Near Fame and Naïveté
“Whoever blushes is already guilty; true innocence is ashamed of nothing.”
With the help of Michele Kort, Chastity Bono has written a book that covers the first quarter of her life in The End of Innocence, exploring the old theme of young people finding their place in the world and describing her own coming of age story. She faces not only the challenges of normal adolescents (the exploration of sexuality and finding one’s place amongst their peers) but also the additional challenge of dealing with her parents’ fame.
During the voyage to adulthood, Chastity struggles to find success outside the shadow of her powerful parents, as well as happiness as a lesbian. On this journey of discovery, she frequently encounters Joan, whom Chastity has always loved from afar. Joan offers Chastity the succor she needs to keep her tumultuous relations going and the endurance to pursue her dreams of musical stardom.
Joan is almost always there for Chastity. But when Joan becomes seriously ill, Chastity is torn between her need to tend to her still fragile career and her desire to soothe her loved one. In these poignant pages, Chastity reveals her depth of emotion. While she spends much of the memoir discussing her efforts to find an image and identity for herself as a musician and possible star, her persona as the concerned lover is far more interesting and sincere, as well as being the book’s raison d’etre.
Although The End of Innocence is endearing in places, the narrative is fractured. The first half of the book reads like a coming out novel. A near-celebrity coming out novel is not very exciting. It isn’t even a quotidian venture out of the closet, because most gay people have a more traumatic and gripping coming out story. It is somewhat perplexing why this coming out conceit was so important to the story. While it does establish that Chastity has known Joan since she was fourteen, it basically amounts to a copious amount of dross in comparison to the actual gold of the story—especially when it insists on pointlessly revealing who in her life was gay and even deigning to define gaydar, which one cannot imagine her audience misunderstanding.
However, when Joan becomes seriously ill, the memoir rises above the level of “dyke drama.” The flat characterizations begin to flesh out and the story becomes gripping. Unfortunately, this does not happen until halfway through the book. This leaves the true heart of the story drowning in the lengthy Harlequinesque sub-story about sexuality and fame.
In reviewing this book, it would be negligent not to discuss the second ubiquitous subject, fame. The infatuation with fame permeates our culture. Everything from local news to Celebrity Boxing is populated with not only the truly famous or infamous, but also those who bask in reflected fame. While reading The End of Innocence, the Larry King interview with Jim and Tammy Fay Baker’s son who claimed to be a Gen X Missionary kept coming to mind. He lingered on the descriptions of the lavish pre-scandal life he had had as a child. His parents’ ministry loomed over his ministry; in the same way, her parent’s careers looms over Chastity’s. However, this looming is not completely detrimental.
The great thing about being born of the famous is that your parents’ celebrity has most likely infected you, and to acquire that 15 minutes of glory you don’t have to sleep with the president or marry a millionaire on national TV. In fact, Chastity notes, “They (Geffen Records) thought we’d be a slam-dunk like other contemporary children of’ bands—Nelson and Wilson Philips—and they’d supported our recording with a large budget.”
Near fame is no substitute for success, however. Though Cher and Sonny Bono are pushed to the outer edges of the story, they and their friends are ever there pulling strings for their daughter. This creates a lack of empathy for Chastity’s supposed woe as a struggling musician in the story, such as when she talks of the horror of having Geffen Records reserving a room with torn wallpaper. That’s probably enough to make many people close the book for good, since a free hotel room can hardly be considered suffering for one’s art. The struggling artists this reviewer knows can barely pay for the supplies to create their art and eat. One of them, Andy Cigarettes, played empty university lecture halls, dumpster dived, relied on a decrepit bike and friends for transportation, and could not afford to wash his clothes. He lived like that for the integrity of his craft and willingly struggled in a true sense. One cannot begrudge Chastity having some breaks, but it’s hard to buy into her alleged “struggle.”
The End of Innocence is flawed. The true heart of the book is trapped in an unfortunate shell. This is not a book for those who are tired of the coming out/ coming of age genre, the idea that reflected fame is almost as good as fame itself, or the up by the Prada boot straps story. However, if you enjoy or do not mind those things and are also looking for a story about surviving the suffering of a loved one, The End of Innocence testifies that love endures.
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