By Steve Houk livingonmusic.com
For many people, words can take on several different meanings. For singer/songwriter Allison Moorer, the word “blood” does just that, and so much more.
Yes, she wrote a beautiful song years ago called “Blood,” a loving homage to her sister, Grammy-winning musician Shelby Lynne, that spoke of their lifelong blood on blood bond of sisterhood. But lately for Moorer, the word digs even deeper into her soul.
“It does have several meanings, for sure,” Moorer said. “You know, the blood of family, of course. And yes, the blood of this story. It’s a bloody story. It just is. So that was always going to be the title of this book. Always. From the minute I started writing it.”
Moorer has always written songs that tug hard at the emotions, but with her new book Blood: A Memoir and it’s accompanying album Blood, she has clearly taken it to the next level, splaying herself open to the world like never before, engaging in what is clearly a cathartic and cleansing experience to pour out her traumatic yet ultimately triumphant life story onto pages, and also into speakers, for all to hear.
And it’s certainly been no ordinary life. With the early murder-suicide of her parents, the years of struggle and recovery that she and her sister have endured as a result, plus just the often unexpected trials and tribulations of life, Moorer certainly had the goods at hand to create something memorable. And that she has, a sweeping emotional chronicle rife with both tears and laughter that is wholly unforgettable and deeply meaningful.
Looking back, it was both the process of growing older as well as becoming a parent of her now nine year-old son John Henry (whose father is ex-husband Steve Earle) that motivated her to begin the journey towards Blood.
“I think I’ve finally matured enough to have some perspective on it all, and to have enough forgiveness and empathy to do it in a somewhat balanced way,” said the lovely and thoughtful Moorer, who will tour in a different sort of format this fall with both some sit-down talk with NPR’s Melissa Block about her memoir, followed by an acoustic performance of tunes from the “Blood” record. Moorer brings this unique show to Jammin Java in Vienna on Friday November 15th, certainly one of the intimate venue’s hottest tickets of the year.
“And I think becoming a parent also had a lot to do with me maturing, being able to see the world in a different way. Like, I never saw, for a long time, my parents as anything but my parents. When we’re children, we look at our parents and we don’t think of them as having lives before we came along. But when you become a parent, and you know that you had a life before you had your child, and I think it changes your perspective about your parents.”
Moorer also remembers an inspirational conversation with the legendary Maya Angelou a few years ago, right after her son was born, that certainly fed into her finally telling her tale so her son could know the story of her remarkable life.
“After I had my son, he was about six weeks old and I got an invitation to be a guest on Maya Angelou’s radio show,” Moorer said. “So of course I did that, and she asked me about my upbringing, about my childhood, and I told her. She said, ‘Okay, well now you have John Henry, so when he’s old enough to ask, what are you going to tell him about your family?’ And I didn’t have an answer for her. I didn’t know that it would turn into a book, but I think I started back at that point thinking, ‘Hmm, I need to write this down.’ ”
As anyone who has ever written a memoir knows, it takes time, sometimes months, most times years, to face both your demons and your saviors, to excavate your emotions and bore out your experiences, and then communicate that to others in a way they’ll understand. Moorer is clearly no exception, and after all the hard work, she has found the right mix of intensity, tragedy, poignancy and etherealness that anyone who has gone through anything can relate to.
“I went through a real journey with this book, I worked on it for a long time. Started it in earnest in I think the fall of 2012, and finally finished it on my 45th birthday in 2017. The age of 45 is when I became older than both of my parents, so it’s significant to me now. I also think I rewrote it four or five times, it just took a long time for me to find a way to tell it, so it was going to be something people could read. And it’s still a pretty heavy book, you know? It’s no light fare, that’s for sure. But there is levity in it, and there’s some poetic stuff in it, and you know, I think it’s pretty approachable.”
Moorer hadn’t planned on having a record added to the mix, her focus was on her memoir. But a close friend suggested a few months ago that a dose of her robustly moving music, in relative tandem with the turning pages, could help reiterate the extraordinary nature of her story.
“Funnily enough, I had not considered making an album to go with this book. But I think it was in February of this year, my great, great friend and sometimes-manager-when-I-need-one says to me, ‘I think you should make an EP to come out with this book.’ I already had a couple songs that were sort of in the territory, so I was like, ‘What? Shoot, okay.’ And it ended up being what I think is possibly my best record. So I think maybe you get to a point where you go, ‘I’m just going to do this because it’s what I do. I’m not going to put any expectations on it, I’m not going to say, look, it’s got to sell this much,’ or something like that. I mean, just keep doing it, because it’s what you do.“
The subsequent Blood record is an exceptional accompaniment to Moorer’s powerful narrative. It’s a record that could have stood on its own, but walking hand in hand with her memoir makes it all the more captivating. And there is one song whose poignancy is undeniable, and echoes her basic desire to revisit, reconcile and reflect.
“The song from the record called ‘I’m the One to Blame,’ that was written by my Daddy. The lyrics to that were found in his briefcase after he…yeah. And Shelby put music to it. So I was just really happy that I was able to finally showcase that, and give him something back.”
For Allison Moorer, Blood: The Memoir could be considered a moment of liberation, a way for her to confront her past, tell her story, and leave a legacy of truth and consequence for her family. And after all she’s endured and conquered, to coin a phrase, does what almost kills you make you stronger?
“Maybe, maybe not, I’m not sure. I think you are strong or you are not strong, I don’t know what does it. I think it has a lot to do with how you come out, if that makes any sense. But I do think that there’s a sort of freedom that comes with nothing left to lose.”
Allison Moorer performs Friday November 15th at Jammin Java, 227 Maple Ave E, Vienna, VA 22180. For tickets click here.