April 1, 2023

“I love making people cry.”

Tara McLean said this with a laugh, but be warned: she’s serious, she’s really good at it, and has been honing her craft from an early age.

He was exactly nine years old, and the revelation came 40 years ago when, barefoot on a plywood stage, he performed a nervous performance of “You Light Up My Life” in front of an audience of fishermen and potato growers at a village fair in Kings County, PEI. that—as the seasoned singer-songwriter recalls in her completely careless new memoir, Song of the Sparrow—“grown men sobbed in overalls, wiping their faces with dirty rags,” and one little girl was convinced that music should be her life’s calling.

Music and make people cry, of course.

McLean has never had a better way to make you cry than in the pages of Song of the Sparrow, which hit bookstores this week through the HarperCollins Harper Avenue imprint.

Overflowing with details of a broken childhood spent wandering from city to city between parents and foster parents, her narrow escape from a house fire set by an unknown PEI arsonist in 1987, and graphic reports of sexual assault and date rape, body dysmorphia and attempted teen suicide, is often a harrowing read that sometimes makes you wonder why the universe chose this particular person for such punishment.

Ultimately, however, “The Song of the Sparrow” is not about self-pity in the past, but about how all these hardships turned an unusually tough young woman into a pillar of strength. It will make you cry, but in a good way. A triumphant way.

“He is really vulnerable. It’s a lot of things,” McLean said from her “other” home on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. Honestly, I don’t know how to feel. At some moments I feel inspired, furious, excited and wide open, and at other times I just want to, for example, curl into a fetal position and ask: “What did I do?” It’s a lot of feelings. But for me, I think it’s time to tell the story. I think it can help people and that’s why I do it.

“That’s exactly what I wanted to communicate, that you have a choice within trauma as to how you respond to it,” she continued.

That’s actually the whole message. We can either let life break us or let it turn us into something more. I think people who know me know that I’m a pretty happy person and would say, “Oh, we know this is a happy ending.” So no matter where I take someone in the book, they know it’s a happy ending because they know me and they know I’m a joyful person who loves life so much. But it’s big. It’s a big bomb that needs to be dropped.”

When McLean first told this writer about her upcoming book backstage at Andy Kim’s Christmas show at Massey Hall last year, she promised that napkins might be needed and that it would be a “juicy” read. She was true to her word.

Not only does Song of the Sparrow fearlessly blame her own grandfather Smiley and a family friend named Gilles for chronically abusing her and her late sister Shay as children, it also criticizes systemic sexism and sloppy physiques. is the shame she experienced when she entered the music industry in the mid-1990s after she was “discovered” singing to herself on a ferry from Salt Spring Island.

(Shay, who died in a car accident on the side of a highway in New Brunswick in 2002, went on to live under the name of the can-pop “supergroup” that McLean formed with Kim Stockwood and Damnight Doyle the following year.)

The book unflinchingly kicks ass and takes on names (and, more often than not, names names) are all over the place, but remains remarkably free of judgment: McLean goes to great lengths to humanize and understand even some of the most demonic figures in his life.

Her love and respect for her parents – her actress mother Charlene McLean (“The most exquisite, talented and brilliant person who ever existed and… a queen in my eyes”), her biological father Danny Costain and her stepfather Marty Reno – shines through in “Song of the Sparrow” even as she recounts the many mistakes he made during her upbringing.

There is no bitterness in the book, just a balanced reckoning with unfortunate situations that she was able to raise higher in hindsight.

“In fact, the point of view that I tried to look at my life from was that we are all these fallible people who stumble, make mistakes and hurt each other, and I think it just deserves great compassion. I want to understand why people do what they do, and that was really part of the study, right?” McLean said.

“I’ve looked at these people in my life – some of whom have done some pretty heinous things – and yet, maybe there’s a deeper pain to it. We are all traumatized here on earth in one way or another. So why is this happening? I didn’t want to make someone an unsympathetic character. I wanted everyone to be somehow understood … And I could not write this book if I felt sorry for myself. Not a drop. It would be a shitty show.

“I’m just so grateful to be alive. I am so grateful that I got to experience these things. I am grateful that I have to write about it. And you know that moment when sometimes you watch a movie or you read a book or you listen to a song and you close that book and you put it on your heart and you say, “Yes, fine” and you open your eyes and see world a little different? That’s what I really hope for with this book, for it to impact people in that way. That it perhaps sets the filter a little towards forgiveness and compassion for other people and for yourself, especially.”

This week’s release of “Song of the Sparrow” will soon be followed by the release of Tara McLean’s new record, Sparrow, on March 31, though McLean has been so busy getting the book public that she admits “sometimes I almost forget.” I have a new album.”

Recorded in Lake Echo, North Carolina with producer Jenn Grant/Justin Rutledge Daniel Ledwell, “Sparrow” combines ethereal reimaginings of early McLean songs such as “Evidence”, “If I Fall” and “Lay Here in the Dark. new teardrops, such as the titular first single “Sparrow”, which proclaims “There’s nothing unforgivable if you let go” as the chorus.

McLean hopes Sparrow will be a sort of companion to the book, as it certainly sets the wounded material from its 20-plus days on the Nettwerk and Capitol Records lists in a starkly new context. She will take it with her on the road from coast to coast in tandem with reading until the summer.

“During the writing of the book, it made sense to have a one-stop-shop for many of the songs I talked about in the book, and then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to rethink them and record them. again and sing them, like now? McLean said.

And also to remember who I was, to return to these texts. Because a song like “Let Her Feel the Rain”, one of the first songs I wrote, I was 19 years old when I wrote it. This is a very young lyric. So I just wanted to re-introduce myself to my younger self during the recording process. And then the message I got from my younger self was, “I’ve been texting you in the future.”

And what do the most important young personalities in McLean’s own life, her three teenage daughters, have to say about all the pain, sadness, dirty laundry, and female power displayed in “The Song of the Sparrow”? There must be some intense conversation going on.

“They are very, very supportive. Incredible support,” she said enthusiastically.

“You know, songwriting is very vulnerable. I go on stage and pour my heart out so they get used to me moving around the world in a very raw way. And they love it. But Stella, my middle child – she is 17 years old – is the only one who started reading this at that moment, and she wrote me a little note saying: “I can’t believe that a little girl with this fire in her heart and honey in her voice is my mother.

This is what she said. And I will never forget those words. I will never forget them.”

Ben Reiner is a Toronto-based journalist who contributes frequently to Star’s Culture. Follow him on Twitter: @ihatebenrayner


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