I read Allison Moorer’s new memoir, “Blood,” while listening to her latest country album of the same name. Her first album in four years, the ten songs beautifully complemented Moorer’s equally lyrical and haunting prose. Headphones in and volume low, I watched as a story of unthinkable violence become a manifesto for the healing power of making art.
Before she was a Grammy- and Academy Award-nominated singer-songwriter, Allison Moorer was a young girl living with her parents and older sister Shelby in Frankville, Ala. Back then her main focus was navigating the mood swings of her physically and verbally abusive father Vernon Franklin Moorer. Until early one Tuesday morning in August 1986, when Vernon shot and killed her mother before turning the gun on himself. Suddenly, Allison, and her sister Shelby, are reduced to a duo. By then, Shelby was almost 18, “so there was no real way to make her do anything or go anywhere,” Allison writes. Shelby floated between their grandparents’ homes, while Allison was shuffled to Monroeville to live with her mother’s sister Jane and their family.Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and Dine newsletters
Both sisters inherited their parents’ love for music. The happiest memories in “Blood” are in the family’s music room, where they would record themselves playing the guitar and singing country music. As adults, Allison and Shelby would use that passion to heal the trauma of their childhoods and become the well-known musicians their parents never accomplished. The book’s foreword, written by Shelby, now a Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter, creates a sort of conversation between two sisters who experienced the same childhood through different lens. “I had my memories and she had hers,” Shelby writes. “This book she has written telling her side and her memories changed my life.”
“Blood” is more than just a collection of painful memories. The chapters, even the ones that are mostly song lyrics, read like diary entries. Moorer’s writing delves into the process of healing — the extracting of trauma and turning it over in the light, the renaming and re-purposing of pain into something beautiful.
There is no shying away in this memoir. Moorer shows the reader every aspect of her life that was affected by the events in her childhood, including her initial struggle to find and maintain positive romantic relationships. “Abuse makes us forget where the lines are,” Moorer writes. “...and things we think we won’t accept become normal.”
She also talks about her early hesitation to become a mother, questioning what demons in her bloodline she could pass on to someone else. But in her second marriage, Moorer becomes a mother to John Henry, who was diagnosed with autism before his second birthday. Raising a nonverbal child comes with its own set of challenges, but through motherhood, Moorer is able to give the unconditional love she didn’t receive when she was young.
Admittedly, I originally worried I wouldn’t like this book/album combo. Mostly because I don’t usually like country music and wasn’t aware of Allison Moorer’s backstory. But what I found was that Allison isn’t just a country singer — she’s a true lyricist with an expert command of language. The best writing — and the best art — is vulnerable and honest, and “Blood” is both.
Allison Moorer is an American writer and singer/songwriter who has released ten critically-acclaimed albums. She has been published in American Songwriter, Guernica, No Depression, LibHub, and Bitter Southerner, and has been nominated for Academy, Grammy, Americana Music Association, and Academy of Country Music Awards. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and lives in Nashville.