Nick, Over Time

It may seem a little curious to accuse an autography of being too self-centered, but that nevertheless was my main takeaway from the episodic and “educational” new self-help/memoir hybrid of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter. In no small part it has to do with the book’s curious ambition. Facing the Music and Living to Talk About It is as much of conventional self-help book as a traditional autobiography, with the expected anecdotes from a troubled celebrity life.

The celebrity life remains the focal point of the book, however, whether the subject is a deeply troubled childhood, sibling rivalry and infighting, the suicide of Nick’s sister, or his continuing stuggles with alcohol and substance abuse, over-eating or temperamental problems. All of this is hampered by an rigid self-help structure in which every confession of human weakness and flaws by necessity must be followed by an endless stream of lessons about what you, dear reader, may learn from Nick Carter’s missteps. If you’re able to shake the sense that many of Carter’s life lessons smack of calculated humility and the platitudes of a motivational speaker, the ambition seems admirable enough. Nick obviously feels that the has let down a lot of people in his life, and now he wants to give something back, by inviting you to learn from his personal failings.

This relatively laudable ambition to “give something back” hampers the book as a reading experience, however. At least to me, there is a limit to how many times I’ll go along for the apology tour as Nick interrogates his own mind in search of yet another alcohol and/or drug-induced humiliation, before I begin to lose interest. Furthermore, it’s remarkable how candid Carter is in exposing his own personal and professional ups and downs, without revealing nearly anything of interest about what made him worthy of an autobiography in the first place, namely his two decades as a Backstreet Boy.

This would be an understandable if it’s been made in order to shield his fellow band members, but it severely limits the value of the book. We get a sense that his mega-celebrity from a very young age, along with a deeply troubled family background, must have contributed to his apetite for self-destruction, but the intra-BSB dynamics nevertheless remain unhelpfully removed from the broader story. For example, band members, while supposedly Carter’s close friends, are repeatedly referred to by their full names. Thus we are told that “Kevin Richardson” and “Brian Littrell” tried to serve as mentors to the much younger Nick, and it was the same “Kevin Richardson” who later inspired Nick to start reading self-help books. In a sense, I guess it’s refreshing that Carter opted to not write an autobiography tailored specifically for the fans, but the way the Backstreet Boys are more or less written out of his personal “rise and fall” narrative makes the book a more “narrow”, more self-absorbed and less revealing read.

That said, there are definitely chapters in this volume that should be of interest to people who have followed Nick Carter through the years. Recounting the circumstances surrounding the tragically misguided reality series House of Carters, which ran for one season on E! in 2006, he deepens my understanding of one of the most unpleasant and least watchable chapters in modern television history. Nick offers an unequivocal apology for that whole mess, but explains that he invited a TV team into his family’s life in order to stitch together his fragile family. With Aaron already trapped in a downward spiral, and an opportunity to reach out to his attention-seeking sisters, Nick hoped to clear the air, but instead he ended up simply awakening old demons. According to Nick, the loud and self-pitying posture of the family stems from a very tough childhood with little love and support, leading all of them to compete for attention and control in other ways. I trust him on this. The fact that this trainwreck chapter is among the book’s best, goes a long way to explain what kind of a book Facing the Music has become. Since his forays outside the private and/or intimate discomfort zone are so few, far between and handled with such relative emotional removal, I am more or less forced to instead see Carter’s decline through a familiar, if uncomfortable, Lindsay Lohan-esque lens.

After finishing the book, I’m thus left with the impression of a pop star who tries, almost a little too hard, to make his own struggles look common. He writes with the slightly unsettling fervor of a convert about his new diet and training regime (“One small apple is [gasp!] about 60 calories”), and concedes that some people think he’s gone too far in his focus on healthy eating and losing weight. Likewise, I’m unsure about how helpful his almost passive-aggressive talk of how most problems can be handled with the right dose of determination really is. He notes how he quit smoking by wearing t-shirt with a “no smoking” message for a couple months. If that could work for me, I’m sure you can find something that works for you, too, he adds, optimistically.

In the flood of music biographies that come out every year, there’s no reason Nick Carter shouldn’t write one. But this self-help memoir is not that book. Thus, I’m left in the somewhat odd position of hoping for a second volume sometime in the future; hopefully one geared more towards the boys and the band, and less toward the diets and the drugs.

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