Coal To Diamonds – A Memoir
Simon & Schuster
I should start this review by saying I have no real interest in Beth Ditto’s band, Gossip. I don’t really have an opinion on them, I’ve heard enough to know she can sing and they have a few tunes, but I haven’t heard enough to care. And I don’t really feel the need to want to care. It seems worth mentioning because none of that matters in reading this book, Ditto’s memoir. You see there’s very little music in here at all.
It’s a slim volume and it’s frequently fascinating, captivating at times, often terrifying.
Ditto has become an icon – revered for her plus-size, her fashion, her views, her outspokenness; for plumping (sorry) for gay marriage, for something beyond the stick-thin heroin-chic model template. And so the reader of this book needs to realise that Coal To Diamonds serves to inform those attitudes and show the background in that person’s life – it’s almost uninteresting that she is also a musician. Certainly Ditto seems to think so.
That said there are some nice snapshots into the welcoming of grunge and punk and indie subculture vestiges as a keen young music fan – but if you’re into finding out the inner workings of Gossip as a band, a machine, then you are out of luck.
Within the opening pages we’re plunged into America’s deep rural south where squirrels are served for dinner, or at least for a post-marijuana munchies-snack. Uncles are avoided, aunties are batshit-crazy and the family makes any of the worst things you’ve seen on the Jerry Springer Show seem like wholesome Modern Family-style entertainment.
The abuse: mental, physical, sexual – it’s thrust at almost anyone in the family; heartbreakingly she writes of being jealous of a sexually abused cousin because of the attention that family member is receiving. It’s the confused and confusing logic of a young abused teen. It’s awful but it’s a stranger-than-fiction frankness that propels the book.
Beth Ditto’s background sounds tough – she writes as a survivor. She writes in a firm but fair and frank voice; she writes with love while describing the horror, she writes with horror in thinking that any of this – her life, her family – could (allegedly) come from love.
There were so many music memoirs released in a sauce bottle-tap rush toward the end of 2012, as is always the way, a desperate push for Christmas readers. This one does not require you to have any huge interest in the music but you just might (want to) become a fan of Gossip and Ditto because of her ordeal and ideals. And even if not – and I can’t say I am any more moved to check in with the band – you should come away with respect for the group’s lead singer and icon. And you will have finished a book worth reading.