For years, celebrity memoirs have been my guilty-pleasure reading--in fact, they were the source of so much reading guilt that I rarely indulged in them at all. But I've been exploring audiobooks during the past year, and I've discovered that they're an excellent medium for this particular genre. Thanks to audios, I've shed some of the guilt--partly because I listen alone in my car, and partly because there are no glossy covers to expose me--and shared some surprisingly fun commutes with familar voices. But I'm still pretty picky about whose stories I want to hear, and this is a genre where I give extra weight to reviews and recommendations. I'm not sure I would have chosen Rob Lowe's Stories I Only Tell My Friends if I hadn't read a lot of good things about it first, and that definitely would have been my loss.
Rob Lowe first decided he wanted to be an actor as a kid in Dayton, Ohio, and when he moved to Malibu, California with his mother and brothers after her second marriage broke up, he discovered a very different environment from the community theaters where he’d started out. Malibu was already famous for its surf scene and beach culture, but the town was a more economically diverse place in the 1970s than it is now, and while some of his public-school classmates had rich and famous parents, many residents, including his own family, had no connection to or real understanding of “the business.” He had to learn a lot on his own and on the job, but he was driven to do it (sometimes literally, at least before he turned 16), starting in commercials, landing a short-lived sitcom at age 14, and scoring some steady work in ABC’s Afterschool Specials series of TV movies. His first big film role came as part of the large cast of up-and-comers in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the frequently-banned YA novel The Outsiders in 1982, and by the mid-80s, he’d reached Next Big Thing status as part of another iconic ensemble cast in St. Elmo’s Fire. Anyone who’s that successful, that young, and that lacking in wise guidance is likely to make some unwise life choices, and Lowe’s pretty honest about the ones he made throughout his twenties--although they did give him some terrific stories to tell. The fact that he sobered up, grew up, and settled down is why he’s around to tell them now.
As he moved beyond his teen-idol, pretty-boy years (although he has by no means lost his looks), Lowe worked regularly, but his public profile rose and fell as he spent most of the 1990s moving between movies and theater, and developing an unexpected flair for comedy. And just as his young family was making him less interested in traveling for work, he got a chance at a role that required nothing more than daily freeway commutes...and the occasion location shoot in Washington DC. For me, Lowe’s portrayal of speechwriter Sam Seaborn is one of the reasons that the first three seasons of The West Wing are some of the best hours of drama ever on television. These days, he combines off-camera projects with television work, always looking for good stories.
I can’t really imagine experiencing Stories I Only Tell My Friends in any format but audio, and it couldn’t be narrated by anyone other than the author. These are Rob Lowe’s stories, and they’re revealing, personal, intimate (although rarely gossipy), surprisingly relatable, and almost never dull. He presents himself with a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor and genuine emotion, and I found him and his stories thoroughly charming. In all honesty, I’ve liked him for years, but I really enjoyed listening to him tell me the stories he’d previously saved for his friends during my own commutes over the course of a week.