Welcome toThe Librarian Is In, The New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next.
Welcome to another episode of The Librarian Is In! This week Crystal and Frank broke with their track record of "very serious" novels to read a fun memoir by the well-known and VERY glamorous Mariah Carey.
The Meaning of Mariah Careyby Mariah Carey with Michaela Angela Davis
The global icon, award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, actress, mother, daughter, sister, storyteller, and artist finally tells the unfiltered story of her life. "This book is composed of my memories, my mishaps, my struggles,my survival and my songs." (Publisher summary.)
Were you able to guess the subject of Crystal's ASMR challenge this week?
Crystal's cat, Pablo! (With the ASMR object!)
See you next week!
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[Frank] Hello, and welcome to The Librarian Is In, the New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next. I'm Frank.
[Crystal] And I'm Crystal.
[Frank] Hey, Crystal.
[Frank] Hello. So we were reading a book or discussing a book today that you suggested we read together.
[Crystal] Yes, I've been wanting to read it for like a year. Never had time until now. So very excited.
[Frank] Which is The Meaning of Mariah Carey by I'm Mariah Carey. And she co-wrote it with Michaela Angela Davis. So why did you suggest this? I'm curious. Are you a fan?
[Crystal] I do like her music. I don't think I'm a--Is it a Lamb is her fan base of the Lambily? I learned that. But it just seemed like a really fun book. I didn't know much about her as a musician, and I wanted to know more. And I think memoirs are kind of fun. Like, it's a nice break from a lot of different kinds of books that I like to read usually, which are like nonfiction, comics, and yeah.
[Frank] Well, like star memoirs, specifically, because it could be a very harrowing memoir. And certainly, there's harrowing moments in this book. But when you think of a superstar memoir, and you just think, "Oh, it's going to be fun." You get a lot of glamour, you'll get a lot of like triumph and tragedy, and it's something that actually seems less serious than any other kind of memoir in some ways. I guess there's, I wonder if there's like a built in sort of, I mean, I guess true fans will navigate to their way to the memoir of their favorite star or performer or whatever. But in the culture, tell me if you disagree, I'm just talking off the top of my head, but like, it's slightly like, oh, a star memoir. It's going to like enshrine themselves. And it's something like, well, like you sort of alluded to, it's something that's lighter than other fare when it doesn't necessarily have to be. I mean, I think there might be this sort of double way we look at celebrities, like on one hand worship them. And on the other hand, we're like, very suspect of them, because they have so much, even if they didn't come from so much. And so there's a little bit of like, you've got it all. What are you complaining about? And, and then also to make fun of them if they misstep, or, you know, say something super grandiose, which Mariah Carey does in this book. And she, to me gets away with it. I mean, we could talk about that, like her persona, the public persona she's developed--I assume developed--is something that forgives a lot of diva behavior. She embraces the diva moniker. So I don't know. Like, did you find it a light read?
[Crystal] Yeah, I mean, I enjoy a lot of memoirs, because there is that element of like, trying to suss out the fact from fiction because so much of it is seen through the eyes of this one person. So, you know, there is definitely, possibly exaggeration, and it's other things that's coming from her POV, where if you were to talk to other people, like who really knows what the truth is, right? But I do like those moments where you were saying how it kind of enshrines her as this, this, like, artist diva, and so many descriptions of things that happened in her musical history that I saw, like when I was growing up, and being able to see the behind the scenes was really neat. So that was really fun for me.
[Frank] Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it is obviously a point of view. And often they write with another writer, sometimes a ghostwriter, but this, her co-writer is acknowledged. She's very much a collaborator. I mean, even though she doesn't always admit it, like in her--because she writes a lot of her songs and it's a big deal that she be acknowledged as a songwriter. She has said herself because her singing has so overshadowed it, but she does sort of ally that she's usually always had a collaborator on her songs and the depth of the collaboration is sometimes not clear, like she definitely owns the songs she's written or co-written, or collaboratively written. It's sometimes to the sort of whom did actually collaborate with her because she did have collaborators. But that's another enshrinement Mariah moment, but she might feel like she deserves it, and in lots of ways she does.
[Crystal] You know, I, you know, she throughout the book does intersperse the song lyrics. I think that is her way of taking ownership of it like, you know, that this portion of this lyric is directly from this event that happened in my life. Right? So that was enjoyable as well.
[Frank] I mean, you said before about truth. I mean that the whole concept, especially after the last five years, the concept for me at least the of what is the truth has been so mystified in some ways, to the point where I actually got into an argument with-well, not an argument, but friendly conversation, but that got intense with a regular at the library about how she said that, you know, "Well, don't you read the New York Times?" like that's a trustworthy source. And I was like, "Absolutely." But yet, I was arguing like, I don't know. I mean, I say, I don't know a lot, but like, it was sort of like, well, some people very vocally in the culture, say, New York Times is not as great as it might have once been, or is or should be. And so I don't know, I'm just it's--that's a lot on my mind, because especially with a memoir, it's like, what is the truth? I mean, we can only go by what she tells us, and you certainly can think like, in terms of her relationship with her mother and her siblings, they, if they wrote a book, of course, would have a similar but the wild, wildly divergent tale to tell. I actually, I mean, I might as well kick it off with something that was on my mind about reading this, because I was looking for and this, you know, so much, of course, of what I say, people who've listened for a while will know, like, oh, the Frank themes of like, you know, where's the dark stuff? Or like, where's the real truth? Where's the meaning? Where's the meaning? I should say, I was beguiled paramountly to read this book, because I liked that she called it The Meaning of Mariah Carey, which made me feel like she really wanted to discover or has discovered and wants to tell us what her meaning is. That word is very important to me, and I like it. But I thought of a quote from one of my favorite authors, Tennessee Williams, from a play called Night of the Iguana. And there's a conversation between a very troubled character and, well, two troubled characters. And one of them says, he's under stress, and he's talking to a listening sympathetic ear. And he says to her, "We live on two levels, Miss Jelks." And she responds, "Just two?" And he doesn't really listen. But he goes on, he says, "The realistic level and the fantastic level, and which one is the real one, really?" And then she says, "I would say both, Mr. Shannon," and I love thinking about that. Because when I was younger, I used to be like, what does this mean levels like, levels like I couldn't visualize it in terms of a brain, like what levels of life lived meant. And I feel like I understand it more. And Tennessee Williams is the gift that keeps giving for sure. In that we do live on multiple levels, like the stories that Mariah Carey tells in this book, as we just alluded to, even from her own point of view, it seems absurd to say there is only one way to interpret one's own story. You decide this is the story. And then you say that's--to use a word that we use now--that's her narrative. But she could, I think, in all good, and we all could in all good faith tell a story in multiple ways. You know, you know, do you know what I mean? Like, Tennessee Williams in his plays is fantastic in the real, but Miss Jelks, his interlocutor says, you know, "There are more levels than that." And it's not just fantastic and real. It's like we just live on two, really? We live on a lot more than that. And so like, for example, her relationship with her first husband, the big mogul, Tommy Mottola, right? She describes, well, I guess I'll just watch it. I mean, Tommy Mottola was a huge, huge power at Sony Music, where she first signed, and she eventually married him under situations maybe you could tell us later, Crystal, but the quote she has about him, among many is, she says, "Even now, it's hard to explain, to put into words how I existed in my relationship with Tommy Mottola. It's not that there are no words,"-parenthetically, I always talk about, like giving language to experience, and I always struggle to find the right words. So Mariah says, "It's not that there are no words. It's just that they still get stuck, the words, moving up from my gut, or they disappear into the thickness of my anxiety." And I feel like she's telling us right there, I can't, I haven't been able to put into words or at least enough for the listener, you, the fans, exactly what happened in that marriage. And, and that's what I mean about living on multiple levels, because the whole relationship is very much characterized by her being dominated by him and being entrapped by him and being imprisoned by him in their luxurious house. But whereas, her, I mean, I won't say complicity, I don't need to unsympathize, but where is the sort of discussion of well, yeah, I did marry him. And I guess I did marry him because he was so powerful, and I cared more about my career than anything else that I did get beguiled into it, even though against my better judgment. I didn't feel romantically inclined to him. And so there's other levels of experience there that one can investigate. And I think we might want to tell our stories more simply. We might want to say, This is the way it was. I was imprisoned, it was unfair, it was terrible. The End." Rather than--and I, I'm going on and on, but I had a, I had a frustration, and a slight depression with the book, because it's those levels that give me solace. She says often about her fans if her story can make them inspired and feel better about their life or improved, she's happy about that. But to me, it's the ambiguity or the complication of experience that actually gives me solace because it makes me feel like other people have complicated life choices, too. And I wanted to, again, this is might be my personal bent here, a negative that she might acknowledge about herself. So yes I was a little bit like, I'm going to be with this guy, because I want my career to keep going and he has power. And I want to do that. And she has one moment in the book where she acknowledges, and it stood out to me, a sort of true imperiousness, or self-concern where a friend of her mother's, they're very poor as she's growing up, gives her clothes that are actually nice and cool. Like her friend's mother. I mean, her mother's friend gives her these clothes. But at one point, when she's entering her teens, the friend of the mother gives her some clothes. And Mariah says, "No, they're not cool enough. I don't want them." And Maria herself says, "I felt bad about that forever after, that I would have rejected a person who was so kind to me." But she actually illuminated, she had a moment of like bratty, not so niceness. Well, I just went on, darling. Do you have anything to say, darling?
[Crystal] Well, it was interesting what you were saying earlier, too, a little bit about like the use of the word complicity, right. And it was just interesting, because not to say like, you know, that she was complicit in her marriage necessarily. But that was the word that did kind of pop up in my head as I was reading the book, because it did feel like there were so many scenes in the way that she portrayed him where I felt like so much stuff was just kind of like happening to her, rather her having her own kind of like agency, and except for maybe the portion like post-marriage where she called it like the liberation of Mariah Carey. And then she was kind of breaking out of that. But for the most part, it felt like she was kind of watching her life through this window, and not always maybe quizzing herself as deeply as [inaudible] wanted. And I think there is also this element of like, how much is, as we were talking about truth, like how much of this is the truth that she actually truly believes in? And how much is that kind of persona that she's projecting and putting out into the world? Because this is the lore of Mariah Carey, you know?
[Frank] Right. And it's that--and I've said this before on the podcast, sometimes scandalously about lacking the language, which she just basically admitted there about her relationship with Tommy Mottola. Like lacking the language to, to discuss your experience, and sometimes willfully not wanting to have that language because maybe one must, maybe we all feel the need--we are stars of our own show. I mean, we are locked in our heads, maybe we all feel the need to cast ourselves or we all feel, especially from childhood, as maybe that's the key, the childhood. We all feel put upon or feel overruled, dominated. And that feeling never quite goes away, that sort of that struggle against parental or caregiver domination that we always feel at a loss of power, and coming into your adulthood is gaining that power or the light, as Mariah says, and that story, what I said about languages, is a very classic story. And I feel a lot of people, especially in memoirs, cast themselves in that role because a lot of memoirs do end, as this one does with like, I am complete, I am at peace, you know, like I've achieved. And yes, she still has 30 years more of living. What's that going to be about? Especially when her kids grow up because her kids are young. I mean, I'm like, the proof is in the pudding sometimes about what the kids have to say about her. If they're like, "We loved mom. She was great." Or if they're like, "Oh, my God, Mommy, dearest." I don't know. But yes, there is that sort of like, you know, struggle through the rain. But I wonder if we all tend to do that in some degree by saying, you know, "Yeah, well, I didn't have the easiest childhood. It was tough getting to college, but I made it, and then, you know, now I'm successful," or, you know, whatever. I mean, I think the childhood aspect is really interesting in this book, actually. This, the childhood, and then there's one vignette later about her breakdown, which I found really interesting too, which we could talk about, but the childhood thing. I was thinking just this morning, as it's always like last minute pop-up, real revelations. I feel like, again, we all might have this to degree. I think we do. I can't, we can't deny our childhood. I think Mariah Carey has a specific and deep relationship with her child self, almost, to the exclusion of all others, like it's the most important to her, I think. And maybe one couldn't say that about oneself. At least, we might have forgotten that. She doesn't want to forget. She, like, you know, she says, "I have a very interesting relationship to time. I don't really acknowledge it." And it wasn't part of her diva thing. Like she celebrates anniversaries, darlings, never birthdays and, and I used to think it was like she doesn't want to grow older. And I don't quite think it's that way anymore when reading this book. I felt like she wants to keep and needs to keep that alive for her. She wants to revisit that, her childhood, often. She considers her memory sacred. She has that room off her shoe room, which is the shrine to all her family and memories. And the most pictures in the book of The Meaning of Mariah Carey are of her as a child, you know. There's less celebrity-driven pictures and her picture, pictures of herself as a child. And I think she really, she really, really values that and keeps it close. And I think it's always a part of her. I mean, not being the lamb either of her music, but it's been in and out of my life, I always wondered why she does, she's almost more known or actually sings in the sort of breathy, coo-y, you know, the little melodramatic middle range than her whistle notes which she's famous for. But she actually does a lot of like, you know, [singing].
[Crystal] That is very Marilyn Monroe.
[Frank] Right! That's the other thing. I don't know about singing because I can't, she's not, you can't really sing her. I mean, it just sounds like, ah! You know what I'm saying?
[Crystal] I mean, I can't but I would love to see you try.
[Frank] Maybe it'll come out. But I don't know. Of all the podcasts not to sing. But there's a moment in the book where she talks about being eight or something and she's at her mother's piano. And she's just whispering to herself, like the music is so important and speaking to her in some way that is so deeply that she starts whispering songs and lyrics and melodies, but whispering them. And I feel like that's, that was a great image. I feel like that explains her true vocal appeal, and her true vocal success and actually maybe the truest part where she prefers, she feels safest, rather than like the [sings], the whole you know, the belting and--. Well, she doesn't really, she's not a belter and see, I love belters, she can. And I sort of love that. That connection because it's, it probably makes her feel really safe and important. And just again, I think I felt slightly depressed because it was slightly oddly depressing to read about someone who, who really found music to be a safe place and to be really a savior. And I was like, I don't quite know if I had that. I mean, reading books possibly. But when you really think about it, it's like to be that? I can imagine--when I hear her stories like you know, "Music, I had to do music, and I was going to do it regardless. And I struggled." And she certainly did, like she went to New York and lived alone. And I believed in this because I was like, oh, she really couldn't not do it. She had to do it. I was like, that's sort of bad level and envy-making to have that kind of passion just like it's going to happen. She's like, there's no way it wasn't going to happen. Like, she famously says in the book, she cried on her 18th birthday, because she didn't have a record deal yet which she got soon after. But that was like her only goal.
[Crystal] Yeah, I think the music in a lot of ways kind of represents possibly her faith, like you know, talking about the importance of her childhood, there were two scenes like early on where one with her mom, I think, and then one with a friend who I believe said that, like she was meant to sing or something like that. And she felt like it was God talking through her like eight-year-old friend or something to her directly, right? And I think that the way the singing is kind of tied in with her faith, and how that has kind of given her a path, seemly for her entire life, even though you know, she's only what, not even all the way to the end yet. [Laughter] But I feel like the book really stopped, like really at like the midpoint of her life. And I'm like, I could go on for much longer, really. But yeah, I do see the importance of her childhood. And like you said, the safety that she felt in her music when there was maybe not that safety, like with her, her brother and her sister who were two people that, you know, she should have been really able to trust and was not able to do so. And in some with her, I think, mom as well. And I think her dad was not as present in her life too, later on. And she also, I think talks a little bit too about, you know, with her, getting her music deals, doing all this music. And then in her most, I think her most recent marriage, I'm not too up on the facts, but with Nick Cannon, how it felt like, she was really drawn to his boyishness and almost felt like she was kind of reliving her teenage years or her youth in some way by being with this person who was like, very boyish and charming. So it's interesting.
[Frank] Yeah, I mean, it's not quite, I want to be young, darling. It's, I think it's definitely a true identification with that, whatever that feeling she had, I think sitting at that piano, discovering music, she just doesn't ever want to forget and let go. And I think most of us might slightly forget those things. Or not give them as much credence because we're like, oh, I was just a kid. Or, you know, maybe we do, I guess, some of us to different degrees, but that became a way into her personality, because I don't think she's, I mean, of course, how would we know? I'm sure I would be terrified to meet her because she, you know, might be just this like, darling, overwhelming blink diva. But I feel like she doesn't live in a full, I mean, fully, fully egocentric world. She's definitely like-
[Crystal] --she does or doesn't?
[Frank] Doesn't, even though that's almost why her, the persona we talked about before but like, my opulent Manhattan penthouse, which she talks about, and like the Moroccan room, the mermaid room, and, and her darlings and her Hollywood emulation, I feel like it's a slight. It's, it's organic from her, but it's a slight put on, because she finds it amusing. And I think a true self-centered monster wouldn't find that amusing. They would just be it. You know, like her--that's what I said. In her mentions of opulence and wealth, she gets, to me, she gets away with because it's, it's part of that persona. That's a slight comic persona, which I've always liked. I mean, that I like most about, I think, in her interviews, you know. I mean, it's like, minor. I remember she's like, you know, some interviewer was asking her, you know, something personal and she was like, "Oh, my dear, you're so inquisitive, my darling." And she just, like, deflected it with that, but like so and she always throws these slightly, you know, eight-dollar words in, like, you're so inquisitive. She said in the book, like, "We were galivanting like, you know, children." And oh, she says, like, later about the breakdown, in quotes, like, you know, "It was a debacle, darling." You know, it's this heightened personality that is sort of funny, and I think actually protects her. It's like, you know, as she says, a layer of makeup too, like makeup is a protection against people who are trying to get into you. You don't necessarily want to give out. So, Mariah, I guess I've--I can't help but be starstruck by anything, even if it's not someone that I grew up with, because I was, I'm older than she is. And so I didn't grow up with her. And I think the music we grew up with is so important, but like the star stories are always so interesting to me. For what reason? I don't know.
[Crystal] But this book, I think, also is very centered on fandom, like fandom of you know, she had her own kind of fandom of Marilyn Monroe. She talks about that a lot. Like the Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean thing. She talks at the end, it's just like chapters of her meeting famous people. And those are just, I don't even know if there's like a plot there. It's like just I met Prince and this is what happened. I met this person, and this is what happened. She also talks about like, when she was with Derek Jeter on how Derek Jeter used to, I think have a--was a pinup of Marilyn Monroe, or Mariah Carey?
[Frank] Of her.
[Crystal] Of her, right? And I think that was kind of interesting as well. And also Nick Cannon, like, knew of her, talked about her before meeting her. And I think it was interesting, the way she invests in the fandom. Like even there was a chapter where she was talking directly to the Lambs and the fans and like really kind of like building them up and saying like, you know, "You are, we are the media, right? Like, we have Instagram, we have Twitter." She definitely kind of had her army of fans that she was speaking directly to, as she talked about, I think there was something that happened where maybe the news picked it up, and she was speaking directly to her fans. And that seemed, for some people seemed very odd, but she explained it as like, they were so important to her. Like they could only understand her the way she needed to be understood, which I thought was very interesting, because obviously like how do you describe this? I don't know, how many people in this fandom, right? And really, it seems like the fandom such as the projection of herself too because she was talking out to the fans. But really, who was she talking to? Right? I don't know.
[Frank] That's-you're right. That is a really interesting aspect of this book. Because, you know, I haven't read every memoir in the world. But usually a star memoir will include or even tangentially a sort of reference to the love/hate relationship with fans, that they always want a piece of me or, you know, I couldn't get, I couldn't get, sign the autograph at dinner. I mean, whatever. I mean, there's always like a love/hate relationship. Like they know they need them. And sometimes even more just like a not-like/dislike relationship like, you know, leave me alone kind of thing. And she might feel that way. But she doesn't tell it. The way she tells it is pure, that the fans are--and I don't really recall any celebrity really quite doing it like she does, how important they truly, truly are to her. I mean, they are like, and there's of course ego. And it's just like, They understand me, they want to know I'm okay, they want to know," and you have a good point about it. It's, it could be this wall of love that you can't quite get from it personal relationships. There's always complications. I mean, she, like you said Derek Jeter, she, she just sort of says, "Well, it didn't work out." Like it's not like she gets into it. It's just and same with Nick Cannon. You know, she had the two kids with him and but she's just like, you know, we moved on. But you don't really know why. But her fans have a--she has a serious relationship with, and it could be that, again, I keep going back to that image of her at the piano as a child whispering songs to herself, like breathily in her own her, in her own world, that the fans are that monolithic yet individuated love that, that you can't get from anywhere else. And I mean, I even saw like an interview once where she had mentioned in an interview that she had a fan room in her house where she kept all her gifts like fans sent her gifts, drawings and letters, you know. But she was telling the story that a fan from Spain thought that meant there was a room in Mariah Carey's house where fans could stay. And she said they showed up at her house. And I was expecting a sort of like, you know, oh, no, no, no, darling. That's not acceptable. But the way she told the story and it seems sort of vulnerable, true. She was like, oh, I was--she was, she was so upset that they thought that, she put them up in a hotel across the street. She'd bought them breakfast the next day. Like she, there was a commitment there. Like it wasn't just like a, Get out of here. This is my house," which I thought that's--I've never forgotten that. I just thought that was interesting. That that is a real, real relationship for her. And the sad thing brings up is something else she brought up and I find interesting, because it dovetails with one of, one of my own other obsessions, which is technology and the rise of it and how horrible it is. But she says, without social media, she says like in the '90s when she was first big, like the tabloids could, would torment her. You know, like a lot of celebrities, they would report things that she said weren't true or, or didn't let go for like weeks. Like the breakdown, which we should talk about. But social media, as Mariah Carey says, and this relates directly to fans, she said, she says she finds it fascinating, and she used the word fascinating, that the tabloids have no power anymore. They have no power anymore because the fans, Twitter, social media can come to her defense. And she says, bring receipts and end a bad story almost immediately. Her Lambs will rise up, they might rise up against us if they don't like something we're saying in this podcast, if they even listen to it, but she says they will. It's destroyed the tabloid nonsense because now she, her narrative positively can be pushed forward via her fans rather than her having to live with a bad story for weeks and weeks, debating whether to put out a press release because putting out a press release acknowledges it happened. Maybe you don't want to do that. But now she can just you know, have her champagne, and let her fans just say, "You don't treat Mariah that way. It's not true. And here's why." Which is interesting. That's like a very helpful thing for a celebrity and the fact that it's that strong.
[Crystal] And the way she described it, it seemed like she really liked that kind of unquestioning devotion from her fans. Which is a little scary, but you know.
[Frank] Well, I mean, that's what I was wanting more details. That's why when I heard that story she told him at the fans showing up at her house, first of all, how could they even show up at her house and get in touch with her? But she told the story and that she felt like obligated to like say, "Well, no, that isn't a room where you can stay, but I'll you know, put you up at a motel and see you tomorrow." And like, there was a commitment. It wasn't just like a get out of here. I don't know.
[Crystal] You know, I have to say I had many moments in this book where I had to be like, look, much like Mariah Carey, I have to have faith in this narrative. I have to just like sit here and believe it, believe that this is all true. And that's how I'm going to enjoy it. And I think that was a good way to go about reading this book. Because there were some elements where I'm just like, who knows? Right?
[Frank] I mean, like we said before, like her marriage to Nick Cannon's like three pages, it's mostly about the kids, and Derek Jeter, too, is only a couple of pages and it's very romantic, but it's more like-go ahead.
[Crystal] I was going to say got a surprisingly, like he got like a picture in the back, like Nick Cannon and her other husbands [laughter]-
[Frank] That's true!
[Crystal] And I think, you know, she did remark that the relationship with Derek Jeter was short, but it was very meaningful to her because he and his family represented this kind of family that was much like hers where I believe like one parent was black, one parent was like Irish, and they have a very healthy relationship with the kids support each other and she saw something in there to like admire, aspire to, and like really love the family, and I think held her own family up in comparison. So maybe that's why she was so kind of like set and talked surprisingly more I think about Derek Jeter than Nick Cannon, but you know.
[Frank] Well, it also directly relates what you pointed out before and her song lyrics are you know, throughout the book. It led to like the first song, The Roof, I think that about Derek Jeter that was like what first sort of like raw, here I, here's my experience like a documentary almost. And it was the freeing relationship after her constrained relationship with Tommy Mottola. So that I guess it had an impact on her, but you're right, there's no picture of Nick Cannon in the book, like their father of her children. There's more of her makeup artists. [Laughter]
[Crystal] Yes! And her kids are in it which is [inaudible] to see, yeah.
[Frank] And her celebrity connections, but what was I going to say before I went?
[Crystal] And her clothes, her outfits. That's a very important part of the description.
[Frank] And her hair. He hair is like a character.
[Frank] I mean, I love like when she talks about the breakdown, which we keep, I keep teasing about. She's like, "I put my hair up in a twisty ponytail." I get like yeah. You've got to know. I mean hair is huge! This is another thing that I always thought was like stupid, like, sort of, like, like, mocking, mock-worthy about her is that I remember watching an interview once with her, and she was in her own house, but her hair was blowing. And I was like, she has a fan on her in the house. It's ridiculous. And then she writes in the book, like her hair as a child was, is biracial. And she, her hair was a matted mess. Her mother didn't care or know how to deal with it. And she always envied the commercials with the flowing, blowing hair, like in commercials, and she said, and she says it, and she's like, she evermore insisted on having a fan on, in any photo shoot that she's ever in. And I was like, there she goes, again, like owning the sort of diva quirk and just saying, "There it is, darling. Take it or leave it." I sort of love that. And that's again childhood.
[Crystal] And then also did you feel like the hair was like a metaphor for her own development, too, where like her hair because it was in this kind of in between state like, I think her, maybe her like aunts or some other women in her family like tried to press it and it burned and stuff. And she uses a chapter to talk about, like, when she finally got her hair done, and metallics done, right? And ultimately, it was like a brother's friend who like worked out the knots in it. And then it was the beach, like the wave like took her over and then gave her like perfect beach waves. Just like what are you trying to say? So it, was it, is that sort of a representation of you and your faith and your work, which is that kind of like the world overtook you and then made you the person that you are or something even though you had like family members and other people who are trying to put you in these constrained roles and ultimately you just have to be like free, you know? And that you were able to achieve perfection, as her hair was able to achieve perfection.
[Frank] Actually, I noticed that that story because it was like the friend of her brothers, like the guy who is sitting next to her in the car, and he started untangling her hair. And she doesn't say anything about him. Except that it was wonderful. And she was surprised, but like, what was his story, like this boy? And then, and then when you were talking I was thinking it's like her lifelong, like love affair. Like I said, her makeup artist has a bunch of pictures and she mentioned in the book like how close she is with him, like she loves her boys. I don't know. I don't know what that was about. But I think that was an interesting catalyst, like it wasn't her aunt.
[Crystal] No, it wasn't.
[Frank] That straightened her hair out.
[Crystal] My cat. [Laughter] Yeah, I think she was like pretty young at the time. So for me I think it was just sort of like maybe an older brother kind of, you know, situation, but it was, it was very odd in the sense that they didn't seem to like talk. He just sort of like did it and brushed out her hair in this kind of comforting way.
[Frank] It wasn't creepy, but it was like who is this guy? I sort of wanted to know more, and then it made me wonder, which is something she does and we all do, that like with the husbands or the lovers, like they don't get a lot of mention because maybe later they weren't, they betrayed her, or didn't like her, or they were minor to her for some slight, but yet they were a catalyst for something like, you know, Nick Cannon doesn't get a picture, but she's--the babies do. And actually, that's what I was going to say before about what she writes, about what she doesn't, and I definitely was struck. Like we said, Derek Jeter gets three pages, Nick Cannon, you know, no pages. She has like a long paragraph, which I actually love. And I about eating a Ritz cracker as a child. Again, as a child.
[Crystal] But that was very good, yes.
[Frank] I mean, her, like I got a, I mean her and her co-writer or whatever, like did, outdid themselves, because she talks about how disciplined her father is and militaristic, and her mother's more messy and chaotic. And how she would be hungry before dinner, and he would just give her one Ritz cracker. I mean, which is the allure of that bright-red box with its iconic swirl of golden sunflower-shaped crackers rising out of their wax sleeves was intoxicating. He would pull, her father, put, he would pull out one tall column of crackers, undo the meticulously folded sleeve top, slip a single cracker from the stack, and hand it to me delicately, as if it were a precious gem. Then he would carefully refold the paper, slide the stack back into the box and return it to its place on a shelf where it would stay. And you think that's, then she eats it, but no. "I'd hold the buttery, salty, crunchy goodness up to my nose, close my eyes and breathe in one long, luxurious sniff with precision," [coughs] oh dear. I'm choking on my own saliva. "I would take one teeny weeny bite along the scalloped edge. I'd chew ever so slowly, letting the savory sensation linger on my tongue. Turning the golden treasure over ever so slightly, I would nibble off another little piece of the edge, relishing every grain of salt and crumb, making my one cracker last as long as I could." I mean, she gives a lot of attention to one Ritz cracker, whereas like, "Yeah, it didn't work out with Derek Jeter. Move on, darling."
[Crystal] There's lots of good, dramatic moments in the book like that. It made me think about like, when I was a kid, I was just stuffing crackers in my face, like not thinking about the buttery goodness.
[Frank] I mean, like think about it! Like when you you're asked to think talk about your life, she chose, she made a choice to give actually two paragraphs to the eating of one cracker, whereas she doesn't even mention Eminem. She's had a rivalry or one time affair, I don't even know. She does not mention him at all. And she certainly doesn't mention, well, she does mention, but not by name. Jennifer Lopez
[Crystal] That's what I was going to ask you. Was Jennifer Lopez, because she does reference, I think Tommy Mottola essentially trying to like sabotage her sort of like after their marriage and kind of getting involved and there was some collaboration. She was doing [inaudible], and that was Jennifer Lopez?
[Frank] Yes, she characterizes Tommy Mottola as trying to sabotage her. And yeah, it's twice, a double sabotage both involving Jennifer Lopez. The first one was she had gotten the rights to a song called Firecracker. Look it up on somewhere, and it's a great song from the '70s. I remember it. And Mottola gave it to Jennifer Lopez apparently, and she's, and they released her song first, so Mariah had to scramble and get another sample for another song, for the song--oh, shoot. Loverboy?
[Crystal] Maybe. Yeah.
[Frank] I can't remember.
[ Inaudible ]
[Crystal] Yeah, it was interesting because I again don't know a ton of her musical history but how she very purposefully like did not reference that person's name but meanwhile was very, very careful to like name [inaudible], the people who she collaborated with, like Xscape, naming, like all the individual members Escape and so it seemed deliberate for sure. And I was like-
[Frank] Actually, that's a great point about her, Because she does, she does reference her famous meme, which is she goes, "The sample was given to another female entertainer on the label who I don't know." That's the thing is like, you know what [inaudible]? I don't know her. But that's a good point. She lists the three recording artists who formed the group Xscape, and I thought of that this morning, too, like that morning thoughts about the book. How some, she doesn't really slam. She only slams, well slam, she only delves critically into her family. [Inaudible] Well, I guess that's family anyway. Yeah. Her husband and her, that first husband and her two siblings and her mother, but she doesn't throw dirt at other celebrities.
[Crystal] A little bit possibly, was it Celine Dion? She did reference her like-
[ Inaudible ]
[Frank] Oh yeah, I saw it happen. It was 1998. She's--it was again like she doesn't name, she doesn't say Jennifer Lopez's name, she doesn't say Celine Dion. She said another singer was throwing down with Aretha at Aretha Franklin's tribute [inaudible], and she was like, that's inappropriate. You don't try to upstage the queen, Aretha. Yeah, and of course everyone reading it knows it was Celine Dion, because they were doing like a Jesus/Jesus back and forth. At the Divas Live, but she doesn't mention her by name.
[Crystal] That's true.
[Frank] She mentions [inaudible], but she doesn't mention it by name. And that's an interesting thing. I think, I wonder why, like she doesn't want to, she, it's just beneath her in a way. Like she doesn't want to show, she'll mention the story, but she doesn't slammer celebrity personally for some reason, even though everyone knows who she's talking about. I don't know. But the breakdown telling. Go ahead.
[Crystal] Well, maybe it's because everybody does know what she's talking about. She doesn't have to.
[Frank] It is to her fans. This book is so for her fans.
[Frank] Anyone could read it of course, but her fans will know every single thing she's talking about. But the most interesting part of it was, I don't know, somehow I thought it was well written. And but not pleasant about her whole so-called breakdown after the Glitter movie, or around the time of the Glitter movie and the Glitter soundtrack that tanked so badly at the time. But then, of course, she reminds us twice that her fans made Glitter number one years later. "They made gold out of a bleak time, darling."
[Crystal] And didn't she also say something about how like Glitter was not meant for gallery hoppers and or something else like, I don't know. It was funny.
[Frank] About meant for what?
[Crystal] She kind of like very purposely pointed out that glitter was not made for the critics, right? So it was a way of like negating what critics were saying about the movie, like, "This is not for you, this movie is for my fans," essentially, essentially. So I thought that was kind of interesting.
[Frank] Right. I mean, the whole breakdown thing which went on Total Request Live, and was handing out popsicles and stuff like that. I mean, I remember when that was talked about in the press, and that's one of the examples she gives about how the press made such a thing about it. Whereas now in with social media, her fans would immediately come to her defense, and, and that narrative, but the way she describes, or I should say, they, I mean, her co-writer and her describe that whole thing was harrowing in that it was like a mini short story about a woman desperately trying to get sleep. Like. I mean, it was, I mean, when I read it, read it, it was like she, she couldn't stay in her house. Well, 9-11 had happened. So she couldn't, I think, I might be messing up the timeline, but it's like a sequential thing. She couldn't stay in her house, like-oh no, no, no. So 9-11 hadn't happened. But she had just bought this glorious penthouse and, but none of her stuff was there. And she hadn't organized it yet. And she was so busy, so she couldn't rest there. So she actually goes to a hotel near there. But then her family comes to get her, and her brother convinces her to leave the hotel because she has to do publicity for Glitter, and she still hasn't gotten to sleep. So she can't sleep in her apartment, goes to the hotel, can't sleep there. Brother pulls her out, says, "I'll take you to mom's," takes her to the mom's house that she bought, tries to fall asleep there. The mom comes in saying, "What are you doing when you need to be working?" and she can't sleep there. And then the cops are called because they start fighting. And then she's taken to this horrible institution that they say is a spa. But it's not, and then she gets out of there. And her brother takes he to this LA rehab place and puts her there. And it's like, she just can't get to sleep. [Laughter] And it's like four or five places that almost seem nightmarish, because it seems like a very short period of time. And then the ridiculous thing about she's in her final place in rehab where they're giving her pills and she's drugged [inaudible]. It's crazy. I mean, but it is, but she, it parenthetically, it seems to be very much still like she's still held her brother as an older brother possible, like wanting to believe he was a caretaker. And that sort of ended that, hat pedestal, she put him on. But what was so weird is that the doctor comes in or someone comes in and says to her, or she's seeing on TV with the rest of the inmates or patients that the Twin Towers were struck by planes and 911 occurred, which is of course, the same day the Glitter soundtrack was released. And they say, "Oh, you're free to go." And she goes, "I'm free to go?" Suddenly the crazy diva can go because 9-11 happened? She's like huh? That's how crazy I was? The whole sequence was just like nightmarish and crazy. I think the universal need to sleep was so prevalent there. I just felt like they wouldn't let her sleep and it's you know, the family had to have gone crazy with money crazy. I mean, money makes people nuts. You know, clearly, she was a meal ticket in lots of ways.
[Crystal] Yeah, she talks about that with her, I think her brother in particular because her brother had given her like five grand early on in her career to help her do her first album or something. And because of that, I think he was constantly trying to get more money back from her, and she said that she paid that back 5000 times over or something. But I will say like in that scene, I mean, definitely the intersection of like what happened with 9-11 and her being in the rehab the slowly was very surreal and strange. But there was that section where she talked about her mom who was like a cop caller. Her mom is a white woman. And her family is, well, she's biracial. Her brother and sister are as well, and her dad is black. And the fact that like her mom was constantly calling the cops about everything, including when her brother, I think, was maybe missing or something, and she went called the cops in her brother has had sort of a tangled history with like law enforcement and other things. I think he was like involved in a trial where like a wife had murdered her husband or something, tangentially involved in it. And that was like, so wild to me, and interesting that this mother that you're supposed to trust, who's supposed to like care for you love you, is doing something that is directly harmful to you and your siblings and your father, and does not seem to recognize that, right? And also, she talked about the perception of the cops when they come in, and they see that here's this white woman living in the house with other people of color, and how they see her as this like, very sympathetic character, right? Who was like, endangered, but this is her family. You know? That was very, I think, revealing and a very kind of vulnerable thing for her to kind of put out there, too.
[Frank] Yeah, yeah. Vulnerable is the word. I feel like I was in my head feeling more critical so-called. But yeah, I feel like I've, I feel like I've talked very much interestedly and engaged lately with her life, which I didn't. Maybe I still have a slight like abashment about talking about celebrities. I don't know, even though I love it.
[Crystal] I, you know, I think about what she talked-- because of her I think obsession with Marilyn Monroe but she talks about the Norma Jean-Marilyn Monroe aspect, like the Marilyn Monroe of Mariah Carey is that, that--I would not say that she probably self-described herself as a diva. But is that kind of persona character who uses "darling" with a "dahling" frequently?
[Crystal] Yes, but the Norma Jean is this, you know, the little girl who I think was often rejected in a lot of ways because of her race, because of her family, and dealt with a lot of difficult things in her life and wanting to find like that kind of belonging and love and those sorts of things that you said, I think, maybe she got from her fandom. Seeing the two side by side, I have so much like empathy for the Norma Jean of Mariah Carey. And also like, I enjoy the fun, more fun aspects of the Marilyn Monroe persona that she puts on.
[Frank] Yeah, I mean, like that, maybe in a very general way one could say that the whole forward motion of human beings is to belong. [Sings] We belong together! There we go. Mariah's like, "Whoo, whoo, you got it. Right?" Belonging can be all of our stories in some ways, like, where do we belong? Who do we belong to? Who do we belong with? That biracial aspect is made crystal clear that she was too black for white people, too white for black people. And, you know, even in her own family, she was lighter than her brother and sister, and 10 years apart in age from them, and, you know, where do you belong? And I just, you know, go back to that, again, that image of just like, it's sad. It almost seems--well, I don't care what it seems. It was, it was powerful to me, sitting at the piano, her mother's piano. Also her, one of her prized possessions is Marilyn Monroe's piano, which belonged to her mother, Marilyn Monroe's mother's piano, that Marilyn was very important to her to get Mariah Carey now owns and bought it. As she says, "Now, it wasn't cheap, darling," but she bought it, and now it's in her house. But Mariah is sitting at the piano, at her mother's piano, she was an opera singer, and whispering lyrics and melodies to herself and finding, I would say, that first place of belonging, that she belonged in that music. And I guess the fans, by extension are that music and that's why that's the most important relationship. I mean, I think more than husbands and lovers, her most important relationships are with her music and her fans and her kids, I think are, have to be in there, but we'll see how they portray her, darling.
[ Inaudible ]
[Crystal] I mean, yes, I 100% agree with you because again in the back with the pictures, there is a picture of the piano and yet not a picture of Nick Cannon. [Laughter]
[Frank] I'm so glad you brought that up because you're right. There is a picture of Marilyn Monroe with her piano, and not Nick Cannon! Not one Derek Jeter!
[Crystal] Well, she talks about Derek Jeter in relationship to Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio.
[Frank] Yes, you said that really well. Thanks so much. What's your favorite song of Mariah Carey? Do you have one?
[Crystal] Yeah, you know what? So as I read this book, I did have a Mariah Carey playlist going, and I would actually look up a lot of the songs and play them as she talked about them. Like that was a really fun way to read the book. I mean, I think I have always liked Always Be My Baby. Which is like a very popular one. I also like With You, but it was really fun to revisit a lot of the songs and like know the behind the scenes, like oh, the Fantasy remix with O.D.B. and-
[Frank] They're my favorites. Yeah. O.D.B., like Mariah, Mariah. Like, that was a great song.
[Crystal] Yeah, and I just remember like listening to that when I was younger, but not really knowing some of the circumstances or knowing a lot about it. And the kind of insight that she brought to this person who did like, I remember passing away at one point. was really great, you know? What's your favorite?
[Frank] [Singing] Sweet, sweet fantasy baby. I open my eyes--. [Inaudible] You see, I can't do her. She's all over the place. She's high, low, gravelly, whispery. But the sample of Tom Tom Club, Genius of Love, that song, which I love. That was a great sample. Da-da. Da-da-da-da. Anyway. Any who, we could go on and on about Mariah Carey, darling! So Mariah, if you're listening, thank you.
[Crystal] I'm going to do my rating for this book. And I'm going to do it on a different scale. Because it's a very different book.
[Frank] [Inaudible] rating system you have, my dear.
[Crystal] I'm going to give it a five. Five out of five Marilyn Monroe white lacquer baby grand pianos is my rating. Because how do you compare this book to any other book?
[Frank] It's true. I mean, just the fascinate--like I said, like I, you know, when I remember hearing Vision of Love, her first single. I was driving upstate, like for nine hours, and it came on the radio. And I was just like, Who is this? Like, it was impactful. That probably was my favorite or most important to the fact where I even bought the single. Do you even know what a single is?
[Crystal] [Laughing] No, I don't.
[Frank] It's a single. Like, we used to buy 45 records, little single records, which were 45 RPM on the record player. And then that morphed into cassettes that were just singles rather than the whole song, and it was called a cassingle. And I bought Vision of Love. And I remember playing it for people and they were like, "Oh my God, that's not a real note," like when she whistles at the end and stuff. But five white lacquer Marilyn Monroe pianos, okay.
[Crystal] Baby, baby grand pianos. I feel like anybody who picks up this book, they know what they're going to get, and you do get that, so you'll enjoy it.
[Crystal] Apparently you read it or listened to the audio?
[Crystal] I couldn't get the audio on time which made me really sad. So that's why I like listened to the playlist as I was reading it in my head, like this is close enough to the audiobook.
[Frank] But obviously the audio because she sings in it, too, has to be its own iconic experienced, darling.
[Crystal] I've heard good things about it.
[Frank] [Inaudible] So it's weird to think that like, you know, in my little tiny apartment, she lives like only like, a mile away like in downtown.
[Crystal] Does she?
[Frank] Yeah, she's in Tribeca, she says, and living a lavish life, and I'm just like doing my laundry in this space, going to work as a librarian. Well, she's earned it. She's made it through the rain. Well, I guess thank you for suggesting this book. Did she knock out?
[Crystal] I'm still here.
[Frank] Oh, good. Your visual. Oh, always take my surprise. Her screen went out and I thought she got knocked out, but she's just doing her ASMR, everybody bear with it. All right, here we go. Let's see.
[Crystal] I have a better mic this time.
[Frank] You do. It's a good one. That sounds like a dial of sorts. Like you're turning something that's clicking. It's def--you know like unscrewing, or not quite unscrewing but like a gear. Or unless it-what?
[Crystal] Is it a gear?
[Frank] Now it's like a cavalry. I don't know. Is that the same thing?
[Frank] They sound like two different things. Are you doing two different things to them?
[Crystal] Yes. I am rubbing it, and then tapping on it.
[Frank] Oh, loving it?
[Crystal] I didn't know if there's a better word to use with it. Stroking, stroking it?
[Frank] Oh, dear. That's even better, rubbing and stroking with Crystal. Oh, god. I don't know. It's, it sounds like something attached to something else. And when you turn that thing, it-
[Crystal] --there's no turning.
[Frank] Oh, so you're using your nail to rub it I guess?
[Crystal] Just my thumb.
[Frank] Well, it, I don't know.
[Crystal] I mean, most people have this in their home.
[Frank] Oh, like a grater? Something ridged. Oh, God. I don't know.
[Crystal] You use it every morning and every night. Possibly on the air.
[Frank] Oh, bristles on a brush. Oh. Well, that was a very-
[Crystal] -a detangler.
[Frank] Was that intentional for the Mariah Carey detangler hair story?
[Frank] Well, that makes sense because hair is important in this book.
[Crystal] But now I think subconsciously that's what I was possibly going for.
[Frank] You had to have. Well, did you see that comment that--I have to mention it-that someone said about the podcast. They've said nice things about us. And they said, "Crystal, I have to say I hate ASMR. But I'm learning to love it because of you, Crystal." So even though I--I'm glad it still takes me by surprise because I would dread it otherwise. [Inaudible] Anyway, I'll get used to it, I suppose, as I press my fingers to my forehead.
[Crystal] Because it's not relaxing for you. It does the opposite. It stresses you out. I can tell. You seem tense.
[Frank] That's a whole issue unto itself. Maybe I'll have to learn how to abandon myself to the ASMR, darling! [Laughter] Alright, thank you, Mariah Carey for telling you, telling us the meaning of your life. And thanks, Crystal, for suggesting it was a good, I mean change from like the Virginia Woolfs. Why not? Let's read wildly.
[Crystal] I keep hitting the mic. I was going to say there is no war in it, and that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to break that cycle of war narrative.
[Frank] It's true. So next time we'll be reading whatever we want to read and tell each other about that experience. So well, it'll be interesting. Thank you, Crystal. It was a pleasure. I hope one day soon to see you in person at our new and improved sound booth facilities.
[Crystal] I have seen you in person. What are you talking about?
[Frank] I know but I mean, like for the podcast.
[Crystal] Oh okay. No, I have seen you in person for the podcast with Gwen. We were in that tiny little booth?
[Frank] It's funny how I forgot all about it. Like, it's just so many co-hosts, just a revolving door in my life. You'd probably get a page in memoir, if that.
[Crystal] I would like to have a picture in the back of your memoir for sure.
[Frank] Like if I don't get a picture, I'm coming after you. I will hunt you down-another line from Mariah Carey. Ah, we could go on and we tend to. But thank you so much, everybody, for listening and see you next time. Please join us, won't you?
[Narrator] Thanks for listening to The Librarian Is In, a podcast by the New York Public Library. Don't forget to subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcast or Google Play, or send us an email at email@example.com. For more information about the New York Public Library, please visit nypl.org. We are produced by Christine Farrell. Your hosts are Frank Collerius and Crystal Chen.