If you’ve read the listening guides on my website, you know that I often write to the music of The Airborne Toxic Event. When I discovered their frontman had written a memoir, I preordered a copy. Then my mother died, I lost my childhood home, COVID hit, and HOLLYWOOD PARK disappeared into the black hole of my TBR stacks.
Fast forward to October 2022: my husband and I saw the band live, and I liberated the book from dust bunnies.
On page one, Mikel Jollett’s memoir grabbed me with its raw, poetic prose. A huge fan of his lyrics, I’d expected that; I didn’t expect a story about the impact of mental illness on family.
Y’all know that’s my jam.
At the heart of this particular story is a lonely, broken child struggling to understand the meaning of family. It’s an inspiring tale of survival and redemption, of hiding behind a mask only to break free of generational family patterns. The darkness might feel relentless at times, but rays of hope break through the narrative. Not only was Mikel the first male in his family to escape the shadow of addiction and/or jail to go to college, but he won a full scholarship to Stanford. Now he’s happily married with kids.
The first few decades of his life, however …
Born into a famous cult, Mikel grew up in extreme poverty, haunted by abandonment and shame. He witnessed traumatic episodes of violence, had a tempestuous relationship with his big brother, and lived with a depressive, emotionally abusive mother. Some scenes with her were hard to read, but his revelations—gained through therapy as an adult—were fascinating.
Throughout is Mikel’s love for his father and stepmother. Both would become his anchors. The scenes with his father, an ex-con and former heroin addict, someone Mikel worshipped but was terrified of becoming, might have been my favorite.
Mikel says of addiction: “Everyone in the family has it whether they are the ones using or not.” As someone who grew up with an alcoholic and understands what it means to love a parent in recovery, I want to add, “Amen.”
An incredible memoir.