Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review: 'My Name Is Love' by Darlene Love


If the cliché that great suffering makes great blues singers holds true, and the same could be said of great rhythm and blues singers, then there’s no wonder why Darlene Love possessed the greatest R&B voice of her generation. The daughter of an abusive mother uprooted from a liberal South Californian community to a racist Texas burg, a magnet for unfaithful men, and one of the many victims of Phil Spector’s huge ego and insidious business practices, Darlene Love’s mightily expressive voice can be heard on some of the biggest records of the sixties, both as a soloist and as in-the-shadows support to artists as diverse as Sam Cooke and Bobby “Boris” Pickett. Yet because her name so rarely appeared on the labels of these discs, she never received the acclaim she deserved. The bitterness such misfortunes brewed is evident in Darlene’s autobiography My Name Is Love, which often swells into outright nastiness.

Though her tone is semi-humorous much of the time, it’s kind of a drag to read the constant stream of nose-thumbing directed at the “non-classic” Rolling Stones and Kinks, Spector’s “crap” production of “River Deep—Mountain High,” Ronnie Spector’s “mewly” voice, feminists, and Diana Ross, whom she and her buddies gang up on and send running in a sequence that seems to invite us to join in on having a laugh at the Supreme’s wardrobe. She mocks Dionne Warwick for the thrush’s “crazy” belief in the paranormal, and then explains how she hoped her own child was not born on Halloween because she “had enough devils in (her) life already.” Nope, nothing crazy about that. Nothing hypocritical either. Darlene’s injection of her own religious beliefs into every tale she tells becomes wearisome very quickly, and when she says that the concept of a female God in the song “Lord, If You’re a Woman” “makes me sick,” they droop toward offensive.

Yet My Name Is Love is pretty readable in a tabloidy way. There are plenty of juicy tidbits about her affair with Righteous Brother Bill Medley, Phil Spector’s bizarre behavior, as when he bought Ronnie a bunch of toddler’s toys to placate her during the Christmas Gift for You sessions, Tom Jones’s insatiable libido, and her own broken-bottle-armed attack on a bully she found beating up her brother. Such stories kept me turning the pages of My Name Is Love even if they made it read like a weird mixture of nasty, trashy, and preachy. I should have just stuck to listening to her wonderful, wonderful records.

My Name Is Love was originally published in 1998 (hopefully, Darlene is less bitter these days), and is now being reprinted by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins, as a tie-in with the upcoming documentary, Twenty Feet from Stardom. You can get this new edition at Amazon.com here:

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