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.

Posted on June 5, 2010, in Chords of Strength. Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. WOW HG!!! What an beautiful and inspiring review of David’s work. You are so intune with David as an artist and a person. He is very fortunate to have a fan as youself. (Bows out of respect)

  2. hell0g0rge0us

    Thanks, Suzy-Q. You know I try. It’s the least I can do when David tries even harder to please us.

  3. HG,

    Thank you for your beautiful, full of love & awe review of David’s “Chords of Strength”.

    Nothing more I can add about The Voice that is David Archuleta, except I have a feeling this is the first of many books David may write as he evolves into the musical legend he will become.

  4. I forgot to mention, Melinda Doolittle apparently also has a book out and is having a book signing in Atlanta today according to her tweets.

    I’ll have to check it out. She is a close second to David as one of my favorite AI contestants ever. Truthfully, there have been no other AI alums who even come close to matching the level of talent David & Melinda are blessed with, IMO of course. 🙂

    • Melinda Doolittle was the only other Idol contetant that I voted for. She is such a wonderful singer and entertainer. I love her!!!I live in the Atlanta area and could have gone to see her if I had known sooner. {: ( Ill jsut have to buy the book anyway.

  5. HG. what a gifted writer you are. Your review of David’s book is spot on. Thank you for sharing your insights with us.

    I gave my copy to my mom to read, who is not ODD and wonders about my obsession, just to see what she thought. She read it in one day and said she thoroughly enjoyed it. The first thing she said was, “I wish every teenager would read this. His thought processes for one so young are amazing.”

    Even though she enjoyed reading the book and got to see why I’m so enthralled with David she still thinks I’m overly obsessed, lol

    • Random MofA shopper: “Wow, they must’ve upgraded their sound system!

      tweet—-> “VickiFOD No…that’s just the powere of The Voice!

    • Oh, my heart! The Voice was definitely on point today!

      • All the songs he sang at the signings were great and all A capella(“lean on me” and “I’ll be”) or acoustic (“works for me!” and “crush”). I don’t know any singer who is able to sing A capella like David !

  6. Wonderful review HG!! The book has given me a much clearer understanding of why David has doubted his abilities. I respect that he didn’t delve too much into the negative and that he recognizes the sacrifices his family made as he pursued his dream. When he mentioned feeling like a has-been child singer, I couldn’t help but think of Gary Coleman and all the other former child actors/singers struggling to reestablish their careers in entertainment.

    The “I’ll Be” acapella at MOA sounds great! Look at the upper level crowd; I hope they all purchased copies of the book.

    Misc, but when I was in a Borders looking for David’s book, I stumbled across Melinda Doolittle’s. I liked her during AI but I wasn’t a huge fan. Upon browsing her book, it was hard to put it down. I’m definitely going to buy a copy.

  7. this is cute……

    Hahahaa cute! @davidarchie is going on MOA rides with his fans!! 🙂 ❤
    5 minutes ago via UberTwitter

  8. HG,
    What an aewsome, AWESOME review! David is truly a class act all around. It seems if he could climb right into the notes of a song and bring us along for the experience he would. He’s bound and determined for us to get what he feels about music. I enjoyed his explanation of the entire song-singing process for him in the chapter – The Joy of Sound. What he takes into consideration including minute note changes here and there to better expose the emotion of the songwriter’s intent.

    I must also say – I am totally enjoying David’s happiness and personality on this book tour. Even if he’s not scheduled to sing, he can say like at today’s appearance – I feel like singing a song. Apart from pleasing fans, it is an excellent marketing strategy. Some non-fans at MOA may have been impressed enough to purchase a copy of the book.

    I believe the book acted as a catharsis of sorts and he is being a bit more carefree in his fan interactions. His poise has improved tremendously but please keep him away from swinging chairs – lol!

    There is a reason why we have to have occasional David-droughts. Too much David all the time is simply overwhelming. I am drowning in emotions of pride and happiness at the success of the book, fan support and David’s pleasure. It feels really good:)

  9. raelovingangels

    Been out all day- can’t wait to read the review- HG
    man- I’ll be- good audio, handsome David

  10. raelovingangels

    Wonderful review HG! I am not sure if I could even formulate my thoughts to attempt any type of assessment. Bravo. There was so much to like- starting my second reading. Like Joymus, I just adored David’s insights about music as communication. I loved the little things we learned. While there were many areas he clearly avoided- he shared so many more feelings and thoughts than I expected. When I heard the back of the book said something like “Its just you and me” – I kinda thought- hmmm….how could you feel like David was just talking to you personally in the book. After I read it- I was Holy Cow! That is honestly how I felt-. Like he was having a conversaton with me. Just amazing.

  11. I live in Argentina, once I’ve said here. I have good luck, a wonderful lady has bought the book autographed to send it to me to my country. In all this time I tried not to read any information on the chapters of the book, but I failed, I confess. Every day I look for something, any comments, any line of the book. When I have the book in my hands, I guess it will be the first book by David arrives to Argentina, I want to be the first to have it and try to read it, my English is basic but my desire is as great as love, tenderness , devotion, generosity david inspires me every day, for two years.
    For two years I have lived in a whirl of happiness and it seems that never ends. I wonder sometimes, as was my life before david. It was like my life now, I’m more humble, more comprehensive, more predisposed to debate the discussion, I laugh a lot, and everyday problems are not as large. are things that have their own solution.
    The lady who bought the book also gave me a shirt she bought in a vip (the inscription says I LOVE DAVID ARCHULETA) and she sent it as a gift, use it on Saturdays or Sundays when I go to a park, and when someone question to my “who is david archuleta? my face shines with happiness, I tell them how I met him and probably at the end of our talk will be a new friend and fans of david, here in my country.

  12. HG…….I’ve been trying to stay away from ‘spoilers’ regarding COS because I don’t have my book yet, but I caved and read your review.

    I loved your review & it didn’t seem to give away too much info. It only makes me want to read it more.

    It is a wonderful review! Loved it! David is lucky to have you as a fan. 🙂

    Hoping that my book arrives tomorrow!

  13. hell0g0rge0us

    Thanks for your feedback everyone!

  14. This is really cute. A pretty girl David’s age asked him to marry her at MOA book signing. It is all captured on this video. Really cute!

  15. Great review, HG!

    My favorite quote from the book (pg. 200),

    ” . . . for me, singing would be as much about conveying love as it would be about participating in art.”

    I feel it, David, I feel it.

  16. I enjoyed this review very much. I read the book and thought David’s understanding and explanation of what music means and can do for us, was brilliant. It touched me that he has given up a lot of the things a regular teen gets to do because he believes he must share what he has been given. He works very hard and it is not always easy for him. Now I understand better the love we feel when he sings. He is sharing his soul and what a gift that is!

  17. David Archuleta – I’ll Be – MOA – High Def!

    thanks Jonerzz !

  18. HG,

    This is such a well-written review. It is a book that, “reads less like a memoir and more like an anecdotal history.” So much charm, so much of himself in those pages. Thanks for this and all your other wonderfully written posts. You amaze me! (so freaking prolific!) lol. Keep it coming!

  19. No doubt, David Archuleta’s a natural-born talent when it comes to singing… but an autobiography at age 19. Really? And the book is all smiles and sunshine. Really?

    It may be a well-written book because of a talented ghost writer. But is there, truly, enough substance for an autobiography? And does the reviewer truly believe Archuleta’s life has been ‘puppy dogs and ice cream’ — nothing bad, negative, upsetting… other than his potentially career-ending vocal paralysis?

    Maybe he (or his handlers — remember his over-bearing father, Jeff, who was banned from backstage on “American Idol”?) decided to focus on the positive because that’s what will sell better than a book filled with downers? But we all know life’s not a fairy tale.

    I’m sure it’s a one-star book that’ll collect dust on Archuleta fan’s bookshelves ’til they turn 20 and think: “Why the heck did I buy THIS?” But now that I’ve dumped on it, I’ll have to browse through it. I may be surprised at what I find… or, then again, I may not be surprised.

    • Over-bearing father? Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?

    • Bright Light

      I read the entire book and believe it is David’s opportunity, if nothing else, to provide thorough answers to those people who continually ask him about himself. Or to those who put their own spin on events without having all the facts.

      I found his ability to face challenges and walk through them very inspiring. Not only is he talented, but he is also hard-working, an altruist, and self-effacing.

      Would that I could muster the courage he has consistently demonstrated.

  20. I enjoyed reading this review. Thanks, HG!

  21. I too have throughly enjoyed the book as well as your review. I knew much of his story but have enjoyed his telling of it. I too wondered about the many moves of his family and his good spirits in them. I was moved often as a child in a large family and it was sometimes good and sometimes not so great although I don’t remember ever complaining. It was just life and my family was so loving and supportive that was my focus. I loved his telling of his freedom in riding rollerblades and getting around town visiting people. This is a young man with a very good heart and I will be a fan forever.

  22. I am an ARCHIE (as we David Archuleta fans call ourselves) even without the book we can see david as a humble person unlike other artists out there. So hes not just any other musicians, not just a teen with a voice.. but with a big heart too 🙂 he made our lives different. I hope people will think of that too after reading the book. But, i dont have the book yet. 😦 im just waiting for a sponsor from davidbeyondborders to give me one. im waiting for a month now. i know its a long wait. but i think it will be worth it :))

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