Last Wednesday I went to my friend Bevin's house for dinner, where we gossiped about our lives over her home made mashed potato bar. The sounds were all full mouths, laughter ("Bridget, I cannot look like a Christmas tree on my date") and Gossip's new album "A Joyful Noise" on repeat in the background. After dinner, we took our drinks to the TV to re-watch Beth Ditto's appearance on Andy Cohen's nightly Bravolebrity telecast, Watch What Happens Live. You may recall I recapped this rare US TV appearance with Bevin during an episode of the Lesbian Tea Basket back in May.
My phone has 61 of songs on its hard drive; 30 include Beth's vocals some form (Gossip or solo projects or remixes). I run a tumblr with close to 1000 followers dedicated to this woman. Here's a screen shot of my facebook cover image.
What I'm saying is, if there is a saturation point, I haven't reached it yet. Beth Ditto is my favorite person. I so very much want to say the same thing about Coal to Diamonds (Random House Digital, Inc.), the memoir she wrote with the assitance of Michelle Tea.
My goodreads review is succinct and positive because I imagine the user base of that site to skew hetero. Here, however, we're all learned queers with high(er) standards. What follows is a more honest (yet still positive) review. I promise to include as many Beth Ditto lyrical puns as you'll allow.
Family is a Four Letter word
We meet Beth in her early teenage years when the memoir opens in a rare moment alone in her Aunt's house. It's an engaging opening; moments of silence detailed with such verve from the woman who we've all come to know by her booming vocals. In the first few chapters of the memoir we're pummeled with really rich stories about her role in her nuanced family dynamic. It's captivating, sad and rings very true. Real talk with Beth (and Michelle).
However, the brash take-it or leave-it Beth which captivates on stage doesn't translate to the page. The build up of each heart breaking and poignant observation in its 177 pages doesn't go any deeper. Instead the narrative spirals outwardly and she tends to sound a bit like an motivational speaker. There must to be more to the facts she shares but readers are not given that payoff. Her breakup with Freddie (her partner of nearly 9 years) is summed in a few lines, couched between even smaller explanations of recording with Rick Ruben and her deadly-if-untreated medical condition. Dealing with fame, breakups and mental illness are glossed over in favor of encouraging us readers to bring our own witchy magic and creativity to the world. It's an inspiring sentiment but I'd rather have read about how she coped with these issues.
Having read this in one sitting (one of my literary binges) I truly hoped for more. I loved spending the afternoon with a Fat Femme (my kind of people) and I was sad to see the book wrap up so quickly. I'm used to her performances leaving me wanting more, but the ending of her memoir seems perfunctory, as if someone said "Look, we want to give you a book deal" and Beth's response was "I'll do what I can." I wanted it to be great. And it is, if you want to dip your toe into feminist, fat, punk and queer theory. If you are like me, an out fat femme who is swimming in queer theory and spends weekends breaking feminist-shit-down, then can I suggest reading this or this or this?
For all it's lacking, Beth's memoir is still a really enjoyable read. You can pretend you're at an awesome house party with the Gossip. You're vaguely aware that Nathan is around, perhaps DJing from two ipods in the kitchen. Beth busts into the den every few hours to share an anectode with the crowd. Later it's just you and she on the back porch sharing beers and trading deep family secrets. Eventually though the party wraps up. You wake up remembering only pieces of what she said, but loving each hazy memory from the party.