I’ve Never Been to Me
I’ve Never Been to Me
Charlene Oliver with Jordan Paramor
392 pages • Beautiful Books • November 6th, 2008 [HB]
The first impression given by Charlene Oliver’s autobiography I’ve Never Been To Me is that it will be a guilty pleasure, an exercise in camp that borders on the ridiculous. In fact, one look at the book jacket will give that impression. “The singer behind the hit song made famous in Priscilla Queen of the Desert” it thunders. The title of the book is the theme of the book is the subject of the book. And Charlene does not let you forget it for a minute.
I’ve Never Been To Me is so unreal that it is like reading the autobiography of a fictional character who has orchestrated the writing of said biography through a second party. The fact that this second party has the unlikely name of Jordan Paramor only heightens the sense of that it is one step removed from everyday reality. The ghost writer who unravels the story of the one hit wonder bears a name that recalls the object of the song, love, the paramour, the person to whom the singer submits whilst at the same time never discovering her real self. The name Jordan, too, recalls ‘Kings of’, for whom the abject singer has undressed, as well as another Top-Seller in the world of Celebrity Books. That Jordan is a regular contributor to Heat and Cosmopolitan defines precisely who the book is for: straight women over 30, and gay men who bask in the Glory of Camp both with and without irony.
Charlene’s story begins with her birth in … where else? Hollywood! She attended the same school as Marilyn Monroe; she had seen the Capitol Building erected; and she saw the first star placed on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. She had been there, kids! The world of Stardom, of Dreams, was laid out at her feet.
But wait, there is balance, juxtaposition, which is provided by those who had flocked to this land of Dreams only to have them shattered. One can almost hear the strains of Neil Sedaka singing ‘Cardboard California’. It is a story of promise and foreboding: and all this by page 4!
The tone is a little too Pollyanna as Charlene outlines the lives of her parents. It may have been tough because of her mother’s depression, but “she didn’t let her dark moods affect us in any way and she never took anything out on my sister and me”. Luckily for little Charlene, Mom hid herself away in her room so she could shield the kids from her depression. It is enough to make the reader shout, “Are you for REAL???”
Then there is the Childhood Trauma.
“When I was 18 months old I went for a nap and I just didn’t wake up as normal.” Charlene is plunged into a coma when she is diagnosed with spinal meningitis. And her subsequent milking of the fact to explain her appalling behaviour as a teenager and beyond is shameless.
The story of Charlene’s childhood, of being an outcast at school, different from all the others and friendless as a result, will perhaps resonate with the gay men the book is so clearly targeted at. Charlene goes from a love of horses – “they became my friends and they gave me comfort” – to a love of music. “I just wanted to show the world I was somebody.” Puhlease!
There is a funny story of how Charlene, at the age of 15, is mistaken for a journalist because of some badge she got from a magazine, so she gets to hang out with the Rolling Stones, then Jerry & The Pacemakers. Apparently the bass player of the Pacemakers took a shine to her. “I was really just a young girl so I know it was kind of wrong that he was so keen on me, but I was so excited that he liked me.” She has now graduated from Pollyanna to that most manipulative little girl of children’s literature, Anne of Green Gables.
Poor Charlene stumbles from one tragedy to the next, and all the time things happen to her. She is not the cause of anything. “Pity me,” you can hear her cry as she shacks up with drug addict deadbeat boyfriend-cum-first-husband, “I only want to be loved.” Nothing is her fault. She takes responsibility for nothing. The loss of her virginity, her pregnancy, staying with drug addled Larry as he takes her along to orgies where she watches while he plays around …
In the end it is quite simply impossible not to hoot at the narrative. It is appallingly written, and the subject is, in the end, appalling. The timing of the book’s release is shamelessly manipulative and the story mirrors that manipulation. The best thing that can be said about I’ve Never Been To Me is that it has a marvellously camp jacket that would not look out of place on the coffee table any queen thoroughly inducted into the Society of Camp Trash.
“Finally I’d found something I was good at,
aside from riding horses.”