A PERSONAL, REFLECTIVE LOOK AT ALLISON KUGEL’S ‘JOURNALING FAME’ 160

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: THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS – AMERICA 82

Five years in the making, Thirty Seconds To Mars’ new album ‘America’, which Jared promoted this week by hitch-hiking his way across his home country as part of an event called #MarsAcrossAmerica, is most certainly a considerable shift away from what members of the Echelon have heard from the trio (though current duo) over the years. But is this said shift good or bad?

Beginning with “Walk On Water” which introduced both old and new fans alike to the bands’ new rather electro-edged sound, ‘America’ starts off well, especially given that the rather radio friendly “Dangerous Night” follows on from it.

“Rescue Me” ups the tempo somewhat, and with its toe-tapping, body swaying rhythm, combined with Jared’s rough edged vocal, it’s just over three and a half minutes of enjoyable considerably upbeat rock, and the simplistic chorus in particular will work well when – or if – its performed on their current Monolith tour.

Prior to the release of the album, the band gave a sneak peak of one of the album’s collaborations, with A$AP Rocky. Having watched said sneak peak, this reviewer personally felt his involvement was random and pointless. Fortunately however, and for reasons unknown, he doesn’t feature on my (likely all UK albums) version and with the song performed for the most part in a breathy, almost dream-like manner, it would most likely have been completely ruined with Rocky’s inclusion.

The “Monolith” instrumental, AKA track 5, doesn’t really serve any purpose, however it does lead into the album’s one collaboration that REALLY does work – that of Jared and Halsey on “Love Is Madness” – one of the darker tracks, but not the darkest, on the album. She compliments Jared perfectly, enhancing the song and its sultry mood/feel to the point where it easily stands out as a highlight of the collection.

“Great Wide Open” is an inspiring track, and one that’s perfect to listen to when you’re out discovering yourself or exploring this world we live in, or most likely, doing both at the same time. It’s the type of song you can see playing behind a montage of a person’s life, as their friends and family pay tribute to or celebrate them in some form or another, and with that in mind, it’s one of the album’s strongest, and most emotive, pieces.

Mixing simple electronic hooks, plenty of synth and a chorus which, it could be argued, is rather understated, “Hail To The Victor” almost flashes back to the ‘Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams’ era of the band, perhaps included to draw that chapter to an undeniable close. The darkest, deepest number on the album comes in the form of “Dawn Will Rise.” With lyrics including “Come and hit me, strike me while I’m down” and “Fortunes fade in time, I must change or die.”, it’s certainly not a track to listen to if you are in a good mood, as its sombre, almost depressing tone, matched by Jared’s almost defeated vocal performance, will soon shatter said mood to pieces.

If there’s any real surprise on the album, it’s Shannon’s Leto’s vocal on “Remedy.” It’s raw and stripped back in comparison to any track that has come before and comes after it. There’s an organic feel to the song, and Shannon’s performance, although different, is so in a phenomenally good way, and he’s no doubt going to find himself requested to play it live.

The chorus of “Oh Oh Oh”, on “Live Like A Dream”, in a nice touch from the band, was recorded at one of their Camp Mars events, and serves as an audible reminder for those who were there of the project they were involved in (though it’s unlikely they knew what it was for at the time) and the fun they had, while for other members of the Echelon, it’s a nice throwback to the ‘This Is War’ era when many of them featured on that album, having participated in ‘summits’ around the world.

“Rider” has so far proved to be quite a strong, albeit new, inclusion to the band’s tour setlist, and with its rising crescendo as the piece nears its end, it’s quite stirring and powerful. Meanwhile, on the deluxe edition of the album, the acoustic, choir-inclusive version of “Walk On Water” might lack the energy of the original, but with the electronics removed, it brings Jared’s genuine vocal ability to the forefront again, and such has been considerably lacking up to this point.

With remixes growing in popularity, it’s not that surprising to find the band have included 2, the first being a R3hab remix of “Walk On Water.” For those who like a more dance-like and continued electro-feel to their songs, it’s not a bad version by any means, but it’s not the best remix ever made either, and the Cheat Codes remix of “Dangerous Night” doesn’t fare that much better.

Despite the new sound and styles with which the band have experimented on this collection, ‘America’ is still at its heart, very much a Thirty Seconds To Mars album, and if the social media reaction is anything to go by, it’s proving a hit with their huge following. Yes there are tracks on the album that don’t quite work as well as they should, like the remixes, but for the majority, lyrically and instrumentally, it’s a considerably solid piece of work that fans hopefully won’t have to wait another five years for in order to hear its follow-up.

REVIEW: FALL OUT BOY PLUS GUESTS – MANCHESTER ARENA 29/03/18 80

Opening for a band as much loved as Fall Out Boy are is never particularly easy, but with considerable flair and a lot of sparkle, opening act MAX, although currently largely unknown to UK music fans, does his best to warm up the fast-filling arena with a set filled with songs that showcase his impressive vocal range and his rather fancy dance moves that could be considered ‘stolen’ from the likes of Michael Jackson. His US smash hit “Lights Down Low” is perhaps the best received song he performs, and as time goes on, the crowd do become more receptive to his calls for them to clap or sing along. Come the end of his set, MAX, with another thank you to everyone who has come out in time to see him, exits the stage to warm, although not considerably loud applause.

Second support Against The Current fare much better and almost bounce their way on stage with an energy that doesn’t let up until the second they leave. There’s an air of Paramore’s Hayley Williams about front-woman Chrissy Costanza and her powerful voice, perhaps showcased best via “Gravity”, easily soars through the air of the vast venue, captivating and entertaining those watching the band on stage. With a new album due out later this year, there are likely to be big things ahead for the trio from Poughkeepsie.

As the lights go down for the third time, a countdown appears on the big screens and as the clock ticks down, the screams and cheers of the now packed arena proceed to get louder and louder, reaching almost ear-piercing volume when Fall Out Boy make their first appearance, and kick things off with “The Phoenix”, complete with on-stage pyro. From there, it’s a case of them blasting out hit after hit, with Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz marching from one side of the stage to the other, working, as they always have, in harmony with one another, and encouraging the crowd to dance and jump.

“Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” results in the venue almost vibrating from the sound of 12,000+ people singing along to the chorus at the top of their voices, while the catwalk that splits the arena floor in two sees plenty of use from all band members aside (obviously) from drummer Andy Hurley, who parade their way down it, instruments or microphone in hand.

Taking a seat at a grand piano, Stump shows off just how good his vocal range is with a performance of “Save Rock and Roll,” during which he covers both his own role in the song as well as that of Elton John. It’s a far cry from the EDM, heavier sound to the song that most fans are used to, but it works, and goes down a treat.

While most performers tend to stick only to playing a main stage, the band then proceed to delight those seated at the back of the arena by appearing on a two-part B stage, which raises the quartet high into the air, putting Patrick and Pete in particular at almost eye level with those ‘up in the gods.’ Renditions of “Dance, Dance” and “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” work the crowd up into a frenzy, and the cheering which follows lasts until the band leave the B-stage and make their way back to the main one.

With the show quickly drawing to a close, the band maintain the high energy momentum they’re so well known for with “I Don’t Care”, soon followed by fan-favourite “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race”, while “Church” also makes its live debut. The four song encore which follows a few minutes later begins with “Uma Thurman”, but it’s the middle two tracks, “Thriller” and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” that see the venue once again come alive, shaking with the force of those both in the seats and on the floor singing and dancing along. Closer “Saturday” meanwhile sees Pete get really up close and personal with the fans as, making his way down the catwalk, and laying his bass guitar aside, he reaches out to them as they sing – practically scream – the final few notes, just as confetti explodes from the ceiling all around them.

With such a vast catalogue of hits and an army of dedicated fans, there was little doubt tonight’s Fall Out Boy show was going to be anything less than great, and judging by the grins on the faces of the thousands in attendance as they made their way to the exits, it certainly was just that.