Book Review - A Sick Life—TLC ’n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage (by Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins)

Book Review
tionne_watkins_a_sick_life_book.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

A Sick Life—TLC ’n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage - by Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins

Many musician memoirs strike a chord with longtime fans via a combination of enticing behind-the-scenes stories and revelations of trying personal circumstances that help readers better understand and appreciate the recorded works of their subjects. Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins’ A Sick Life: TLC ’n Me… happens to do that, but its reach is profoundly beyond what that usually implies. In the process of discussing both the business and musical side of the group that brought her fame, she also shines a light on a shockingly extraordinary string of health struggles which have given her a clear-eyed wisdom of life far beyond her years.

A Sick Life—TLC ’n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage - by Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins

Many musician memoirs strike a chord with longtime fans via a combination of enticing behind-the-scenes stories and revelations of trying personal circumstances that help readers better understand and appreciate the recorded works of their subjects. Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins’ A Sick Life: TLC ’n Me… happens to do that, but its reach is profoundly beyond what that usually implies. In the process of discussing both the business and musical side of the group that brought her fame, she also shines a light on a shockingly extraordinary string of health struggles which have given her a clear-eyed wisdom of life far beyond her years.

Early on in A Sick Life, Watkins affirms that “Living with a scary disease has made me a fighter.” In detailing the extreme amounts of pain she suffered for years without having a correct diagnosis of sicklethal with arthritis (an SC-type sickle cell that is mixed with a blood disorder), one can only marvel at just how much she accomplished while TLC was on a massive hit streak throughout the ‘90s with “Baby-Baby-Baby,” “Creep,” “No Scrubs,” “Waterfalls,” and “Unpretty.” Her essential songwriting and vocal contributions to the trendsetting trio’s multi-platinum sales aside, she played dutifully through a grueling international touring schedule in a way that gave new meaning to working under severe conditions. But having endured debilitating symptoms since childhood, she explains, “I was taught to present myself well no matter the circumstances.”

Amidst the innumerable hospital stays and brushes with death that Watkins recounts, she also shines light on unforgettably fun experiences during TLC’s early days, such as food fights during studio sessions and wild, pants-down rampages through the halls of hotels. And though the group’s business struggles have been documented time and time again by others, she shares impressively even-handed yet straighforward observations on both the good and the bad that went down as she, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes learned the ropes of the music industry and grappled with the often deceiving aspects of fame and fortune.

In regard to Lopes, Watkins goes into some depth concerning the special, frequently complicated friendship that the two shared; but one gets the impression that some things in this vein she’d prefer to keep private. What’s particularly devastating, however, are the particulars of the time right before Lopes’ passing. Watkins tells of the fragile condition she was in when the two patched up old wounds, as well as the meaningful strides Lopes was making before her tragic death. The grieving process she describes clarifies subsequent career decisions which might have left some fans with many questions at the time.

Unquestionably, the later pages of A Sick Life are the most poignant and amazing. Watkins’ recounting of being diagnosed with a brain tumor, the harrowing possibilities entailed by her limited options of facing it (due to her sickle cell disease), and the relearning of basic functions she went through bravely through piercing darkness and agony, makes for the kind of reading that forces one to reevaluate at least one aspect or another of his or her own life. Her beating the odds to have and raise children while continuing to deal daily with the realities of her disease and post-brain surgery effects has given her a fierce will to live and love.

A Sick Life is written with a resounding positivity and frankness that is never overbearing, but consistently inviting and gratifying. Watkins’ accepting attitude of the overwhelming challenges that life has dealt her is an unusual gift not found on the pages of just any autobiography. In the course of sharing her story, she entertains, wows, uplifts, and most definitely inspires. Highly recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 

Leave a comment!