Book review: Kasey Chambers

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Kasey Chambers is a natural storyteller. Her gigs always feature a fair amount of chatter in between songs, and usually she tells stories about her life. So if you’ve been to a few of Kasey’s shows, you’ll know some of her stories. That is not to say, though, that you’ll have heard them all – and, thus, for any Kasey fan, her new book, A Little Bird Told Me …, is a must.

The book is written with Jeff Apter, who is an experienced biographer (of Keith Urban, and Neil and Tim Finn, amongst others) and co-writer. Apter’s challenge would obviously have been to capture Kasey’s distinctive voice – that voice in which she tells stories at shows, not the one with which she sings (which is also, obviously, distinctive). To a certain degree, he’s got it, although I sense it has been tempered a bit in an effort to appeal to a less hard-core-fan readership – and fair enough: they want the book to sell. It’s possibly only people like me – who have heard some of the stories, and for whom Kasey is such a powerful cultural figure – who’ll want more.

Certainly, for Kasey fans there is a lot of great information here about what was happening in Kasey’s life during the creation of her albums, and there are stories behind some of the songs. I would have loved to know more of this stuff – the stories behind the songs – because for me Kasey’s songs are so important and enduring that those stories deserve to be told.

What could never have been in the book – because Kasey is the narrator and she doesn’t get to say it about herself – is a sense of gravitas, I guess: the sense that this is a really important story in Australian cultural history. Because Kasey really is important – she is one of our most enduring and successful songwriters; her oeuvre to date encompasses true country as well as pop, rock and folk, and is authentic in a way many songwriters never are. But perhaps that book is still coming, and it should be written by someone else; maybe it’s going to be someone’s PhD.

In the meantime, I hope that some people who aren’t yet hard-core Kasey fans will read this book and feel inspired to listen more closely to her music. I hope they’ll realise that she’s a woman – a person – who manages a rare feat: she combines an intensively creative life with a robust family life. That feat, that balance, is probably what I took away from this book the most – that and the fact that she is a passionate person. She is passionate about music; about her relationships with her parents, brother, husband and sons, and her best friend Worm; about the landscape of her childhood and the communities she has lived in. It is, sadly, rare that public figures express passion, but in performance and in this book she does not shy away from it. It’s infectious, and it’s truly lovely. Just like her music.

A Little Bird Told Me … by Kasey Chambers, with Jeff Apter, published by HarperCollins Australia 2011
*Please consider buying this book from your local independent bookseller*

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