[15 April 2008]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
“Hear her roar” screamed the cover of last month’s Newsweek, emblazoned just above the forehead of - who else? - presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Former pop star and actress Helen Reddy, on the other side of the world, can’t contain her amusement at this full-circle turn of events.
“I put two phrases into the lexicon, and that blows my mind because I don’t think of myself as a writer,” says Reddy, 66, chuckling during a telephone interview while sipping tea in her Sydney, Australia, home.
The line, of course, comes from her 1972 hit, “I Am Woman,” an anthemic pop song with a hook as infectious as a commercial jingle and a polarizing message to which many Americans still can’t adjust: “I am woman / Hear me roar.”
Reddy’s memoir, “The Woman I Am” (Tarcher/Penguin, $26.95) plays off the song’s title, but the Australian-born entertainer insists her days of singing for a living are far behind her. She retired from the stage permanently at age 60, 55 years after first picking up a mike. Today, she’s a licensed clinical hypnotherapist and a genealogist.
In her book, Reddy recounts growing up in an Australian show business family; her ‘70s pop music career in the United States; a harrowing marriage to a cocaine-addict who doubled as her manager; raising two children, becoming a grandmother, and her current spiritual work.
Q: This isn’t the autobiography I expected.
A: I always said I would never do an autobiography, and I’d had offers over the years, but they wanted sex, drugs and rock and roll, and that wasn’t what my life was about. And I had these other interests separate and apart from show business.
Q: Was it hard to write?
A: I thought I’d write the book in six months - ha, ha! It was 14 months. What was very helpful was having a son who is also a writer.
Q: How was Jordan helpful?
A: I’m not a computer person. I have a laptop but if something goes wrong I’m in a panic. I pushed the wrong button and thought I’d erased the entire manuscript. I’m about to throw the laptop out of a window and myself after it. My son said, `Calm down, mom, this is normal. Every time someone touches the keypad it’s all still in there. Your manuscript is still in there. Trust me on that one.’ He was wonderful and encouraging. I’d never written a book, but I could write a good, tight paragraph so I figured if I could string enough of those together I could have a book.
Q: In “The Woman I Am,” you write that Elvis Presley was formerly King Tut and that President Richard Nixon was formerly President Andrew Johnson, who was formerly philosopher Thomas Paine. In addition, you write that AIDS was one of the biblical plagues and that you had a psychic revelation relating to feminism. Are you prepared for critics who might scoff at your assertions concerning reincarnation, past-life regressions and feminism?
A: A lot of people think, “Space cadet!” That’s OK. We’re all on the same path; we just proceed at different speeds. There’s stuff in my book targeting different levels. If something seems weird to you, skip over it and go on to the next part. There are things that will appeal to people that are more advanced as well as people coming to it as a brand new subject.
Q: Do you miss performing? Do any of your songs beyond “I Am Woman,” “Delta Dawn,” “Angie Baby,” for example stand out for you?
A: I don’t really think about it. I’ve moved on. I still enjoy going to the theater and seeing other performers, but I have no desire to do it because, I guess, in my mind, I associate it with hard work and hard times. I have no desire to be back in it.
Q: Does the spiritual work offer the same rewards?
A: I find it to be the most fascinating work - extraordinary of late. I had two clients, eight days apart. One was a Vietnamese man and the other a Greek Orthodox male. Both saw Jesus under hypnosis.
A: It was a particular “Wow” where the Buddhist was concerned. “What’s he doing here? I don’t believe in him,” he said. What could be more interesting? Do I want to sing “Leave Me Alone” one more time or do I want to do past-life regressions? No contest!
Q: At the time “I Am Woman” was popular, New York congresswoman Shirley Chisholm ran for president. She was famously quoted as saying that being a woman put more obstacles in her path than being black. Male DJs cringed at having to play “I Am Woman.” “Saturday Night Live’s” recent spoof of the media’s fawning treatment toward Barack Obama versus opponent Hillary Clinton led some to question the media’s treatment of the female candidate. Have we evolved as a society over the past 36 years?
A: I’m more than a little distressed. Racism is now no longer socially acceptable. In the past 50 years we’ve made great strides exposing racism for the evil it is and overcoming that. But sexism is so deep it’s invisible. I am hoping against hope that Clinton’s going to make it. I think we need the balance of energy. We need feminine energy. We’ve been overloaded with testosterone and swagger.
Q: You became an American citizen in 1974 but now live in Sydney. Why?
A: I made the decision to leave after the coup in Florida. At that point I could no longer trust the Supreme Court, and America had become a one-party state. I said, “I’m not going to live under totalitarianism, I’m out.” That’s why it’s very important for me that Hillary wins.