In the past few years, I’ve developed a deep love for any memoir in which someone details their crazy childhood and how they managed to rise above it. While they are radically different, Hollywood Park is joining Educated as one of my favorites in this random subgenre for which I’ve developed such a fondness. Hearing about Mikel Jollett’s earliest years was incredibly illuminating, and was yet another true story that made me so incredibly thankful for the wonderful, easy childhood I had, and how foundational that gilded upbringing was in my becoming the person I am today.
“Those nights I just go blank, like I could tie every bad thing inside me to a balloon and just let it float up into the sky, disappearing beyond the clouds.”
I wish I could go back in time and save the child Jollett was during the opening chapters of his book. He tells the heartbreaking story of his childhood with grace and honesty and humor. I can’t even fathom having my earliest memories involving childhood in a cult., being broken out of said cult by my mother in the middle of the night. And I really can’t imagine a mother who is so self-absorbed, to the point of mental illness, that life in the cult was healthier than life outside of it. Even know Jollett obviously survived his childhood, as he couldn’t have written this memoir otherwise, but there were times I was genuinely concerned about his wellbeing as I read. Such was the power of his voice as a storyteller.
“‘C-U-L-T’ is such an ugly word. It looks like the C is spitting the U right at the L. The T is standing still with its arms out, trying to keep its distance from the other letters. They don’t seem like four letters that want to be in the same word together. Maybe that’s why everyone looks so mad when they say it.”
This memoir is written so beautifully. You can tell that Jollett is a musician and songwriter. There’s a beautiful rhythm to the prose, and so many sentences struck me as lyrics hiding within a story. Hollywood Park is yet another book that I heavily annotated, as there were countless lines, and sometimes entire paragraphs, that were too beautiful to read past without acknowledging that beauty in some way, even if that acknowledgment was merely highlighting those lines. Or calling my mom and reading those lines to her over the phone. I did a whole lot of that.
“It’s a strange word. F-A-M-I-L-Y. It’s big and comforting and each letter is different. Just look at it. The F is for father right at the front. The M for mother is in the middle, connecting all the others. It’s a long word but usually people say it in one breath, like “famly” as if the I doesn’t matter. Without the F it’s just “ambly,” a thing that ambles around from place to place. Without the M it’s just a “Fably,” which is a story about something that does not exist…. The word seems to me like a cave, something big and simple you an walk inside to get away from a storm called loneliness.”
My second favorite type of memoir, outside of the crazy childhoods and surviving them, is anything around the creation of art. Whether coming from the perspective of an author or a musician or an actor or a painter, I’m fascinated by not only the creation process, but what aspects of said artist’s life is the source of their inspiration. Jollett did a wonderful job explaining his songwriting process, and how both difficult and cathartic writing has been for him.
“Why be normal? Destroy yourself and dance in the embers. Embrace the catharsis. Use it.”
I loved hearing how inspired Jollett was by music as a young teen, and how he felt saved by it. I related to that on a soul-deep level. While I might not have gravitated toward the same type of artist that so drew Jollett, David Bowie and The Cure and such, I remember feeling so understood and seen by certain artists as a teen. Music has always been the language of my heart, and certain songs have gotten me through some terrible times in my life. I’m glad that Jollett found that same refuge, and then took that solace even further and found a way to not only verbalize his struggles through song lyrics, but to share those with the world.
“That’s the whole magic trick of an essence brought to life by a song, to become an artist when you feel broken and you’ve decided to turn it into beauty. To make the pain useful… too broken to be normal, just broken enough to see beauty.”
Mikel Jollett’s story is such a poignant one. I was moved to tears throughout the entirety of this memoir. While there was too much strong language for me to feel comfortable recommending it to anyone in my family, it’s a book I definitely intend to return to, whether to read from start to finish or to simply flip back through all of those beautiful lines I highlighted. Hollywood Park is a hard story powerfully told.
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