Chely Wright, singer, songwriter, country music star, writes in this moving, telling memoir about her life and her career; about growing up in America’s heartland, the youngest of three children; about barely remembering a time when she didn’t know she was different.
She writes about her parents, putting down roots in their twenties in the farming town of Wellsville, Kansas, Old Glory flying atop the poles on the town’s manicured lawns, and being raised to believe that hard work, honesty, and determination would take her far.
She writes of making up her mind at a young age to become a country music star, knowing then that her feelings and crushes on girls were “sinful” and hoping and praying that she would somehow be “fixed.” (“Dear God, please don’t let me be gay. I promise not to lie. I promise not to steal. I promise to always believe in you . . . Please take it away.”)
We see her, high school homecoming queen, heading out on her own at seventeen and landing a job as a featured vocalist on the Ozark Jubilee (the show that started Brenda Lee, Red Foley, and Porter Wagoner), being cast in Country Music U.S.A., doing four live shows a day, and—after only a few months in Nashville—her dream coming true, performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry . . .
She describes writing and singing her own songs for producers who’d discovered and recorded the likes of Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, and Toby Keith, who heard in her music something special and signed her to a record contract, releasing her first album and sending her out on the road on her first bus tour . . . She writes of sacrificing all for a shot at success that would come a couple of years later with her first hit single, “Shut Up And Drive” . . . her songs (from her fourth album, Single White Female) climbing the Billboard chart for twenty-nine weeks, hitting the #1 spot . . .
She writes about the friends she made along the way—Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, and others—writing songs, recording and touring together, some of the friendships developing into romantic attachments that did not end happily . . . Keeping the truth of who she was clutched deep inside, trying to ignore it in a world she longed to be a part of—and now was—a world in which country music stars had never been, could not be, openly gay . . .
She writes of the very real prospect of losing everything she’d worked so hard to create . . . doing her best to have a real life—her best not good enough . . .
And in the face of everything she did to keep herself afloat, she writes about how the vortex of success and hiding who she was took its toll: her life, a tangled mess she didn’t see coming, didn’t want to; and, finally, finding the guts to untangle herself from the image of the country music star she’d become, an image steeped in long-standing ideals and notions about who—and what—a country artist is, and what their fans expect them to be . . .
I am a songwriter,” she writes. “I am a singer of my songs—and I have a story to tell. As I’ve traveled this path that has delivered me to where I am today, my monument of thanks, paying honor to God, remains. I will do all I can with what I have been given . . .”
CHELY WRIGHT is an acclaimed singer and songwriter. Her seven albums have sold a million copies. Wright has given concerts around the world and has performed seven times for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. She lives in Nashville and New York City.
“It has been twenty-eight days since she last spoke to me. How can she not call or reach out in some way? I have no idea if I’m going crazy or if I’m already there. Is this what it feels like?
I’m afraid of the thoughts that I’m having. My only relief is when I’m sleeping . . . When I am able to get rest, I risk dreaming of her. The dreams are happy ones, but then I wake and feel the truth bearing down on me . . .
I go upstairs and locate a loaded 9-millimeter handgun. It is heavier than I remember.
I say a prayer to God to forgive me and to understand why I can’t go on anymore like this. I beg God to realize that I will never be able to fit into the life that I’ve created, that I will never be accepted.
I pick up the gun and put the end of it in my mouth. It’s cold. I hold it steady and get my right thumb on the trigger and prepare to pull it by pushing it outward.
I close my eyes . . . thumb still on the trigger.
My mind is going a million miles an hour. I think of my family, my dogs, my friends, my fans, the sun, a kiss from Julia, and music.
Then I hear a noise.
It is the sound of my heart pounding in my head . . .”
I've been a fan of Chely Wright's since I first discovered country music in my teens. Since then she has somewhat fallen out of the spotlight but I was thrilled when I learned she was returning this month with a new album and a memoir.
While it is no surprise that her "coming out" was matched time-wise with the release of her album/book, I am happy to say the book is not a tell all ridiculous concoction of seemingly false or exaggerated encounters with famous and non-famous men and women. It is NOT about her life as a lesbian although this is an important part of her self. It's about much more than that.
The book is quite a read--very intriguing and extremely well written. Wright as a songwriter has a knack for poetic form to tell her story. Hers is one of a small town Kansan who moves to Nashville to follow her dreams. What a refreshing All-American story this is, and a reminder of why this country is so grand. I highly recommend.
I have been a fan of Chely Wright since the 90's, I was excited to hear the news that she had a new album coming out. After hearing her very personal and courageous coming out story, I had to read her memoir. I too am a gay woman who has struggled with the fact and that I tried so hard to change but knew I couldn't. This book was so personal and I was able to really relate to many many things Chely wrote about regarding her internal struggle with accepting herself. I read the book in one day, I couldn't put it down. I want my family (especially my mother) to read this book to try and understand more of how I feel about myself and Chely wrote it beautifully. Her story will help many LGBT youth and adults and hopefully their families. Thank you Chely for your strength and courage, good luck with your journey.
All the press about Miss Wright's 'coming out' may obscure the fact that she has written an intensely personal and beautiful debut book. Along with her melodic singing voice, she has a beautiful literary voice and tells an all-American tale of dreams, delving and disappointment. She has had an amazing life full of courage and commitment and I applaud her for sharing it with all of us.
Who would have thought that an unbelievably talented, bright, country girl from Kansas would be harboring such a painful and debilitating secret? That is just the point that Chely Wright is trying to make with her new memoir, "Like Me." Driven to silence and shame by the conservative community that she grew up in, Chely Wright struggled with her homosexuality from childhood on. In this powerful account of her lifelong battle, Chely shows us how stereotypes, intolerance, and ignorance can deplete a person and drive them to take extreme measures to avoid having to face the painful truth.
Chely has mentioned that her coming out may ultimately end her career in country music. I beg to differ; anyone who picks up this book or listens to her new album can have nothing but respect for her work. Country music fans seek honesty and passion in their words and music, and that is exactly what Chely Wright delivers. Chely's honesty is admirable to say the least; her memoir will enlighten those with a more conservative mindset, and will comfort those who are struggling with their own personal battles. Harboring a secret of your own? You will not feel alone after reading this book.
Years ago I read Mel White's controversial memoir "Stranger at the Gate" where he attempts to reconcile his homosexuality with his Christian faith. So when I saw Chely Wright's "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer," I wanted to get the female perspective on this issue. Both authors have crafted fascinating insights into their personal and professional struggles as gays in conservative milieus, although I was ultimately confused by their commitment to a religion that disparages them.
Both followed a somewhat similar path to self-realization, feeling homosexual leanings at an early age and struggling to suppress these urges with prayer and by grasping onto romantic relationships with the "appropriate" gender. Mr. White eventually got married; Ms. Wright publicly dated men such as fellow country singer Brad Paisley. In addition, each of them held high places in occupations that demand a conservative lifestyle - he in the ministry, she in the country music industry. After failing in their efforts to change (or craft a double life), they ultimately came out to less-than-sympathetic peers and audiences as gay believers in God while leaving behind angry, hurt, and confused members of the opposite sex (and to be fair, gaining loving support from sympathetic family and friends).
When I read Mr. White's book back in the late 1990s I was a committed evangelical Christian trying to make sense of a hot-button topic in the Church. However, I went through "Like Me" in 2010 as an atheist who left the faith three years ago after finally losing the dubious ability to reconcile Christianity with rationality and personal experience. As for these two authors, somehow they manage to still believe that God exists and cares about them. In Mr. White's case he adopted a liberal view of Scripture that doesn't condemn homosexuality, while Ms. Wright simply feels in her heart that God loves her as she is. I wonder how they can still embrace religion at all after experiencing so much condemnation, but I understand how difficult it is to shake a dearly held and deeply ingrained belief system.
At any rate, "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer" is an intriguing and plainly-written story of a woman's struggle to fit into a conservative subculture so she can do what she loves while figuring out her identity. I recommend reading this book with Mel White's "Stranger at the Gate" for a male's account of a similar journey. If you're Christian and/or conservative you may be dismayed by their actions and disagree with their conclusions, but both stories will challenge your thinking, and that's a key aspect of any book.Read more ›