Review of Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You by Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams offers a gritty, honest, captivating, spare yet fully developed memoir in which she explores her musical influences and influential high and low moments in her personal life.
In Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You, songwriter, singer, and musician Lucinda Williams shares stories of her childhood, her musical influences, and pivotal moments in her career and personal life.
Williams takes us along as she digs into her life's trajectory and the various conflicts, explorations, realizations, and challenges that have shaped her.
Her insights into her mindset and her creativity are often offbeat, and they always feel thoughtful. She writes songs about "sex, love, and the state of the world," and in one instance describes musical freedom as feeling like everything is “uncorked."
I loved hearing how she got into music--really, how music took hold of her and never let go, and how expressing herself through songwriting and singing became an essential part of her. She offers peeks into her musical influences and shares key encounters with both well-known and little-known members of the music industry without any of it feeling like name-dropping.
Williams resists categorization at all fronts and seems unsurprised as she notes that she was told early on by record executives that she was too country for rock and too rock for country.
She recalls how as a young woman she felt hemmed in by hippie culture and also by the societal opposition to it; how she missed some world-changing musical movements because of her timing and age; and how her drive for social activism played a role in her view of the world and how she approached her life--and resulted in her expulsion from high school. In one great passage, she explains Blues musicians' perspective that there's no shame in drinking whiskey, having sex, or making mistakes, and how this resonated with her.
Don't Tell Anybody is at times funny with a tragic undertone, as in the recounting of the song Lucinda sold when she was young, without an agent or lawyer and without an understanding of rights and repercussions. This song later shows up in a porn movie, and her then-representation determines there's nothing to be done but watch it. Lucinda casually outlines for us the (largely nonexistent) porn-movie plot in her dry way, then notes that now she doesn't even remember where in the film her song plays. This has the satisfying effect of feeling that Williams negates the power of those who took advantage of her youth and inexperience in the first place.
As she digs into the inspirations for her music she quotes her own lyrics--along with, occasionally, others' poems--and it all feels like truth-telling poetry--in her case, often set to music.
Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You was wonderful--spare yet fully developed, often surprising, and always intriguing.
With wry humor, gritty honesty, and refreshingly candid reflections, Williams's singular voice comes through steadily here. I listened to Williams's Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You as an audiobook and enjoyed hearing her tell her own story.
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If you're interested in this title, you might also like the books on my Greedy Reading List Six Musicians' Memoirs that Sing.