Book review and art inspired by ‘This Bright Future: A Memoir’

Movie poster inspired by This Bright Future.
Made while I listened to the book.

I found this memoir after looking at the NYT Bestsellers list. I went into it not knowing who Bobby Hall aka Young Sinatra aka Bobby Tarantino aka Sir Robert was. But I had heard of Logic, who rapped on Sam Smith track I liked a few years back. I remember thinking “wow, he really elevated that song”. But that was it. As much as I was into hip hop and rap growing up in the Bronx, that doesn’t remain true today. I fell out of step with it because of all the auto-tuning that turned my stomach and hurt my ears. Before I moved out of the borough, the only radio station anyone listened to was Hot 97. Now that I don’t, it’s mostly classical, rock, and experimental. As for rap, I listen to the same people I did as a child: Biggie, Tupac, Dr. Dre, Snoop, The Fugees, Method Man, Salt n’ Pepa, Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, Nas, DMX (RIP), and Eminem. I don’t watch MTV, BET, or listen to the radio. Life changes you, and my patience for shows that were designed to bring down artists was depleted which meant I wasn’t hearing new music. Once I was in Bronx Science, my focus shifted. Not to say that happens to everyone who goes to nerd schools, but it did for me. I discovered other types of interests and music, and realized I loved classical because I could actually play it.

So, my reasons for not knowing Bobby Hall were because of me, not because he’s not talented, which he absolutely is. I legit thought he was a British rapper because he was on that Smith track. How wrong I was. He is the very definition of a red-blooded ‘Merican. Mixed race. From Maryland. Inspired by pop culture. Eats Taco Bell. Now that I’ve read his memoir and heard his music, I’m reminded of those rappers I loved so much that were able to spit a verse without all the garbage filtered in the track. What a breath of fresh air. Good music is good music, and he makes it.

I’ll be blunt. This Bright Future is a masterpiece. This will be made into a movie, no question. A modern coming of age story, it was like Catcher in the Rye with music, witches, sex, and a big splash of crack. At its core, this memoir is about a kind and overlooked soul who, through pure grit and determination, navigated to an existence where he is now safe, loved, and counted. Raised in poverty with a mentally ill, alcoholic, PCP-using white mother, an absent drug-addicted black father, and a system that failed him, This Bright Future is the quintessential success story of an outcast named Bobby Hall. What’s scary is that the childhood Hall had is not unique. Yes, the specific situations he was put in may be, but child abuse like this is prevalent. I’ve been that person whose had to carry a child away from their screaming drug addicted parents. I hate it. I see it a lot, and it’s awful and traumatic every time. What is special is that Bobby Hall didn’t become what raised him. Instead, he became Logic. There are kids living in horrific conditions they don’t realize are horrific, so they repeat the cycle. Despite the chaos and having the odds stacked against him, the same is not true for Hall, which can show a hopeless kid struggling today that they can do the same. Hard work, courage, perseverance, the kindness of others, and a good sense of humor helped Hall carve a path to what he was meant to do and be where he was meant to be. Because our boy can rap, write, create, and uplift. And how lucky we are to be able to live and see this. How tiring it is to see people born with a silver spoon just make it in the industry so they can have gold ones. So many people work hard and are never acknowledged for it, and it’s nice to see it happen for once to someone who came from humble beginnings.

As tragic as this memoir was, I would be lying if I didn’t say it was also hilarious. Especially the chapter about his mother’s religiosity. I was literally laughing out loud in public. Hall’s stories about his parents, siblings, acquaintances are all shared with a care and sensitivity that demonstrates how much he doesn’t want to hurt anyone by disclosing to us how much they hurt him. This is an inherently good person who has empathy even for those who don’t appreciate or deserve it. As a result of his upbringing and his ability to withstand so much abuse by having hope, and yes, a logical outlook, the dust settled and what emerged from the wreckage was PTSD and anxiety. You can’t blame him. So, if you struggle too, you will absolutely feel a connection to this story. And know that it’ll be okay.

Speaking of which, Hall points out several times that fans tell him how much they mean to him because they share commonalities. I now join that group by saying there were times I literally said out loud “Wtf, yes, I feel that”. Besides loving Kill Bill, our life circumstances were very similar. Examples: Not being accepted because you are mixed. Literally being asked “What are you?” is something I’ve put up with my whole life. “You aren’t black enough, you aren’t white enough, you aren’t spanish enough, how come you sound so white, how come you don’t sound like Rosie Perez, why are you so pale, why is your hair so frizzy? Do you date white or black men? Why?” Yeah. It’s so much fun.

On a personal note, I have a mentally ill black mother and a temperamental Puerto Rican father. My mother is literally crazy and is becoming a nun. Yeah. I’ve cut her off after a childhood of manipulation, degradation, neglect, and abuse. It’s been years since I’ve seen or spoken to her. How I long to have a mother I could just talk to. But like Bobby Hall, I don’t have that kind of family dynamic. And as hard it is for him to say that he doesn’t have a real family, I’m glad he did. Because people like us exist, and it hurts. And so we have to make our own families. I think the valuable lesson Hall tells is that when you become a parent it doesn’t come with a license that says you can abuse your child and expect your child to let you get away with it. To the people who say “but she’s your mother” to him, understand that cutting your own parent off is not easy, and there are reasons they don’t deserve to be in a survivor’s life. And you questioning that decision crosses a line and only makes it worse. We all know parenting is hard, even when you don’t struggle with illness and addiction. We don’t get to choose our parents, but we do get to choose boundaries so that we aren’t destroyed by them.

I liked how Hall also discussed the impact that social media has had on all of us, and how we connect and treat writers, artists, or just everyday people because we are given a virtual safety net. The internet helped make him, but it also made him a target. I was angry to hear about all the abuse he got from online trolls, how people laughed at his pain when he was physically ill, or spewed venom about him because of a VMA performance. I haven’t watched any of that MTV nonsense since Britney danced in a sheer suit on stage (which was awesome, you do you Britney). I don’t even know how long ago that was, but I do know that no awards show should lead to the type of vitriol artists experience, which means there’s an issue with the entertainment culture that only encourages it. And if you are guilty of such online abuse, you need to reconsider your words and think about the energy you’re wasting.

If you haven’t guessed it, I’m giving this five stars. I don’t think anything else I say could do this justice, so I’ll stop. Also, I don’t want to ruin anything for you because part of what’s so great about the book are the crazy stories you don’t see coming that knock you on your ass.

Dream Cast: 🎥

Bobby Hall: Bobby Hall. And if he doesn’t act, Jesse Williams.

Young Bobby Hall: Lonnie Chavis

Mom: Juliette Lewis

Dad: Jamie Foxx

MaryJo: Melissa McCarthy

Josh: Marcus Scribner

Britney: Phoebe Dynevor

Available on Audible

Rating: 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘Beautiful Things: A Memoir’ Review

This will be a somewhat lengthy review. Because there’s no other way to do this memoir justice. If at all.

I remember it clearly. Barack Obama is running for the Presidency in 2008 and a journalist corners him. He’s asked to comment on Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, who has just disclosed that she will soon become a teenage mom. Despite the nastiness and cruel attacks from Palin, Obama doesn’t bite. He shakes his head, says he won’t be judging anyone, and wishes them the best. Then he reminds the journalist his mother was a teenage mom. End of story. Let’s move on. Don’t try that again.

Oh, how different things are today. The treatment of Hunter Biden, a private citizen, by political opponents of his father is something that truly captures how low the MAGA movement is willing to go to stay in power. To ridicule those as if we don’t all have skeletons. I seem to recall that GWB was addicted to cocaine. Nixon was an alcoholic. Cheney shot someone. And they were public servants. Hunter Biden is not. Before reading this book, I knew little about Hunter Biden except for the fact that Trump and his cronies were literally stalking him and/or using him as a punch line to distract from the embarrassing amount of corruption they themselves perpetuate. Trump was also attempting to get dirt on Biden from Ukraine in an effort to destroy a formidable opponent he knew was widely respected, Joe Biden. Not only did the Ukraine mess lead to Trump’s second impeachment (Ass.), but it continues to perpetuate conspiracy theories about Biden’s business interests that are just not true (looking at you, Fox News and Qanon).

What’s even worse is that during the time the Trump family and their rabid supporters harassed Biden by repeatedly asking ‘Where’s Hunter?”, he was struggling through some of the most debilitating days of his drug addiction. Imagine having a stomach flu and someone decides to eat sushi and anchovies in front of you with little consideration for your well-being or your gag reflex. That’s what this was. Salt on a wound. I remember being worried about Hunter Biden. This man I’d never met, and will never meet. Then I got angry and started to mouth off online in his defense.

Captured on film: Mad Laney defending Hunter Biden

Yep. I was pissed. Because is this what we do now? We take a vulnerable person and drag them publicly through the mud, knowing the harm it could cause? We all know how stigma makes addiction and disease worse. Drug addiction will always be taboo or even mocked but you still expect better from the highest office in the land. Then Joe Biden won the election. And Hunter wrote a book. And I needed to read it. Because dude survived the hunt.

I devoured this beautifully written memoir in a day. At the core of his message of love, acceptance, and perseverance is Hunter’s brother, Beau, who died far too young yet made an impact as deep as a moon crater. Hunter’s adoration of Beau and his deep connection to their father, now our President (thank heavens) sort of took my breath away. Is that what family is? I’ve never known it, but damnit if there isn’t something more beautiful. I loved reading about his childhood as a politician’s son, his demerits in school (lol), and his tireless work for people struggling after natural disasters all while he himself silently drowned in self-destruction and self-doubt.

Before I delve further, I think it’s necessary for me to point out that I read this from the perspective of someone who also never got to experience the love of a biological mother and has had my own share of loss. I also looked at it through the lens of my day job as a Probation Officer. I’ve been that person to drive a withdrawing probationer to detox, or paid for their dinner, or fight with their insurance company. Yeah, “those people”. The people struggling through drug court. The mother who drove drunk with her children in the car. The guy who beat his girlfriend up with a bat when he was fucked up on PCP and now hates himself. Or the Wall Street bro who has to stand in line at the methadone clinic first thing in the morning so he can get through the rest of day. None are bad people. Not one. They do bad things. But they aren’t bad. And neither is Hunter Biden. I guarantee you too will find a connection. Whether it’s Biden’s middle class childhood, his grief at losing his mother and infant sister, his determination to make it on his own without the help of his father, becoming a father himself, his failed relationships, or his whirlwind romance with his wife Melissa. It’s life. And it’s messy, confusing, awesome, and complex. While the stories may be different, the feelings are the same.

Biden’s account of his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine is not for the faint of heart. If you’re uncomfortable, good. That’s the point. And my God, does our boy have a tolerance to somehow survive week-long binges. There were several points where I asked myself how he was still alive or not in prison. And I say this as someone who has found people dead following an overdose, and put people in prison. Despite living an affluent lifestyle, none of that matters when your addiction leads you to the seedy, unforgiving underbelly, which it did for him and will for anyone who goes down that path. And if you are thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a movie I hate, you aren’t too far off from what Biden’s life was like. Unlike other memoirs I’ve read on drug addiction, this really gets into the nitty gritty of crack cocaine use. How insidious it is. How chaotic it makes you, as you stay awake for two days straight. The time, money, and self-respect you waste looking for that next high. The wash, rinse, then repeat lifestyle that both confuses, exhausts, and aggravates the ones you love. How you try to hide your use, followed by the inevitable case of the fuck-its. And through it all, you remember that regardless of love, support, money, or the completion of the most expensive treatment programs, sobriety cannot and will not be achieved unless you find it within you to ferociously fight Spartan 300 style and say enough is enough. I’m worth more. I’m conquering this. And even after you’ve kicked it down a well, it takes work to prevent it from climbing back up.

At several points in the book Biden talks about his brother’s welcoming blue eyes and how that drew people to him. I got the sense that he doesn’t see that exact same feature in himself. Yes, the shades of blue differ slightly but the kindness and absence of judgment gazing out at us still reigns supreme. He could have used this memoir and his platform to drag Trump, Trump’s children, the media, and especially the Republican Party for enabling it all. But like his dad, he doesn’t. And that is a sign of pureness of heart and maturity that many connected to politics lack. Drug addiction, poor decisions, sleeping with prostitutes, and bad divorces don’t determine how good we are inside. And my sense, even though he’s now sober, is that he is still coming to terms with the decisions he’s made. Of course, that’s natural. All the while, he’s still his father’s son and his brother’s brother. And his current path of recovery and telling a story that needs to be told is more important and will touch more lives than he’ll ever be able to fathom. So go ahead, MAGA. Try to hunt him down. No one has put Hunter Biden through more pain and heartache than Hunter Biden.

Warning: This memoir could possibly trigger you if you are currently struggling or in recovery. So, take breaks if you need to stop and remember the beautiful things. After all, you can’t truly appreciate all the world’s beauty unless you’ve witnessed the ugly.

Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Available on Audible, narrated by Hunter Biden.

‘A Promised Land’ Review

Thanks, Obama.

I feel like no review I write could do justice to this incredible memoir. I learned so much, and feel changed having read it. 

A Promised Land, the first part of President Barack Obama’s memoir, gives us insight into what it was like to be the first black President of the United States. He starts with why he went into politics to begin with after college, due in large part to his frustration with not being able to make an impact on a larger scale for disenfranchised communities. He goes on speaking of his time as a Senator, Presidential candidate, then finally our President. And within those big professional achievements, he gifts us with moments from his childhood, his marriage to the fiercely loyal Michelle, and his greatest achievement of all: fatherhood.

You always hear that being President is a tough job, and we take that at face value. Of course, we know it must be hard because of the power it holds, but why is it really? You want to know the nitty gritty? Obama will tell you. Campaigning is tough. Some not so nice words can be exchanged, even when you are on the same team. Once you’re in office, he makes it clear that any issue that comes to the President is problematic, and could not have been resolved at a lower level of government. Everything is complicated, controversial, and/or exhausting. His dealing with foreign dignitaries was especially interesting because he knew he represented every single one of us, and that he often had to be tough and make people uncomfortable through spirited debate and diplomatic means to ensure America and our allies were heard. A tall order.

As for the politicians here at home, Obama doesn’t hold back with how the usual suspects on the other side of the aisle gave him the finger no matter how many times he extended his hand. Looking at you Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Chuck Grassley. Ya’ll basic. An interesting story Obama shares is about the time Biden was trying to make his case for a law to be passed, only for McConnell to look at him and say “you must think I care”. I point this out only because it brings me great joy to see that Biden is McConnell’s President now, and he has no choice but to listen, and care. But, I digress.

Much to the GOP’s chagrin, Obama didn’t give up despite their goal to make him a one term President. (And what kind of “goal” is that, anyway?) What resulted was leadership that repaired the economy, reduced unemployment, revived the auto industry, introduced necessary climate change regulations, gave us access to healthcare, and punished the monster who was the mastermind behind 9/11. This progress was all a struggle to implement because the previous administration had its focus on the wrong things, putting us behind in so many areas that required money and attention. Obama acknowledges that his own presidency was not perfect, and that no administration will ever be. 

Obama struggled with decisions that involved military intervention, not because he didn’t understand the intricacies of carrying out missions, but because human loss is always a probability. And I think this is was a sincere concern for him, but one he made because he was up to the task. To think, he was criticized for visiting the soldiers at Walter Reed on a weekly basis by Fox News. We would come to miss his caring nature because once he left the White House, the Presidency was taken over by a “f*ck your feelings” mentality.

Obama has this uncanny ability to keep calm during what would have put many of us over the edge. The discrimination he endured (and still does) should give everyone pause. Because even on his worst days, he still stood strong and rarely acknowledged the total bullsh*t coming out of the GOP and its favorite network, Fox News. And should he have fought more? Would it have stopped the constant barrage of misinformation that snowballs when something is not worth acknowledging? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Because no matter what the issue is, the people who want to twist the narrative will find a way to do so. The inklings of the racial discord that erupted after his term was always present, both hidden and in plain sight, and there was no stopping it when we later got a leader who seemed to enjoy dividing our nation. 

My favorite parts were when Obama spoke of the love for his mother and grandparents. And how much they shaped and impacted his life, so that yes, he developed an enduring respect for our promised land. I would be lying if I told you it doesn’t make me angry to know that his roots were ever called into question, when the reality was that he was raised by proud working Americans, who are now gone and unable defend his honor. What a gross example of taking advantage of a person’s loss.

Peppered in the pages of the memoir is the reminder that Obama is not too different from us. Yes, he was President. But he watches basketball, smokes when he is stressed out, curses when he’s pissed off, and is happiest when he is with his family (Bo and Sunny included). He never, not once, lost sight of the honor and privilege of his title. He was even embarrassed by all the nervous energy that surrounded his presence the moment in walked into a room. Obama had an appreciation for the employees in the White House, and acknowledged that many were people of color who he struggled to have clean up after him. His empathy extended to those in his administration, who worked the 16 hour days he did, but had a commute home, unlike him.

The book is over 700 pages long, and the audiobook is 29 hours. So, I can’t possibly cover everything, though I’d love to. 

My recommendation is to listen to the audiobook, because he narrates it. And there are ways he phrases things that will make you laugh at loud, and only he can do it. Always the superior orator, you will have no issue sitting back and relaxing as you learn about the highest office in the land from a modern President who would still give you the shirt off his back, even if you voted against him.

I look forward to the second part of his memoir, as that will cover the end of his term, and his life today.

The Obama Presidency took backbone, determination, sacrifice, and the audacity to believe in change. But he did it. And for that, I am grateful. So, thanks Obama. 

No, really.

Thank you.

Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️