Review: Sara Bareilles Sounds Like Me

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I’m not a fan of celebrity autobiographies. I’ve found most of them to be either A) disappointingly dull or B) written (mostly) by somebody else. Not to sound morbid, but my favorite celebrity biographies are the post-mortem type, especially if the star led a sad life that culminated in a tragic, premature death. (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read Randy L. Schmidt’s Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter.) When I hear that another famous person has decided to put their life into a book; I usually roll my eyes and think: Really?

And yet! When Sara Bareilles announced on her Facebook page that she would be releasing a book entitled Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) in Song I let out a whoop of joy and did something I rarely do: I pre-ordered it on Amazon. The day it arrived on my doorstep was like Christmas in October! Obviously, I was already a big fan of her music, but I knew very little about her, other than she’s from California, plays piano, and writes some kickass songs.

What a treat I was in for! Sara’s book is equally hilarious and heart-wrenching. Just LOOK at all the sticky-notes I used to mark the funniest, cleverest, saddest, sweetest, most noteworthy, most memorable parts! Stuff I wanted to mention in this review. 

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What started out as an idyllic childhood– living on five acres of redwood trees in Eureka, CA– was marred by her parents’ divorce and mean kids who called Sara “fat.” Looking at pictures of young Sara, she was NOT fat, but you know how when you’re told you’re fat, ugly, weird, stupid or anything else enough times, you start to believe it. Sara developed a love-hate relationship with food: “Food was a frenemy, making me feel better and worse at the same time. My ‘mean girls’ were Lay’s potato chips and salami.”

The chapters in Sara’s book are named after her most popular songs. In Gravity (Chapter Two), Sara talks about the first time she fell in love… and had her heart broken. (She only identifies the guy by his initials, LR.) Gravity was a song Sara wrote when she was just 16 years old, and remains one of her most requested in concert.

Love Song chronicles her years playing the L.A. music circuit, recording her own indy album with musician friends, burning copies of the CD herself, and selling them at her live shows. She also did an east coast tour opening for Maroon 5 (her college buddies!) during this period. Unfortunately, like the cruel kids in elementary school, record executives turned Sara away, telling her she wasn’t good enough, cool enough, etc. More fodder for her self-doubt. When she finally signed with Epic, she was thrust into the awkward position of forced co-writing with “professional” songwriters. It was a disaster. A self-contained, introverted writer, Sara says: “I have since realized that I would rather eat steak knives and a bag of hair.”

For all the side-splitting witticisms Sara peppers throughout her life story, there are many passages that require an economy-size box of Kleenex. The entire chapter Beautiful Girl is comprised of letters Sara wrote to her younger self. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching. Imagine if an older, wiser You could give advice to a young, vulnerable, suffering You, at a time when you most needed comfort and reassurance. So emotional, so beautiful.

Brave is probably the most important song in Sara’s career, certainly the poppiest. She was very nervous about releasing it, because she feared her fans would think she’d “sold out.” But the song came from such a heartfelt place, its authenticity shone through the drum machines and the slick production. (Sara wrote it for a gay friend who was afraid to come out.) Since then, it has become an anthem for people facing all sorts of struggles, from depression, to  domestic abuse, to cancer.

Well, this post is getting to be so long that I’ll wind up writing a book about a book, which would be weird. So I’ll throw in bunch of other tidbits that I hope will entice you into reading this excellent memoir… Sara once battled an eating disorder. She spent a very wild year in Italy. She saved a fan from committing suicide. She had a humiliating experience at a Taylor Swift concert. She discovered that Stevie Wonder is “squishy.” There’s a thing about dancing sperm.

At the same time she was writing the book, Sara wrote the score for the musical Waitress, currently playing in Boston, and headed for Broadway next year. A song from the show, She Used to be Mine, is available on iTunes and Google Play.

Nominated for Grammys five times, but never winning a single one, let’s hope that this talented singer-songwriter-actress-author nabs a Tony for her latest project.

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“We can choose to reflect the places we see the lack of love in this world, or we could try to be stronger than our weaknesses and shine a light on something better.”  ~ Sara Bareilles

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