By Carl Blumenthal
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — Within the sub-genre of memoirs of mental illness is a niche — family members writing about their sick relatives, specifically daughters wondering whether they’ll turn out as crazy as their moms.
Some examples are The Four of Us, (1991) by Elizabeth Swados, Broadway musical producer; National Public Radio correspondent Jacki Lyden’s Daughter of the Queen of Sheba (1997); and fiction writer Virginia Holman’s Rescuing Patty Hearst (2003).
Now comes 42-year-old Storm Large, one-time lead singer of The Balls, a West Coast punk rock band, whose name lives up to her block-busting autobiography, Crazy Enough (Free Press, 2012).
Compared to her mother, who spun in and out of hospitals with the monotony of a revolving door, Large quips, “Other than hypersexuality, addiction, hallucinations, panic attacks and general fits of blackout depression, I was totally normal.” (p. 218)
What is not “normal” is Large’s prose, always sensitive to the manic-depressive qualities of people, places and events. Here’s her recollection of one mental hospital she visited when she was 9 years old: “The place had hardcore security [read: lockdown], as it was home for the dangerous lunatics who were generally called ‘criminally insane.’ There were thick, scary doors and gigantic nurses with big arms that looked like big legs. Their even bigger legs were stuck into itchy white tights and stomped around under square asses, barely shifting under the white uniforms. Like blocky, scowling ships, they swept through the wards, checking straps and giving Thorazine enemas.” (p. 26)
Another example: “Everything with me as a child — and later on — was either the mostexcitingwonderfulamazingyougottacomeseethisnowthing ever or else the sun would be going black, it was raining frogs, and the hooves of plagues were thundering around me. Sometimes I wondered if I was too sensitive to even be alive. I still feel that way now and then, like a turtle yanked raw and naked from its shell and tossed, torn open and shrieking, into a sandstorm.” (p. 18)
Given the above, it’s no surprise Large veers from intense love to guilt, from anger to rejection, in reaction to her mother Suzi’s increasing absences from a home filled with maternal self-loathing (and too-numerous suicide attempts).
Once a doctor lets slip that Storm is genetically doomed to follow in Suzi’s footsteps, Storm is given license, in effect, to act out this self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether through sexual obsession, drug and alcohol abuse, binge-and-bust eating, toxic love affairs or even misguided therapy, she approaches the edge of mental illness without stepping over.
Fortunately, she possesses a drive that takes her to athletic prowess in high school, graduation from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, cult status as a punk rocker, including an appearance on the reality TV show Rock Star: Supernova, and acclaim for her one-woman show, Crazy Enough, soon to be off-Broadway.
In a surprise ending to the book, Storm reconciles with her mother shortly before the latter’s death, and they are drawn even closer together by some dramatic, posthumous revelations.
In other words, Storm Large transforms the tumult of her life into art. What’s so amazing about Crazy Enough is that although the subject matter is over the top, there’s hardly a wasted word in the memoir. Plus she has a no-holds-barred sense of humor that is a great defense against adversity.