A PERSONAL, REFLECTIVE LOOK AT ALLISON KUGEL’S ‘JOURNALING FAME’ 17

It’s rare that I find a book I connect with as strongly as I did with former celebrity journalist Allison Kugel’s memoir, ‘Journaling Fame – A Memoir Of A life Unhinged And On The Record’ and, as a result, this review will be somewhat different to the many others I’ve featured on the site as my time as a writer.

Firstly, I want to thank Allison for being bold enough to speak out and write down so openly as she has about her struggles with anxiety disorder. Her candour on the issue ultimately made me think about how different months, if not years of my life, might have been had I opened up to people more about how I felt regarding my mental health, particularly at its peak in recent years (I was diagnosed with depression around 2012 and have been on anti-depressants twice).

The first part of Allison’s book I connected came in chapter 3, where she writes about spending time in the company of those far older than her. I was exactly the same. I couldn’t connect with the other children in my class, and instead befriended those in the years above me, notably in Year 6, the final year of primary school. As a victim of bullying, I hoped they would stand up for and look out for me, which to some extent they did. The only problem was that when they left school, while I had several more years to go, I found myself with no-one to support me when those who took pleasure in making my life miserable targeted me again – and they did. I was also extremely close to my great-aunt Maureen and probably spent more time with her than I did my own Mum.

The creative outlet Allison found growing up very much mirrored my own. Although I don’t do it much anymore, I spent my school years writing stories and poems, inspired by random ideas that would pop into my head. Each and every one of them gave me something to focus on other than the fact that I felt miserable and provided me with an escape from the negativity of reality. My self-esteem in particular had, certainly by the time I reached high school, been dented considerably, and I retreated into my school work – throwing myself into projects I didn’t even have to do in order to please someone – the teachers – and make myself feel like I could and had done something somebody would admire. I guess, looking back, my desire to excel academically came from a deep-rooted need to please people in the hope that if I somehow managed to do so, it might convince others – i.e. the bullies – to leave me alone. In the end, my ‘teachers pet’ attitude only made the bullying worse.

Chapter 4’s opening quote by Peter Facinelli; “I personally think everybody is flawed”, rang and continues to ring very true. In a world where so many aspects of life are driven by people’s opinions of others, it reminded me that there is no such thing as a perfect person and that even those in the public eye; music stars, actors and everybody else in the entertainment world, are not and will never be so – it’s just our, and my own, warped way of thinking that casts them in a different light to how I cast myself. Allison writes on page 77 that she considers herself to be a person of “rarefied strength”, and, having read her book, I am inclined to agree. She, like so many others around the world, has dug herself out of the biggest and darkest holes and back to a place where she feels confident and happy. That, in my eyes, is true strength and as I read that paragraph, I couldn’t help but want to cheer.

I’m sure there are many people reading this who have felt like an ugly duckling (chapter 5). I spent decades (I’m now 31) feeling worthless and ugly when compared – and especially when standing next to – my younger sister. To me, she represented everything I wasn’t; pretty, confident and popular. I still feel that way from time to time, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to permanently remove those feelings, but I’m slowly realising that I’m my own person, and if I was the same as my sister, I wouldn’t be who I am now, and have done all I have in my life. It’s all about perspective.

Throughout primary school, high school and even college, I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. It was as if the only thing I was certain of was how miserable I felt which in turn, was something the bullies who continued to follow me through life, were able to pick up on and use in order to continue their ongoing torment.

On page 85, Allison writes about, even as she approached her thirties, being full of ‘rebellious venom.’ Whereas most people I know went through their rebellious phase as teenagers, I identified with her words here as I didn’t start rebelling until I was around 26. My parents were still opening my mail at this point (yes, really), and they treated me like I was the youngest of their children (I’m the second of four), always asking me what I was doing and where I was going. It got to the point where, upon wanting to go and see a Thirty Seconds To Mars concert in New York, I told my parents I was going to visit a friend in Brighton for the weekend, left the house, headed to the airport and flew across the Atlantic. So bad was my relationship with my parents at this point that they didn’t find out for almost three years, when my depression was at its peak and a therapist advised me to be more honest with those around me. I found both support and solace in music, and I still do, but becoming a part of the Echelon family in particular, made me feel like I belonged somewhere; that I had people in my life who understood me. Music is and remains a form of therapy for me – so much so that, for my first tattoo, I had ‘Music Is Therapy’ tattooed across my lower back, rebelling against my parents threats that they’d kick me out of the house if I got it done.

We all respect, admire and look up to other people – parents, siblings, celebrities, but Allison makes a good point on page 115, via her interview with 50 Cent, about not expecting such people to always do the same for and with you. The entertainment world is such a big part of people’s lives these days, it can sometimes encourage us all to put too much pressure on what we want people to think of us, even if we don’t actually know such people. With the boom in social media, each and every one of us can now reach out to an audience far greater than that in the area where we live or work but, as someone who uses such platforms for both personal and professional purposes, her interview with 50 also made clear to me – or at least reminded me – of how although it’s great to make a strong impression on people, it’s making that impression on the people who really matter that’s important.

“You wouldn’t shame a diabetic for taking insulin.” These words, on page 206, make up one of the hardest-hitting sentences in Allison’s book. Far too often, people are quick to judge others on issues and conditions in their lives, such as anxiety or depression, they didn’t ask for and have no control over, and from personal experience, I have found that such judgements can have devastating impacts and make the lives of those struggling even more difficult. Those who suffer from anxiety or depression in particular have a stigma attached to them; at times it can be like an amber or red warning light flashing above their heads wherever they go, warning people to steer clear, Such stigma HAS to end and it encouraged me to see Allison write and tell her readers as much.

As I turned each page of ‘Journaling Fame’, losing myself in the featured interviews and personal stories, it struck me that few journalists cover the broad number of issues Allison does and has done with such depth and while wanting to get to the heart of a story without risking their integrity, beliefs or trust in others or the trust that others have put in them. I couldn’t and can’t help but think, as I sit and write this, that I am sure there are many in the media world and far beyond who might or could do with taking a leaf out of her book. I also recommend that they and everyone else, particularly those looking for an inspirational and bold read, check it out.

‘Journaling Fame’ is available everywhere now.

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REVIEW: MASASOLO – ‘AT SIXES AND SEVENS’ 43

Relative unknowns to many until late last year, Masasolo have slowly earned themselves a steady following of fans after breaking out of Copenhagen and unleashing their own brand of psychedelic disco pop on the rest of the world. Now, the band are ready to take their sound and style to the masses once again, this time via their debut album At Sixes and Sevens.

“Ordinary Day” is the kind of track you’d play if you wanted to have one of those slightly-out-of-body experiences or to just escape out of your own thoughts for a few minutes. The instrumentation perfectly compliments the lyrics which draw attention to the struggles faced by front-man, vocalist and guitarist Morten Søgaard as he battles to overcome his depression and anxiety every day; something I for one am intensely familiar with.

Driven by a groovy disco rhythm, “Idaho” isn’t quite the type of song you can dance to, but that’s no bad thing. Instead, with a gorgeous vocal and a story about falling in love and the nerves that can and do come with such an experience, it will likely have listeners reminiscing about ‘the one that got away’ or even give them the courage to tell that special someone in their life how they feel.

Follow-up track “The Descender” has an air of romanticism about it, deeply underscored by a painful memory on and about which the song is focussed. The beautiful melody and instrumentation of “Then Comes The Rain” then sets the stage for Søgaard to bear his soul once more with one lyric in particular sure to hold significance for many: “Yeah, I’m getting better now, I can finally see the sky, but then comes the rain.”

Closing number “Maybe It’s Gonna Be Fine” is the most upbeat track on the collection, with the beats and the rhythms played with a sense of urgency. As a result, the album ends with far more optimism than it started with and the three minute instrumental, although perhaps longer than necessary, gives all those who hear it something to unwind and relax to.

A deeply personal but captivating album, At Sixes and Sevens plays a like a diary of Søgaard’s innermost thoughts and feelings, and while many bands and artists tend to shy away from such almost awe-inspiring honesty, he and the rest of Masasolo should be proud of themselves for creating a reflective album that scores of people around the world may feel was written specifically for them.

At Sixes and Sevens is available now.

LIVE: LITTLE MIX @ MANCHESTER ARENA – OCTOBER 20TH 2017 37

To an almost completely packed-out arena, The Voice Israel winner Lina opened the show with a short set which showcased not only her impressive vocal range but also several other talents including belly-dancing and piano playing. A considerable unknown to many, the Little Mix tour has seen Lina earn herself thousands more fans across the country, a fact she openly delighted in when she thanked the girls for bringing her out on the road with them and she spoke, on more than one occasion, about how kind, loving and receptive the Mixers of the UK had been towards her in recent weeks. Rounding off her time on stage with her new single “I Wore It Better”, she then proceeded to peel off her red sweater and throw it into the crowd where it was caught by a very happy fan in the first few rows.

American singer-songwriter Jessarae followed and entertained the masses with a set, and a voice, that had (and has) a very Ed-Sheeran-esque edge to it. While several of his songs sounded quite similar, that didn’t stop him thoroughly enjoying himself and standing in awe as he watched thousands of lights illuminate the huge space after he asked everyone to hold up their glow-sticks or phones.

Half an hour or so later, it was main event time and, as the lights went down, the noise level went up several notches, reaching almost ear-piercing level as Little Mix; Jesy, Perrie, Leigh-Anne and Jade, made their first appearance on stage. Kicking off their set with “Power”, although the quartet delighted their rather young audience from the offset, the girls did appear plagued by some sound issues, notably that for the first few numbers at least, their band and instrumentation appeared louder than they were.

Fortunately, as the show progressed, the sound issues abated and each of the girls got to show everyone present exactly why they make up the UK’s biggest girl band as, backed by an impressive group of dancers, they belted out hit after hit, including “DNA” and “Wings”, encouraging their crowd to sing-along, which they duly did, and in fine voice too.

Keen to spread the message of female empowerment, it was great to see “A woman is an army on her own” and “A Queen is a Queen with or without a King” flash across the giant screen at the back of the stage before the group launched into their smash hit “Salute.”

Mid-set, a giant walkway lowered from the ceiling allowed the girls, by now dressed in pink, white and blue sparkly outfits, to get up close and personal with the thousands of fans in the seats towards the back of the arena, something rarely done by any act let alone one as big as this quartet are. Making their way back to the stage, they then proceeded to showcase their own impressive dance skills and challenged the audience to remember the lyrics to some of their earliest material; needless to say the crowd succeeded every time.

Disappearing from view for a few minutes, and asking, via another message on screen, for the crowd to chant “Little Mix” – which they did although perhaps not as loudly as they might have expected or hoped for – the girls then made their way back on stage for an encore, which consisted of only one song, but admittedly, one of their best – the anthemic “Shout Out To My Ex.”

For almost ninety minutes, the girls danced and sang their hearts out, their passion and excitement returned ten-folded in the eyes and faces of their largely young audience. It’s rare to see a band win over thousands upon thousands of people of all ages, with several different tastes in music, but Little Mix can – and did – do it tonight in some style.