J Randy Taraborrelli’s Diana Ross: An Unauthorised Biography lands on my desk. My, it’s weighty. When a huge glossy mag arrives in the post I sometimes ask myself: “How many ants would this kill if I dropped it on their nest?” Vogue in ad-rich October, if employed so brutally, would wipe out the entire colony. Limpy Hello! mag might cause a few injuries, that’s all. But I wouldn’t want you to think I’m weird or anything. For sure Randy’s book is up there with October Vogue, ant fatalities-wise.
Something I’ve noticed is the growing fashion in these blockbuster bios for endless thankyous, as if the book were an Oscar acceptance speech by Gwyneth Paltrow. Randy’s Diana Ross is substantial in its gratitude. First there’s the dedication to the “many Motown stars who transformed my youth by allowing me to join them on their fantastic journey.” Aw, how sweet. You can tell Randy’s hung out with Michael Jackson once too often. You can almost hear the simpering squeak of the rehearsal-in-the-mirror as the speaker/writer imagines that what he feels will transfer to the listener through the agencies of pitch and gurning. Such saccharine usually forces me to do some sort of violence.
Then go towards the back of the book and you hit pages and pages of tas-very-much. In the nine-page Acknowledgements one encounters not just thankyous to the likes of Mary Wilson and Berry Gordy et al but also a self-review of the author’s evolving attitude to the woman he calls worshipfully “Miss Ross” when he tires of repeating Diana. “Thankfully, I have changed over the years, my viewpoints informed and altered simply by my maturity and experience,” he writes. He also survived puberty and probably danced in the rain once, but do we need to be informed of these universal experiences?
And then we get to the Personal Acknowledgements (the first being Impersonal presumably) in which it appears the entire Taraborrelli tribe gets a name-check. Father Rocco has always been Randy’s “inspiration”. Friends, publicists and countrymen are all immortalised with Miss Ross, climaxing in this beauty: “Finally, to my loyal readers: I thank you for giving my life purpose.”
I hadn’t realised that an interest in his interest in Miss Ross entailed any kind of reader loyalty – as if such an interest must endure against the enemy without, such as rival Miss Ross chroniclers perhaps. The unfortunate impression is of an author dreaming he's up there on stage with Miss Ross, taking bows and bouquets as sequins sparkle (and hers), as if the world had come to see Mr T as well.
And while I’m on the subject of the Divine Diana, I’ll mention Kaye Ballard’s memoirs just out: How I Lost 10 Pounds In 53 Years. She tells a delicious story about a lunch she had with Doris Day. They spotted Diana Ross sitting at a nearby table – “Oh, Doris, go over and say hello,” said Kaye. “No,” said Doris. “Oh go on – it’ll be a thrill for her.” Doris relented and went over to her table. “Hello,” she said, “I’m Doris Day.” Diana turned to her, barked “Hello”, then spun back round to her meal leaving Doris just standing there humiliated. Crestfallen, she returned to the table and said to Kaye: “That’s the last time I ever listen to you!”
So, finally, my thanks to Kaye for that story, to Doris for featuring in it, to Miss Ross for being the compelling bitch that she is, to the waiters, etc etc.