By Rob Lowe
Simon & Schuster. 259 pp. $27
Rashida Jones once referred to Rob Lowe, her co-star on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” as a “benevolent narcissist.” Lowe candidly admits this on Page 235 of his new book, “Love Life,” his second memoir and one that, in a way, reads like a well-written work of benevolent narcissism.
As with all show business autobiographies, there is an unavoidable me-me-me quality to Lowe’s litany of revealing anecdotes and collected life lessons, some plucked from his ups and downs as a Hollywood actor and others taken from his experiences as a recovered alcoholic, husband and father to two nearly adult sons. The former “West Wing” star admits that he “can fall easily into self-centeredness,” but he tempers that quality (the narcissism) by writing with humility about his experiences in rehab and how he’s coping with the emotional hole left by his older son’s departure for college (the benevolence). Whenever it seems Lowe might be coating some of his career highlights with excessive high gloss — say, when he humblebrags too much about playing a convicted murderer in a Lifetime Original Movie or waxes too nostalgic about his role in the Brat Pack movie “St. Elmo’s Fire” — he invariably pulls out a self-deprecating pin and pops his own ego-balloon.
“Film historians attribute ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’s’ success to the burgeoning youth-in-film movement,” he wryly writes of the ensemble dramedy that further cemented his status in the Tiger Beat Cover Boy Hall of Fame. “I attribute the film’s success to the invention of hair mousse.” Clearly Rob Lowe has learned how to be the Rob Lowe that he — and we — wish to see in the world.
Lowe’s ability to laugh at the occasional absurdity of what he’s done for a living for the past three decades was what made his first book, “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” (2011), so smart and enjoyable. That quality serves him well again in this follow-up. “Love Life” is not as deftly organized as its predecessor and is a bit less dishy, but it’s still written in an engaging, relatable style that makes reading it feel like spending time in the company of a well-connected confidant, albeit the kind who once attended a Super Bowl party at the Playboy mansion and frolicked with buxom bunnies who “in an added bonus . . . were sophisticated sports fans.”
Lowe — at age 50, still so handsome that, like the sun, he’s dangerous to stare at directly— is canny enough to know that many readers pick up Hollywood confessionals to slurp up juicy stories about off-screen flirtations and on-set conflicts. As he did in memoir No. 1, he proves more than willing to satisfy that thirst.
In “Love Life,” the former Brat Packer talks about how he almost — almost — dated Madonna in the mid-1980s. He recalls how his fake saxophone-playing at a fundraiser for President Bill Clinton was eventually exposed to Clinton by composer David Foster, as well as by Barbra Streisand. “If you’ve ever wondered what the correct definition of ‘first-world problems’ is, wonder no more,” Lowe writes. “I was now in a full shame spiral involving Barbra Streisand and the president of the United States.” He flashes back to an early-in-his-career movie night at Warren Beatty’s house, where Beatty subtly informed him that he had slept with Lowe’s then-girlfriend, also an actress. (Lowe doesn’t mention the ex’s name, but a working knowledge of his ’80s-era love life makes it pretty clear which former lover he means.)
Lowe protects the names of some of the colleagues featured in his tales but doesn’t hide anything when he recalls how Jewel — the singer-songwriter cast as his love interest in another short-lived series, the D.C. legal drama “The Lyons Den” — balked when she found out she had to kiss him on camera. When she finally relented and puckered up, the result was “less Fifty Shades of Grey and more Grey Gardens,” he writes, adding that after the director yelled “cut,” Jewel “looked at me and wiped the back of her hand across her lips like an American Sign Language version of ‘Yuck.’ ” “Although we had planned to have one of Jewel’s beautiful ballads under our love scene,” adds Lowe, who also produced the show, “in the end I used one from Dido instead.”
While Lowe is candid on some subjects, he notably avoids others. There’s scant mention here of the famous 1988 Democratic National Convention sex scandal that involved him, two young ladies and a widely circulated videotape that briefly threatened to derail the actor’s career. Since Lowe addressed that sordid piece of his distant past in the first book, perhaps he felt it already had been sufficiently covered. More disappointing for fans of his work on “Parks and Recreation,” he devotes only a few paragraphs to his role as Chris Traeger, the fitness-obsessed ray of bureaucratic sunshine. Lowe left the NBC comedy only earlier this year; one wonders if he’s hanging on to his Pawnee, Ind., stories for use at a later date.
Believe it or not, the guy who seemingly just yesterday played Sodapop in “The Outsiders” is on the verge of becoming an empty-nester alongside Sheryl, his wife of 22 years. As the book closes, he contemplates all the things he could do with his time post active parenting: “I could write another book, I guess.”
Lowe undoubtedly has even more stories that he could tell his “friends.” Which means that quite possibly, every four years or so, we’ll be digging into another entertaining and admirably frank work of benevolent narcissism.
Chaney is a pop culture writer who contributes frequently to The Washington Post.