Book Review: Beth Ditto - 'Coal To Diamonds'
The Gossip star survived childhood abuse and coming out, then “things got weird”
With all that behind her, one of the many remarkable things about this book is just how normal Ditto is. For such a bold and confident performer, her coming-of-age story is quieter and more thoughtful than you might expect. Ditto is compassionate to a fault. She writes matter-of-factly about the cycle of abuse she lived through while making it clear that although people did terrible things, it was the world that made them that way.
Ditto’s voice grows funnier and more confident as her story goes on. She describes the seismic impact that grunge had on her tiny hometown and the tight-knit punk scene that she made into her surrogate family. Then follows the easy realisation that she is gay and the much harder reconciliation of that fact with her family and religious upbringing. She sketches her first band, Little Miss Muffet, and the discovery of riot grrrl that tied her proto-feminism to her passion for music. After escaping Arkansas for Olympia, she forms The Gossip with her friends and it’s not long before her talent takes her around the world. She pinpoints the moment that “things got weird” as being named Number One on 2006’s NME Cool List. She finally realises that she’s become a celebrity, in Britain at least, midway through the interview that accompanied her now-iconic naked NME cover shoot in 2007.
It’s impossible not to be even more awed by the confidence it took to appear on covers like that one after reading about the extreme dieting that left Ditto’s own mum hospitalised. Her candour makes you realise anew what she overcame to make her way in the world. Her story stands both as a ‘personal is political’ manifesto, and as testament to the power of music to make sense of the world, no matter how fucked up it might seem.
Kevin EG Perry
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