Thursday, August 4, 2016

3 Moments (Among Many) Ruth Pointer's Autobiography Gave Feels

Often an autobiographer’s life story is what it is.  Aside from vague descriptions, missing stamps in its chronological makeup, and the ever so unhelpful broken grammar; what can I say about someone’s personal story at the end of the day?  I guess I could go in deep on why I’ve chosen to read an individual’s autobiography.  But in this matter there’s no fuss; I’m a fan of Ruth Pointer.  And, well, I wanted to get to know her story beyond tabloids and news bulletins of days past.  So here arrives her autobiography, Still So Excited.  

Though, given, she’s not the type of celebrity to draw that much attention to herself.  At least not beyond her and her group’s heydays during the 1980’s.  Nonetheless, I’m here–as a fan of this melodic contralto voice.  And instead of running down her story with a boring review, I wanted to share what hit me most within her journey.  It’s my way of delving into the death of her sister and band mate, June.  And on into Ruth’s upbringing, stardom, addictions, and eventual change in life.  All while playing my favorite Pointer numbers in my ear buds as I type away.

Ruth On Individuality and Authority
“My resentment of authority and those who wielded it manifested itself in different ways.  I remember the first time was when I was in third grade at Cole Elementary School.  My teacher was Mrs. Bolin, an elderly white woman who didn’t bother checking her obvious distaste for people of color at the schoolhouse door.  One day she was conducting a reading group in front of the class.  I was sitting in the back row reading a book and eating an apple when all of a sudden Mrs. Bolin charged up and yelled, ‘I said no talking!’  Then she slapped me hard in the face. 
“Turning the other check never even occurred to me.  Instead, I stood up, yelled ‘I wasn’t talking!’ and slapped her back.”

Ruth and her family grew up in a heavily Christian home.  Anything outside of gospel music was considered "secular."  So, thus, many times her and her sisters (as well as older brothers) had to sneak their fix of rock and blues through neighbors and friends.  Yet, it was the music that moved them.  Gospel honed their technique, whereas "secular" gave them expression.  But growing up singing in their father’s church choir demanded an image of perfection of Ruth and her siblings.  They had to appear as the model children.  Much like many preacher’s kids, and choir girls.  Or, to be a little factitious, children growing up with the fear of hell burnt into their minds.  
Nonetheless, the maintenance of her sweet image built resentment in Ruth.  And resentment turned into rebellion.  Now that's something I totally identified with.  Though I didn’t grow up in a background so religious and strict, I know a thing or two about resentment and rebellion.  I know what’s it’s like feel held back as a child.  To be told how to act.  What to do.  And never be heard for the individual you are, with your own ideas and voice.  Especially at the thought of the ever-spoken “ticket to hell” waiting to be stamped, as God watches your every move.  
There comes a time when you have to take all that out on someone.  And this is where I found out why I loved Ruth so much, without even knowing it…
While I never slapped or hit anybody in school, my most rebellious periods occurred with substitute teachers.  I was an angel for my regular teacher.  However, when they would return from their absences, they would always be surprised to find my name up for disciplining.  And I was always my absolute worse in those final months before graduating on into the next school.  But boy did I know what it was like to be hushed and told not to speak.  As well as wrongly accused and feeling injustice when it came to authority.  I hear you, Ruth!
Ruth on June
“…my sisters continued to get studio work backing others, and every now and then I’d get a phone call telling me to rush to the studio because June wasn’t up to performing.  June had major psychological issues stemming from an incident that occurred a few years earlier when she was gang-raped by a group of neighborhood thugs.  It happened right in front of my daughter Faun, who was around five years old at the time.  June begged the men not to hurt Faun, and they obliged, but what they did to June was brutal and sadistic.  She actually knew her assailants but never ratted them out to the police out of fear of retaliation and that our older brother Aaron and Fritz would take matters into their own hands.  June bottled all the pain and trauma up inside her, which resulted in depression, addiction, and wild mood swings.  Today it would be called a classic case of bipolar disorder.  June stopped going to school.  My parents sought help in the form of a therapist who would come to the house.  June rarely got out of bed for the sessions.”
There’s not too much I want to say about this next passage.  Only that it explained everything about Ruth’s sister, June, and her tragic life.  A life gone wrong before dimming in 2006.  Almost in tears as I read this passage, it all made sense as Ruth summed up the troubles of her sister June Pointer.
God bless June.  I could only imagine what she had to go through, and for how long it hurt her until she managed to escape it.  Needless to repeat, this was an eye-opening glimpse into June’s life; beyond the videos, records, and live shows.  It just goes to show you never know what people are going through, or what they're carrying on their backs day to day.  We can judge and question an individual's motivation and mistakes, while sometimes unwilling to really ask why.  As well as how.
Ruth on Ruth and Ruth Struggles
“I began losing myself in drugs, alcohol, and parties pretty much from the start.  Everything was happening at rocket speed once we hit.  People were everywhere, many terrible influences, and it was open season on the superstar.  Nobody wants to admit how impressionable she is, especially when you’re an adult who thinks she is grown up with pretty good street sense.  The Pointer Sisters were on the road as much, there was hardly any time to reflect and get centered.  I was being shoved along, going with the flow, getting deeper and deeper into hard parting.  Everybody was doing it.  It was like you were the odd person out if you didn’t get blazed, drunk, or worse.  I had been the strange one–the odd duck, the preacher’s daughter–for so many years, and I didn’t want to be the strange one anymore.  So I did what everybody else did to fit in.  I also did whatever it took to keep the train a-rolling, sometimes at great personal sacrifice.”
When I first presented and hauled Still So Excited, I already understood that Ruth had a history of hitting the bottles and pipes.  But as hard as the "rock star" stereotype, though?  Not so much.  But that’s right ladies and gentlemen, The Pointer Sisters were The Debarge level deep.  No jokes intended.  
But to get back on track.  In my initial post of the book I mentioned how I always looked up to Ruth as the older–maybe even pragmatic–sisters.  The sister that surely wasn’t in the depths of her younger sister's grips with drugs and alcohol.  It was a personal blind spot of mine, that would come back and bite me in the ass.  At least in a sense. 
Because it wasn’t until I read the above passage that–as if lighting struck me–I understood the Ruth Pointer in my own life.  (Or the Ruth of this particular period of her life).  Though not a rock star, I have a relative who struggles with the same level of dysfunction generated by an addictions like Ruth's.  And many of us acknowledge her issues, despite her ability to cast off concerns and function.

Ruth's story gave me a little more insight into the matter.  Though it's long been understood that for a person to get help, he or she has to seek it first.
But that's all I'm going to leave you guys with today.  I want to close this post out with one final passage–this time inspiring–from Ruth's autobiography.  Be sure to check out Ruth Pointer's Still So Excited and get into her story of struggle, fame, tragedy, and triumph.  You won't be able to put it down once you start!
"My life is filled with both blessings and heartaches... but the blessings far outweigh the other.  Life is far from perfect–I don't know anyone whose is–but it's still pretty damn good."

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