Archive for April, 2008

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Answering some questions

April 29, 2008

Hi, everybody…

I’m just getting the hang of how to do this…answering the questions people have asked, and then I’ll move on to new blogs.

Daniel asked me about the difference between some of the passages between the Vanity Fair excerpt and the English edition. Here’s the thing: The English have very high-barred libel laws and they had to remove some of the passages from the book. Those passages were left in the American edition and the Vanity Fair excerpt.

Terra asked me another question. (First, she paid me a compliment about the book, to which I say: “Thank you, Terra! I’m so delighted that you love the book.”)But she asked me how I felt about younger women who (my words, in reaction to the Zacharek review in the New York Times Book Review) rolled their eyes up to my Boomer-chauvinistic dedication but then went on to like the book anyway. My reaction: Hey, that’s fine. One, the dedication was a tiny bit tongue in cheek or self-parodying, an affectionate wink at the pride of us ’60s generation-ers. I did paint a bulls-eye on my head with it. Two — and I’m going to expand this to a blog later — I think the women of the ’60s generation were “the best” not because we had innately superior values (hence the “scold” she expected to get and was relieved that she didn’t get) but because we tilted windmills in our clueless, Quixote-girl way and were lucky enough to have lived to tell. The truth is: I think younger women are much smarter than we are. Maybe  they didn’t spend a lot of time doing crazy, stupid, risky things (or…maybe they did; maybe they did their own Girls Gone Wild things…), but they got to the practicalities of life – money, jobs, priorities, happiness — faster and more clear-eyed than we did. We were :”the best” because we were a lot of things, from good things (the most rebellious, given what there was to rebel against then) to bad things (the stupidest — thinking, for example, that we could be amateur dope runners in exotic places on a lark…and not get busted. Or thinking we could have romantically pathological boyfriends – Characters out of Novels — and not end up saying, a year or so later: What a jive-ass.)

So I fully expected a bit of eye rolling from a younger reviewer, and I was very pleased that, once she got past her grumbling, she liked the book for the reasons I’m proud of…and had smart points to make in crticism.

Terra, I’m delighted that you, being a woman of the ’70s, liked the book so much. I do think– I hope! — that certain experiences are universal.

Daniel, I hope I answered you questions.

Others — from what I’ve seen of the dialogue in the various chat rooms devoted to Carole’s, Joni’s and Carlyt’s (and James Taylor;’s) fans: There’s a lot of good conversation to be had.  Let’s have it!

Write me here at the blog on www.girlslikeusthebook.com and we can keep talking — about these amazing women, their glorious music,  the magical (and crazy — and, to some, over-hyped) times, the whole process of writing a book about live artists (with enormously loyal fan bases), the decisions involved in writing biography (how much is music, how much is personal?), and so forth.

Ask me questions and I will answer. And tell me about yourselves.

And thank you for your interest, even when you’re critical (and sometimes — you know who you are — VERY critical.)

Cheers and thanks,

Sheila

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WHEN DO WE NOT WANT TO KNOW? OR TELL?

April 18, 2008
 
                                   
    Can you be a fan and not want to hear the true personal life of the artist you love? Does your feeling for someone’s music change because you know more about their life? Is it a violation of an artist’s privacy to have her life exposed in an admiring but unauthorized biography? Or: Does it come with the territory of being a public person (and one who profits from that status) to become the subject of an unauthorized biography, like it or not? Was New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm right — or wrong — when she harshly stated, “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible” by trying to get information out of others?
    I’ve been thinking of all these questions since the publication of GIRLS LIKE US, which, happily, landed on the New York Times Bestseller list as # 7 its first week out. Many, many people have told me they’ve loved the book, and that they found it “respectful.” I’m glad — I meant it to be. But others have used terms — or whole sentences — that have given me pause. Some fans on Carole’s website have decided to “boycott” the book because it was not authorized; they believe that what I wrote (after strenuous research and with sourcing on the page) about her personal life, especially in Idaho, was a violation of her privacy– one said that what’s in a book isn’t necessarily true; another spoke of having “vomit” in revulsion (toward me) after reading a passage. (Strong stuff!) Though another Carole fan on the same site said she “loved” the book and found it respectful, the original anti-book stalwarts weren’t swayed.
    In a more thoughtful example of the same phenomenon, an Amazon reviewer spoke of liking the book greatly — but she gave what she called “a dose of measured pan” — and she explained it this way: “The real question…is not whether Weller did a good job in compiling a historical, documentary style book explaining these three women, their art and their personas. The answer to this question is, for the most part, yes. However, the bigger question is when will the public ever be able to separate their interest in the art from a fascination with the artist, seemingly needing to know the intimate details of their lives? It is interesting, I admit, to know who inspired what songs, what circumstances sparked the creation of a certain piece. Still, two of the three women explored here ( Mitchell and King) may take issue with some of the information that is now available for public consumption. I fear we cease to respect our artists when we have such voracious appetites for knowing every aspect of their personal lives. I am guilty of partaking, it’s just a thought for us to consider as we devour the joys and tragedies of the talents we claim to honor.” Finally, New York Times book critic Janet Maslin, who, I’m grateful and delighted to report, called my book “captivating,” nevertheless thought it might be “crass” to wonder who a particular song was about (but she blurted the answer anyway!) — and called one of my tools “nosiness.” (Ouch! But…hmm…maybe she’s right.)
       It’s too easy to say, “If it’s true, you must tell it,” or “The more we know about someone, in all his or her complexity, the more we understand them.” It’s also too easy to say, “Fans shouldn’t be see-no-evil zealots. What artist even wants that?” Like super-string theory, there are strata — dimensions — we probably don’t see. (Okay. Bad analogy, super-string theory.) But they govern how we receive unbidden intimate information, and how we decide to write — or not write — it, and why.
       Most of us writers know when a fellow author has crossed the line — has delivered, with a little too much relish, a hatchet job, or has relentlessly pursued a specious hunch, purely for sensationalism’s sake. But, among ourselves, we are constantly weighing the things we need to say to paint a full picture against the tantalizing but nonessential things we can say because, on the basis of enough sources, we are confident that they are true. It’s a balancing act — you want to be empathic, but not cheerleaderly; you want to be objective and clear-eyed, but never cruel. You want to be substantial but also provocative.  You want to dispense — here’s my have-it-both-ways term for it — classy gossip.  You want to deliver the goods, but still be decent and dignified. You want to sell books but not sell out.  Even more to the point, I think — aside from any dispassionate weighing — we embrace our subjects; we take them to our heart, we become fervent about them, we try to see life through their eyes…and this passionate sheparding gets us past the presumptuosness of what we are doing: pretending to know another person (and–often–a brilliant, storied, iinfluential one at that) .
    Fans: What do you not want to know about someone whose artistry — whose existence — has
 sustained you?  Biography or magazine profile readers: When do you lose trust that a writer has fairly embraced a subject? Fellow (bedraggled, over-caffeinated, over-blamed, but often magnificently spot-on) journalists who specialize in profiles or authors, in biography: What information have you held back…and why? Or revealed, and regreted? (Speak in code, dears. Use alternate screen name.)
     Anyone…? Let’s start a conversation. Maybe, with cool heads, we’ll learn something.