I haven’t met her yet. But I will on Sunday, March 20, when she answers questions about her life and her work, and signs her new book, “Still So Excited! My Life as a Pointer Sister,” at the Napoleon Room at Club Cafe in Boston.
Until two weeks ago, when a friend handed me her book, I didn’t know who Ruth Pointer was.
I’d heard of the Pointer Sisters, of course. But I didn’t know there were four sisters and I wouldn’t have been able to pick out a song they sang, though I’ve heard their music for years. Why, I asked myself, would I want to read a book about a singer I didn’t care about?
By the end of page one, I cared.
The Pointer Sisters topped the charts in the 1970s and ‘80s. They recorded “Jump,” “Slow Hand,” “Neutron Dance,” “I’m So Excited,” and many other hits. They won three Grammy Awards. They got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2015, Billboard dubbed them the fourth-most successful female group of all time.
But at their core they were four young and unworldly girls, with rigorously religious parents, totally unprepared for fame. They lived on top of the world one minute and at the bottom of the barrel the next, ricocheting between a life of not having a roof over their heads and a life of bathing in champagne. They were always only as good as their next song, their next manager, their next act, their next album.
Show biz was their salvation. They would have starved without it. But they starved for other things because of it.
Ruth Pointer doesn’t shy away from this truth. She is unflinchingly honest, and it’s this honesty that fuels her book, that made me, a stranger to her name, care about her.
“You always look back wondering how life could have played out differently,” she begins. She looks back, but she doesn’t dwell on the “what ifs?”
She writes about her many marriages and her many mistakes, as a daughter, a mother, a performer. She writes about her sisters and their life on the road. She writes about her escalating drug use. And she writes with humor and soul and without a pinch of self pity. No blaming others. No excuses. Just the facts. This is what happened. This is who I was.
She writes about a fickle industry where times change and the gigs stop and the recording studio drops you.
She writes about her sister June, whom she loved unconditionally, who was gang raped as a young teen. “The doctors who treated her put her in a room and gave her Thorazine and strong medication,” Ruth said in a phone interview. “It doesn’t just numb out the pain, it numbs out everything so you don’t feel joy, you don’t feel pain, you don’t feel hurt, you don’t feel gratitude. You don’t feel. Period. June went through years of being on these medications that were prescribed for her and then when they kick you off of them, what are you supposed to do with yourself?”
June died of lung cancer when she was 52. Her sister Anita no longer performs. Her sister Bonnie solos now and then. Ruth is the only Pointer Sister keeping the legend alive. But it’s Ruth and her daughter Issa and her granddaughter Sadako who make up the group now. The trio is headed to Australia in May for six concerts. Out of this country the Pointer Sisters still pack the house.
Ruth Pointer lives in the Boston area. She has been married for 25 years. She doesn’t drink or do drugs anymore. “You create new habits. You create a new life.”
When she rolls out of bed in the morning, she’s on her knees. “I pray for my family, my husband, my children, my grandchildren. I have one great-grandson. I pray for our government officials, the president, and his family. I pray for soldiers overseas. I pray for the sick and the homeless and ask God to bless the day. And then I get up and get my breakfast.
“I was a mess. And if there’s hope for someone like me, there’s hope for everyone.”
Ruth Pointer is scheduled to appear at Club Café on March 20 at 5 p.m. for a Q&A and signing of her memoir, “Still So Excited! My Life as a Pointer Sister.” For reservations, call 617-536-0966.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.