BOOK REVIEW: BETH DITTO – COAL TO DIAMONDS (A MEMOIR)

Beth Ditto’s autobiography with Michelle Tea proves that the Gossip’s effervescent frontwoman is a diamond in the rough. A proud punk, her story is told in the form of various episodes from her fractured childhood in Arkansas. It was not an easy one by any stretch, as Ditto was part of a large, blended family and living the life of a nomad from an early age (sometimes living with her single mother, occasionally with an aunt and at other times with the man she thought was her father). The only constant was her hometown and one that could be re-dubbed “Hicksville, USA”.

In Coal To Diamonds the unlikely frontwoman describes how she overcame obstacles like abuse, poverty and even bullying about her weight to eventually become the strong and powerful singer we know her as today. It’s a role she relishes and one she sometimes can’t believe she has. But we also learn that she did consider becoming a choir mistress and has never turned her back on the idea of chucking it all in to become a hairdresser.

One things for sure, the story is a true, underdog tale. Ditto was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But she does make good. But then, this only happened after she’d earned it through her punk-DIY spirit and gigging with her friends and bandmates (Nathan “Brace Paine” Howdeshell and Kathy Mendonca (who was later replaced by Hannah Blilie).

Ditto would eventually have her own share of personal and professional successes and these were off the back of her own moxie and talent. It is more than the Kardashians and Hiltons of this world can claim and certainly what makes Ditto such a fabulous role model. Well, that and the fact she’s a proud lesbian and flag-bearer for the feminist cause. She has also been outspoken on her views about certain issues and it’s clear from this book that these were shaped during her formative years when she was listening to the riot grrl bands that pre-dated her group’s output.

This memoir is not a difficult one to read in a literary sense. Although it is heart-wrenching to read about her abuse, poverty and the bullying she endured; the actual writing is personable and gripping. It is also how I imagine Ditto is in real life- i.e. down-to-earth, passionate and as tough as nails. Brilliant.

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