In between unpacking boxes today, I visited Rosie O’Donnell’s website. A friend told me I might find her book “Celebrity Detox,” due out October 9, interesting for its childhood revelations. Rosie didn’t have much to say about the book on her site, only that it was painful to write and she wasn’t ready to publicly discuss its contents.
I understand that kind of pain and the need for shelter after laying bare the soul and bones of one’s own life. For me, there’s a want to just let work float out there for a while and always the prayer that it will not be something I have to defend or explain – that it will just be understood, accepted, and if I’m lucky maybe even appreciated.
I lay no claim to being a huge know-everything-about-her-career Rosie fan. I’ve admired her, though, on several levels, from her instant recall of lyrics not heard since childhood to her activism on behalf of children. I feel something like kinship to the beleaguered Rosie. Although our places in life couldn’t be more different, we were both born in 1962, under the same revolutionary umbrella that gave birth to a revised and inclusive American dream. The reality of repression did not make the dream any less relevant – only more necessary. Ours was the generation that could sing both the theme to Green Acres and Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”with equal enthusiasm. We were a generation torn between the idyllic life exemplified by the Brady’s and the realities of oppression, discrimination, and abuse.
Today, I don’t watch a lot of television, rarely read an entertainment magazine, and my knowledge of who’s hot and who’s not is probably as outdated as my music collection. If it weren’t for BMG’s dedication to remastering my favorites my stereo cabinet would likely be half-empty, but “Gord’s Gold” and “Diamonds and Rust” survived the additional decades, as did Janis Ian’s “Seventeen,” Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark,” and the soundtrack to Jonathon Livingston Seagull.
So, I’m outdated but I don’t care. There was beauty in the music of the 70’s – lyrical messages of hope and connectivity – that became harder to find after the disco-techno-rap and “it’s all about me” eras replaced hope with a mean sense of entitlement. Poetic love ballads became rarer and were largely replaced by crass calls for T&A, and what might have been introspective works of art became self-centered diatribes.
There are some wonderful lyrical artists today – Amy Lee and Tori Amos are just two that come to mind, and Joni Mitchell is still recording – but their music, despite loyal fans, does not dominate the scene. In 1970, Billboard’s top album of the year was Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. In 2005, it was Fifty Cents “Da Club”.
When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I’m on your side. When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub
Look mami I got the X ,if you into takin drugs
I’m into havin sex I aint into makin love
So come give me a hug if you into getting rubbed
Times have changed, just as they changed in generations before, when big band, swing, and then Elvis hit the scene. And like all those who lamented before me, I believe my generation’s music is better than what followed. I believe there’s proof of dramatically different then-and-now attitudes in the lyrics of popular albums. The children of the late fifties and early sixties wanted love, friendship, and a deeper connection with the world around them. We didn’t idolize pimps, users, players, corporate whores, or shallow people. What happened to that? And what does any of it have to do with Rosie O’Donnell?
Even living in relative seclusion from popular media, I have watched the idealistic and outspoken sixties-born Rosie take one hit after another. I have seen her naturally optimistic naivete scrubbed down to painful rawness not just by the public, but by the perverse and hypocritical figure Donald Trump who parlayed Daddy’s money into a twice-bankrupt empire built on vainglorious self-promotion.
The real “art of the deal” for the Trumps is to be born into or marry into money, and then to capitalize on the assets of privilege, name recognition, connections and bank accounts to the hilt. Stockholders and creditors may be caught short, and be forced into interest-losing deals in order to recoup a fraction of their investment, but their stories don’t make the news. The American public would rather see “The Donald” fire an overly eager, slavish, I’ll-do-anything-to-get-to-the-top reality show trainee.
It’s true that Rosie took the first swing after Trump decided to let Tara Conner keep her Miss USA crown after reports of drug and alcohol use were verified, but Rosie’s comments – and the length and meanness of them – came nowhere Trump’s. She pointed out his already well known indiscretions and questioned whether he should be a moral compass for the twenty-something crowd. She likened him to a snake-oil salesman. In turn he called her
a loser, a bully, not a good person, an extremely unattractive person, a terrible person who has failed at everything she has ever done, disgraceful, a horrible human being, crude, ignorant, a big fat pig, a slob, disgusting inside and out . . .and more.
Much more. Trump appeared on every show that would have him, determined not as much to defend his position, but to personally obliterate Rosie on every level.
Trump’s revolting verbal assault should have, in a rational world, signaled the end of his short reign as fan-made American royalty. The love of money doesn’t, for many bright-eyed devotees of the dollar, transfer to the acceptance of unbridled and largely unwarranted personal cruelty. Or does it? There was no real public backlash against Trump.
Instead, Rosie took the majority of punches, just as she took them after coming out of the closet, becoming a mother, expressing her views on assault rifles, ending her talk show, starting a magazine, ending the magazine, marrying her partner, and quitting the View.
She’s outspoken and a non-apologetic liberal, but before you dismiss those punches as par for the course in a public life, take a look at Trump’s comments again. Rosie’s views may not be the most popular, but they stem from a place of idealism – of wanting to tell the truth as she knows it, of wanting to better the world, and make it safer and more welcoming for those that follow. Whether one agrees with her views or not, it can’t be said that Rosie does not stand by her convictions – and act on them. Her charitable contributions have funneled millions of dollars to the cause of children. Trump’s empire has invested considerably less in good works. (See 1997, 2006 reports).
Trump, born in ‘46, ingratiated himself in the “me” generation with a bold pomposity that many found charming – in a man. (Leona Helmsley was every bit as self-aggrandizing, but her crass behavior left her forever tagged as “The Queen of Mean”). Trump’s comments regarding Rosie O’Donnell didn’t stem from any place higher than his own ego – and his aberrant desire to add personal pain and humiliation to a public controversy.
Rosie, born in ‘62, has stayed true to the roots of hope and connectivity that were planted in the short-lived but world-changing revolution of the sixties. She may speak loudly at times, but it is her passionate ideals, and not an overblown ego, that charges her words. I don’t agree with all of her views, but I respect her for being brave enough to put them – and herself – into the public arena. She’s got guts, and a vision that will live long past her controversies.
As I visited her blog today, though, I was struck by what I saw as sadness in Rosie’s eyes and her poetry. It seemed to me, it felt to me, like the world has sucked some of the natural happiness out of Rosie’s spirit . . . she appears to be wary and bracing for the next assault, but taking refuge in the love of family, good music, and freeform art.
I hope “Celebrity Detox” will be the kind of book every writer hopes for – that it will be understood without the need to launch a defense. I hope, for her sake, that it will be appreciated.