Nevertheless: A Memoir by Alec Baldwin. (Memoir, 2017).
While never quite rising to the level of a “bankable” movie superstar, Alec Baldwin has had an enviable career. He’s won multiple Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, along with being nominated for the Oscar and Tony Awards. And his previous nonfiction book, A Promise to Ourselves, was a best-seller.
He’s also had his share of controversy, much of it having to do with a testy (and occasionally physically violent) relationship with the press. This candid and forthright memoir doesn’t shy away from those issues. He makes no apology for his past criticism of media excesses. Yet he also admits that much of the negative coverage he’s received has been either of his own making, or at least made far worse by his intemperate reactions to it.
The book’s preface relates his mixed feelings about being an actor with a restless spirit who frequently imagines the many different courses his life might have taken. Questioning and a measure of self-doubt about his choices, in his career and his personal life alike, seems one of the keys to understanding the man.
The main text then opens on a scene from his uneasy childhood having to do with his mother’s near-crippling bouts with depression. The oldest of six kids, he often found himself drafted into a role as a de-facto caregiver/companion for his mom–even as he witnessed the strained relationship between his parents.
The early chapters here flow in mostly chronological order, though with occasional asides and digressions that become more frequent later, as chapters become more focused on overall themes–as opposed to a linear progression.
In addition to the emotional problems his mother long-struggled with and a somewhat tense relationship with the father he loved but had trouble understanding, Baldwin recounts a childhood that (while not quite poverty-stricken) was nonetheless limited. His teacher father’s near-obsessive dedication to his profession was a source of pride. But it also meant that the family was lacking the sort of abundant income required by such a large family. Their basic needs were met. But young Alec (the third generation to carry the name) and his siblings soon learned that if they wanted anything extra (say, a new bike) they needed to find a way to pay for it on their own. This spawned a determined work effect that carried through into all the Baldwins’ adult years.
I found the way that Alec more-or-less stumbled into acting through his college experiences pretty interesting. His tenure as a young actor, first in a fading New York-based TV soap opera then an up-and-down period of struggle after moving to LA is likewise quite readable–though somewhat a familiar sort of tale. While screen work finally began to pay the bills, an abiding love of live stage performance as a purer form of the art had already taken root–in large part from the influence of an older gay actor who became something of a fatherly figure/acting mentor (after accepting that Alec wasn’t interested in any erotic connection).
Later in the book, as Baldwin’s career begins to flourish, the text begins to bounce around more often. His working experiences remain interesting–but frankly they don’t seem to me much different than what a great many other successful actors might report. His inside views of various famous co-workers, especially those whose advice he treasured, follow as a matter of course. His impressions of the various film, TV and stage projects he’s been part of are often striking and occasionally enlightening.
And then there’s his personal life. His skirmishes with celebrity newshounds (and particularly intrusive photographers) have been widely documented, but it’s good to get his side of the story. His finally doomed relationship with first wife Kim Basinger has him by turns complaining about her and trying to understand and even defending her, even as he admits his own failings. The notorious answering machine message, where Alec profanely took out his frustrations out on his young daughter, is not ducked.
The sad fading and eventual loss of his father; his mother’s rebirth as she overcame her problems; reconciling with now-grown daughter Ireland; new directions in his career; his political activism and ideas; and his surprise at finding a new love and having three children with her–all of these are well-covered.
I find myself wishing I count work up more raw enthusiasm for this book. There’s certainly nothing glaring wrong with it. Baldwin has revealed himself, both his strengths and weaknesses. It seems a very honest self-portrait. And an interesting one, I grant you.
Ah, but there’s that word again: Interesting.
Sure, Alec Baldwin is an interesting man–a lively intellect, an accomplished actor, a man with both ego and the capacity for self-examination, and a good writer who tells the truth as he sees it. But while the often self-contradictory aspects of his mind and spirit that the book’s title embodies (and which he makes explicit in the very brief 17th chapter of the volume) are clearly in evidence, I just don’t feel especially moved by it all.
A good, readable memoir–just not a great one.