Daily Archives: June 5, 2010

Voice Portrait: My Review of Chords of Strength

As a writer and scholar, I’m not one to buy “celebrity books” often penned by a ghost writer and often published to make quick cash for an ailing publishing industry.  But then again, I never thought I would be a fan of a 19-year-old who would prompt me to get, not one but two books since one came signed by him in the mail, and the other I bought because I didn’t have the patience to wait for shipment when a copy awaited me at a local Borders bookstore.  So, here I am, once again engaging in unseemly behavior… all for the love of David Archuleta!

First off, major props to David’s ghost writer, Monica Haim, an arts critic, ethnomusicologist, and filmmaker (check out her fascinating documentary, Awake Zion, which looks at the connections between Jamaican Reggae, Rastafarianism, and Judaism).  She really preserves David’s voice really well and presents his story so honestly.

Having said that, this is David’s story and David’s Voice through and through, and we get some extraordinary glimpses into his soul (hence, my “Davidisms” posts, and there are so many lovely sayings to take to heart).

Filled with much of his charm – from completely random stories, like the woes of taking care of pregnant cats, to completely gorgeous photos (his portrait at age 3 captures the same innocent eyes and sincere smile that won’t change by the time we see his portraits at age 19) – Chords of Strength reads less like a memoir and more like an anecdotal history.  Mostly, though, this is an autobiography of The Voice, not necessarily David the person, and it’s a musical history – diverging every now and then into some personal anecdotes – that only a true David Archuleta fan will eat up and ask for seconds.

As a cultural studies analyst and between-the-line reader, I paid attention to the things David didn’t share.  So, for instance, I couldn’t help but wonder at the economic circumstances that prompted David’s dad to move the family from one place to the next and how they managed with such a growing family (taking care of five kids and moving them here and there? Amazing!).  And yet, there is David telling the story with all the innocent optimism of a positive, happy kid just moving along, ready to adjust to any new situation, greeting each new home with wide-eyed enthusiasm and excitement for new adventure.  As a kid, I moved around as much as he did, and I was pretty stressed out about each and every new move.  Then again, I was an only child and didn’t have four siblings to buffer the situation.  David’s got such a malleable and positive outlook, you can’t help but trust him as we take the same journey with its unforeseen paths and curves.

David only reveals so much about his parents (for those looking for “dirt,” you won’t find it here, and that so would not have been David’s style), and what we need to know (translation: what David wants us to know) is how they supported The Voice.  And their efforts here are commendable.  The Archuletas are a family filled with musical talent and knowledge and passion.  They’re even a bit kooky (what David might call “dorky”).  Seriously, folks, if a family of 7 and more came traipsing through my neighborhood singing and spreading joy, I would be yelling at them to shut up and quit disturbing the peace (but then, they would be smart to offer up David as their peacemaker because as soon as he sang a solo, and The Voice captured my ears, my heart would melt so what do I know?).

What I like about Mama and Papa Archuleta are their instincts at knowing that The Voice needed to be shared beyond Utah.  David constantly cites Jeff as saying, “He’s really good, but is he good enough or just good for Utah?”  While Dadchuleta contemplates the depths of The Voice’s talents, Momchuleta enters David into his first state competition, much to David’s chagrin.  And I was completely charmed at the way Mom and Dad had to sit David down and use his belief in God to get him out there: quoting the Bible and reminding him of “not hiding his light under a bushel” and all that.  David is such a self-doubter, and he shares with us how it’s a flaw he must overcome, and he usually does so with the power of prayer.

Thank God for Moms and Pops! They recognized the innate talent in The Voice and knew the rest of us needed to hear it even when David wasn’t so sure.  And now that David is out there in the world, anything is possible.  Reading Chords of Strength has given me that kind of hope and optimism, even when the world seems so dark.  Once we are given the “evolution of the Voice,” we are left with a deeper appreciation of the music: this “evolution” includes everything from overcoming self-doubt to over-coming vocal chord paralysis (another story David carefully constructs and, IMO, leaves out a great deal of this traumatic event that hit him at puberty when his Voice was already going through changes – one can only infer the depths of pain and depression David endured, what he calls “losing his identity,” which he brushes away by explaining that he placed his energies instead into school, running, and grades).

I’m reminded that David is still young, and so this story is a young story.  By that, I don’t mean “immature.”  Far from it! Think of all the insights and pearls of wisdom he has to offer! I do mean that, he’s too young to deeply reflect on what his life and musical development really means.  If David had written this story at 29, 39, or 49, we’d get a very different and perhaps more revelatory story here.  But, David has always said he’s not very good at expressing himself with words.  I would agree to some extent.  Which is fine with me, because I don’t expect him to be a writer – of books or songs (even though David reveals his interest in developing this skill, if only to immerse himself completely in the music-making process).

David may leave out a great deal because I do believe he is self-protecting and is careful to not reveal too much now that he is living life out in the public.  But what we need to know is all about the music, and here we get an earful.

I must confess: learning that Natalie Cole is one of David’s all time favorite singers (I had wondered about this when he had mentioned her in his liner notes on the debut CD) and that her absolutely ridiculously cheesy “Pink Cadillac” (yes, I haaaaate that song!) is what turned David on to her, just makes me scratch my head at the enigma that is David Archuleta.  More than that, she is one of three women whom David describes as physically beautiful (the other two are his mom Lupe, of course, and Tamyra Gray, who gave him a “spiritual moment” with her performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” on American Idol, season one).  Then again, he goes from such pop fluff to deeply profound descriptions of artists like Eva Cassidy, another woman described as “beautiful” but mostly through her soulful singing, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder.

What else is there to conclude but that David is a musical “sponge,” soaking in every and any aspect of music and finding ways to make the music his own.  That his fervor is to make the songs his own, to honor the one who gave him the precious gift that is The Voice, and then share that Voice passionately with the rest of us, because it makes him a “better person,” not a “better singer,” is what makes us so devoted as a fanbase.  I  teared up when he said this was all for his fans.

And we fans have repaid him in kind.  The hundreds, and even thousands (as reported at the Long Island B&N book signing this week) showing up for David’s book tour and even more buying Chords of Strength are a testament to what a precious precious gift The Voice is.  We are blessed that he would share with us the story of its evolution.