about Laura’s grandmother, Charlotte and Laura’s mother, Caroline and she writes with the same pleasing style as Wilder and MacBride.

I recommend this classic series to anyone who is looking for realistic children’s books with the important themes of family, adventure, hardship and perseverance.

Check out all the Little House books!

The LAURA Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

The ROSE Years, by Roger Lea MacBride
Little House on Rocky Ridge
Little Farm in the Ozarks
In the Land of the Big Red Apple
On the Other Side of the Hill
Little Town in the Ozarks
New Dawn on Rocky Ridge
On the Banks of the Bayou
Bachelor Girl

The MARTHA Years, by Melissa Wiley
Little House in the Highlands
The Far Side of the Loch
Down to the Bonny Glen
Beyond the Heather Hills

The CHARLOTTE Years, by Melissa Wiley
Little House by Boston Bay
On Tide Mill Lane
The Road from Roxbury
Across the Puddingstone Dam

The CAROLINE Years, by Maria D. Wilkes & Celia Wilkins
Little House in Brookfield
Little Town at the Crossroads
Little Clearing in the Woods
On Top of Concord Hill
Across the Rolling River
Little City by the Lake
A Little House of Their Own

Image source:  lauraingallswilderhome.com

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That’s life! Books about life

Life has many ups and downs, but you can always count on a book to get you through the tougher days.  Heavy or light, fiction or nonfiction, there is no shortage of books on the subject!


Books with the word “life” in the title:

Archie The Married Life
Archie – The Married Life Book 2
by Paul Kupperberg
:  Even comic book characters have challenges and Archie has his hands full with both Betty and Veronica!


Barbarian Days A Surfing Life
Barbarian Days:  A Surfing Life
by William Finnegan:  winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, a self-portrait of a life-long surfer.


Dear Life coverDear Life by Alice Munro:  terrific collection of short fiction by one of the best.


life after life pic

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson:  One of the best books I’ve ever read, Atkinson looks at the what-ifs during the world-changing events of World War II.


Stll Life with Bread Crumbs
Still Life with Bread Crumbs
by Anna Quindlen:  Love enters the picture at all stages of life in this popular story.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty new
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
by James Thurber:  A henpecked husband escapes into his own world in this Thurber classic.


The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
by Jeff Hobbs:  an absorbing story about a super smart and caring guy from a poor neighborhood in New Jersey who just couldn’t make it work.


helen-keller-the-story-of-my-life
The Story of My Life
by Helen Keller:  Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing as a baby and overcame tremendous obstacles and became a well-known supporter of many causes.


Of course you don’t have to have the word “life” in the title to write about the subject.  Here are some notables from this year’s reading list:

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway:  Hemingway looks back on his days in Paris and his marriage to Hadley Richardson.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín:  A young Irish woman takes a chance on a better life in America after World War II.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume:  a fictionalized depiction of life in 1950s Elizabeth, New Jersey when three planes crashed in their town.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout:  How do you put the hushed experiences of your childhood into words, and should you?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie:  terrific semi-autobiographical story about a life of poverty on the Spokane Indian reservation.

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler:  Life changes in an instant when a man’s wife dies.  Will he get a chance to fix unreconciled conflicts in his marriage?

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor:  great 1950s historical fiction about the lives of accused spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were the only civilian Americans to be killed for spying for the Russians.

Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott:  an honest and often humorous memoir about finding faith.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas:  A family’s life is transformed after a loved-one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler:  a solid reminder that successful people put in a lot of time at the bottom, before anyone knows about them.


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Currently reading The Time Between by Karen White

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead by Crystal Zevon

I'll Sleep When I'm DeadI’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
by
Crystal Zevon

Rating:
4 book marks

Warren Zevon once said, “my career is about as promising as a Civil War leg wound.” These morosely funny words are a great example of the unusual wit  in Zevon’s lyrics and music. His career took off in the 1970s, with two terrific consecutive albums which featured some of the best music of the time, including Excitable Boy, Tenderness on the Block and The French Inhaler. His genius mind exploded with ideas for songs and he lived the life of a rock star, filled with excesses of drug and alcohol abuse. Even later, when his professional and personal life were in trouble, by his own fault, he was always full of ideas. He continued to write and collaborate and he toured at smaller venues to enthusiastic fans. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a chronicle of Zevon’s life and career, spanning over forty years and ending with his death in 2003.

The book is written and compiled by Crystal Zevon, Warren’s ex-wife. The two remained friends after their divorce and Warren asked her to write the book when he learned he was dying of lung cancer. He told her to include everything, and she did.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is presented in an unusual and somewhat confusing format, forcing the reader to jump into a scene with unfamiliar characters. But the narrative eventually gains momentum as Warren’s life story unfolds. It includes the comments and perspectives of many famous musicians and writers and, I think, gives an accurate description of Warren’s creativity, his relationships and the destructive forces that took over his life.

I enjoyed reading this biography/memoir because I have always liked Warren Zevon’s music and I am a big fan of many of the famous musicians and bands he collaborated with, including Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, REM and Bruce Springsteen. There seemed to be a real camaraderie and generosity between these musicians and also among the lesser-known, but highly respected guitarists, drummers and writers. I always enjoyed looking at the liner notes and seeing who was singing in the background or who co-wrote a song and reading I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead reminded me of how much fun that was.

This isn’t a fun memory book, however. Warren Zevon was an abusive alcoholic with a big temper who could not conform to any lifestyle except his own. He hurt a lot of people, yet strangely, he had a lot of close friends who either chose to ignore the ugly side, were completely naïve to the darkness in his life, or desperately wanted his love. Even after he successfully quit drinking, his personality was often impossibly difficult.

Here are some things I found interesting about the story and about the people around Zevon:

  • Crystal Zevon’s portion of the narrative has the annoying self-serving bias of a memoir, as if to say, “Hey, I was there too.” But she was there and bore the brunt of a lot of Zevon’s madness, so I was forced to give it a pass.
  • Jackson Browne has some very insightful things to say about his friend. The whole time I was reading the book, I kept thinking about how Warren Zevon reminded me of Ernest Hemingway and I was glad to see in the last pages that Browne had once described Zevon as “the Ernest Hemingway of the twelve-string guitar.”
  • Zevon’s journal entries say a lot about who he was. They are cryptic, but they reveal his unique point of view. They show his needy side and made me feel like he was a genius child his whole life. He uses the word “nice” a lot to describe people he’s met, as if maybe he was worried that they wouldn’t like him.
  • I like Roy Marinell’s description of how Excitable Boy became a song, how critics were trying to analyze the lyrics and give them significance when the “built a cage with her bones” line actually comes from a schoolyard taunt Marinell and his friends exchanged when they were kids.
  • It was so interesting to see how Zevon’s music was really produced, especially the song I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. No one even saw each other when they recorded that song. Each musician recorded his parts separately.
  • I didn’t know that the comedian Richard Belzer had been Zevon’s regular opening act. That’s a good combination!
  • What’s interesting to think about is how a fan listens to music and never really understands the massive creative process that’s behind putting together an album. And for Warren Zevon, the huge, painful, abusive, emotional process was something a regular person would never survive being a part of.
  • It also makes me think about how some intensely creative and genius people like Zevon are almost destined to live self-destructive lives.
  • I also wonder how some dysfunctional people are enabled and allowed to continue their irresponsible and destructive behavior because the people around them want to be a part of, want a piece of that creative process and fame.
  • It also makes me think about other super-talented and creative people who did not fall apart but also led insanely wild lives as rockers – Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey – and survived. What makes them different?

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a big book and is, at times, hard to get through, but I ultimately enjoyed learning more about Warren Zevon.  There are some great pictures of Zevon and the people in his life and everyone looks like they’re having a great time!  After watching him on Letterman, I think I will  check out his later music. He made his peace when the time came and it’s not for a fan to judge.

For more insight, click here to check out DD’s review of I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

You may enjoy reading The New York Times review of the book.

Click here to watch a YouTube video of Crystal Zevon.

And check out Warren Zevon’s final appearance on The David Letterman Show.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!