There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.
– Martha Graham, as cited in Sara Bareilles’s Sounds Like Me (p. 148) when she discusses how she came upon the title of her 2014 album.
I’ll be honest, when I bought tickets to see OneRepublic and Sara Bareilles at the Greek Theatre in 2013, I was way more excited for the former than for the latter. I had been obsessed with songs like “Good Life” and “Secrets” for a long time, and while I had spent a good few months freshman year with all the colors of. the raaaaaainbow looping through my ears and asking nobody in particular who cares if you disagree, you are not me, I had never gotten as deep into Bareilles’s songs as I had songs by other artists.
But of course, that concert changed everything. I walked away with Sara Bareilles topping my list of favorite musicians and my list of favorite cultural icons. I got her Live at the Variety Playhouse album and DVD as soon as they came out, and the live DVD quickly became one of my all-purpose play-as-I-work, play-as-I-fall-asleep, play-as-I-drink-and-sobbingly-fall-asleep albums. It’s readily apparently from seeing her at her show, on the DVD, and other coverage of her that Sara on stage and on tape are not performances but just another moment of expressive being for her, one that just happens to be in front of a massive crowd of people who have felt an emotional resonance with her through her songs.
Now, onto Sounds Like Me. The book takes us from her childhood in Eureka, California all the way to her experiences scoring the musical adaptation of Waitress, framed in relation to a particular song she wrote at each phase of her life. We learn about the relationship that led to the writing of “Gravity”, of the true story behind “Love Song” (it wasn’t just sticking it to her record label), and what “Brave” meant to Sara as she wrote it at one of the most pivotal moments for LGBT rights in American history.
[…] It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
(M. Graham continued, p. 148)
The best part of Sara’s book, much like her songs, is her expressive candor and the relatability that inherently comes with it. And also like her songs, it’s incredibly hard to talk about Sara’s book why you feel about it the way you do without your emphases, your favorite songs, being biased by your own experiences. I personally related a lot to her experiences growing up and in college (the elder cynic peers of mine may say because that’s all my life has been so far). Retrospectively, the bits that really got at me were where she relays the idea of not really knowing anything’s “wrong” with you as a child until someone tells you it is, then the idea taking hold in you for a long time. The things she writes to her younger self I wish I could write to my own younger self. And reading about her more recent self and her continued pursuit of self-expression through music, of her hatred of sounding like she sold out… the fact that such a genuine person has achieved such success by continuing to be herself really gives me hope and uplifts my view on life and the world.
All the stories in Sounds Like Me and the way she tells them really give you insight into Sara as a person and why her songs seem to really carry feelings and connect with you the way they do. Not only are all of her tales in Sounds Like Me told with honesty of emotion, they’re largely delivered with a certain human humility. She admits to her share of more presumptuous moments – such as a first meeting with a certain famous musical theatre figure where she thought she was supposed to be the one being wooed – but owns up to them in a charming d’oh kind of way. And the way she describes meeting with people at cafes in Santa Monica or making her way through the crowded streets of New York, let’s just put it this way; there are artists that when you read a story about them, you envision getting around with a massive entourage like some grand bespectacled despot of a repressive authoritarian regime, then there are artists who you imagine making their way around on foot or in a car like normal people, that maybe you might have been lucky enough to run into and chat with if you’d happened to be on a stroll in that area the day the story took place. Sara is definitely the latter.
I’ll probably never get to meet Sara in person to chat with her and make 100% sure – that few hundred feet between the stage and the seats for poor people like me at the Greek were probably about as close as I’ll ever get to actually talking to her. But at least as far as I can tell, Sara Bareilles is a very “real” person in the way that I’d like to think people originally meant when “Keep it real” became a thing, and that’s more than you can say for most people. Sounds Like Me in a way is a book about being real, and being driven by the blessed unrest in our real pursuit. Being real about the sadness in our times of joy, the losses in our moments of triumph, the uncertainty in our ever progressing quest; about not knowing what the hell we’re really doing, but firmly believing that it’ll work out in the end and never forgetting to sound like and to be ourselves.
[…] No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
(M. Graham continued, p. 148)