What do you do for a follow-up when you've already told all? That was the problem plaguing Julia Philips' staggeringly awful Living Under The Affluence, her worthless follow-up to You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again. It's also the question lurking behind The Vixen Diaries, legendary knob-gobbler Karrine "Superhead" Steffans' follow up to her equally explosive, equally controversial Hip Hop tell all Confessions Of A Video Vixen.
If you're Phillips, you spend three hundred and sixty pages whining about your finances while pretending you're Tom Wolfe on crystal meth. Steffans takes a different path, replacing the never-ending stream of sordid sexual revelations of her best-selling debut with one hundred and eighty two hopelessly padded pages of philosophical natterings, touchy-feely therapy talk, self-delusion and shameless narcissism. How bad is Diaries? The 134 amateur critics who rated Vixen on Amazon gave it an average rating of one and a half stars. You could put out a picture book of bird-crap-covered windshields and still walk away with at least a two star average rating. One-and-a-half stars is worse than Hitler, literally. Even Mein Kampf has an average rating of a three and a half stars. And that guy's reputation is arguably worse than Steffans'.
Steffans lingers under the delusion that people bought Confessions for its penetrating psychological insights and brilliant writing, not its sleazy accounts of slobbing the knob of every athlete, rapper and producer in existence. Now the famous blowjob lady wants to be taken seriously as a thinker of deep thoughts and a confidant of the intellectual elite. Just as Terrence Dean in Hiding In Hip Hop seems to think that Hip Hop credibility can be transmitted sexually, Steffans labors under the delusion that Bill Maher–a man she only calls the love of her life seventy or eighty times–sexually transmitted his intellectual credibility to her while giving her the old Hong Kong Handshake.
In the aftermath of Confessions life-changing success Steffans writes that she "felt like the underdog that had finally come from behind to take the cake–the bittersweet cake". Nevertheless, Steffans is grounded enough to realize that, "What glitters is very rarely gold and is more often the glimmer of a tin can being kicked down the street by a kid with a dream."
Being an underdog who has tasted bittersweet cake after coming from behind has blessed Steffans with a deep sense of humility. Early in the book she writes, "My experiences as a homeless welfare mother are just a few years behind me and still very fresh, reminding me continuously that I have come a long way in a short time. The painful memories of that time have allowed me to accept any and all success with humility." To give her credit, there are several pages in the book where she doesn't mention being a world-famous international best-selling author, owning a million-dollar house and a fleet of brand-new Mercedes Benzes and traveling in a rarified circle of household names and power-brokers. Here are some particularly humble passages from Steffans' fearlessly self-effacing tome: "I have yet to host a lecture or a book signing and not see at least one young woman in my audience in tears." "I look around and find very few twenty-something successful writers with the responsibility of running publishing imprints while maintaining their own publishing careers, supporting small staffs, raising children, and carrying mortgages, to say nothing of doing so while seeing their faces plastered in tabloids, on the Internet and on television" "While writing this book, I have been very mindful of all the women I have met who praised me for penning Confessions Of A Video Vixen. From Jane Fonda to the everyday woman, I have received love and admiration for my ability to be honest in the face of judgment." "These days, I walk into a room as Karrine Steffans, mother, New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur, and woman to be reckoned with. I walk in with my head held high and without my hand out; I need nothing from anyone." "The New York Times best seller list for the second week of March 2006 positioned Confessions Of A Video Vixen at number eight, nine months after its debut. The publishing industry called it a phenomenon, yet I still had a hard time grasping the reality of its success; and mine." "I spend long mornings and afternoons at the Four Seasons Hotel writing and sampling exotic foods and wines, learning more about them."
Clearly, if anyone has the right to brag about her humility, it's Steffans. But even best selling authors who receive love and admiration for their ability to be honest in the face of judgment have minor problems, pesky irritations like constant nervous breakdowns. A mere page before bragging, "When the shit hits the fan, I'm the girl you want", Steffans confesses, "I have a history of chronic nervous breakdowns. I have them all the time. I also have a history of self-cutting."
Steffans' logic is impeccable. When the shit hits the fan, you want, no need, a girl who has nervous breakdowns all the time and a history of self-cutting. It just makes sense. She's going to be your rock, your safe place. I love how casual she makes nervous breakdowns seem, like they're just a step beyond the common cold. I can see her gazing out the window at a grey day and warning her son, "Hide the knives, Sonny. Mummy can feel another nervous breakdown coming on."
Steffans' nineteenth nervous breakdown is prompted by a traumatic break-up with ex-fiancé, soul-mate Bill Maher, a man she affectionately/creepily calls "Daddy". During my first Silly Show-Biz Book Club entry, readers expressed surprise that Maher was shacking up with Steffans. I think it bears repeating, however, that the woman gives really, really good blowjobs, and as the Mr. Show sketch so indelibly illustrated, our entire economy, no, our entire society, is built upon a foundation of hummers. Is it any wonder Steffans is such a smashing success?
Steffans is so hung up on Maher that when she's having sex with old flame Ray J, an R&B; also-ran famous for being Brandy's brother and having a penis the size of an elephant's trunk, it's Maher's name she's furtively mouthing. It's just one of the book's many yuck-inducing moments. But it pales in comparison to the classy moment late in the book when Steffans sees lover/boxer Antonio Tarver with his wife and muses, "As Antonio and his wife kissed, I recalled his face and lips between my legs, licking and sucking my clit and asshole. I wondered how I tasted to her." You might want to get up and take a long hot shower before reading the next paragraph. Still, Maher has his limitations. In a chapter on her friendship with Bobby Brown, Steffans writes movingly of Brown covering her with his body while she urinates in a parking lot. This prompts the following reverie: "As I was squatting there I thought to myself, 'If I was with Bill, he would never allow me to pee in a parking lot. He would make me wait till we found the nearest fancy restaurant, and then we'd have to order some wine before we left. You know, as déclassé as this is, it's a breath of fresh air.''"
Ah, but we're not supposed to think of Steffans as the blow job lady anymore, or the woman who loves Hip Hop and R&B; so much she fucked everyone associated with it. No, Steffans seems shocked and disheartened that people still inexplicably think of her in a sexual context. As she so eloquently puts it, "In my opinion people ought not to be so concerned about who I'm sleeping with, but about who I am learning from."
Steffans makes it clear that she's a thinker of deep thoughts as well as a sucker of famous dicks. During a speech at a college in Alabama, "subjects skipped around, from dating to the manipulation of music and the media, and from the diamond crisis in West Africa to the feticides in India and Darfur." Steffans undoubtedly has a deep reservoir of insider info about those subjects. I can just imagine her sucking off DMX while he angrily barks, "The diamond crisis in West Africa IS. NOT. A. GAME!" just before smoking his weight in crack and leading police on a high-speed chase while impersonating a Secret Service agent.
Steffans eschews the more straightforward autobiographical storytelling of her debut for rambling essays in which she goes to a fabulous party, name-drops all the famous and beautiful people she mingles with there, then makes incredibly facile observations about the nature of fame, friendship and relationships. But infamy is not without its perils. At one of the many fabulous, fabulous parties she regularly attends, Steffans hit it off with Jamie Foxx, only to find that his white-hot ardor cooled once he learned that she was the infamous blow job lady of Confessions Of A Video Vixen. Her best-selling book might have nabbed her a million dollar home and fleet of fancy cars but it cost her a one-night stand with an Oscar-winner. Steffans guesses that Foxx feared he'd end in one of her books–like an unnamed Oscar-winner Steffans identifies only as "Icon" and whose conception of sex was "all anal"–but I suspect he probably found himself thinking, "My God, I bet that woman has venereal diseases scientists haven't even discovered yet."
Throughout the book Steffans writes of feeling alienated from former friends who are nowhere near as successful, driven or intellectually advanced as she. She devotes an entire chapter to a fling with man she dubs "Boy Toy" she had to kick to the curb because he wasn't as mature as her. Of course, complaining about the immaturity of the people around you is itself a telltale sign of immaturity. In the book's flap jacket Steffans announces that she's already hard at work on her next book. Oh boy. I can't wait. Then again, I'm locked in a co-dependent, dysfunctional relationship with Steffans. Even though I complain about her, I keep reading and writing about her narcissistic drivel all the same. But all the time I'll be imagining it was written by someone I like far more and silently, passionately mouthing, "Bill, Bill".