There's something very refreshing about Billy Ray Cyrus' new memoir Hillbilly Heart. It's not just that he's candid about being, at many points throughout his life, a headstrong jerk, or, as he puts it, a "heathen," an imperfect man.
That makes good reading, but what I like is that he took the songwriting advice he got years ago, pares everything down to its essence, and leaves out the preaching. He says, This is what happened to me, make of it what you will.
Cyrus had two parents that loved him, but that couldn't get along with each other. They split when he was young, and although he doesn't say so in the book, Cyrus' life afterwards was rife with classic incidents of a child of divorce - in Eastern Kentucky where divorce was taboo - acting out: shoplifting, vandalism, angry outbursts and displays, lost weekends, blown opportunities.
But while at least one of Cyrus' friends strayed over the edge, he managed to keep clear, or jump clear at the last minute. Partly, as he tells it, with the help of voices he says he heard distinctly. The voice of a murdered child, a warning against stealing, and more. Was this divine intervention? Or simply the way his conscience manifested itself? Cyrus says he doesn't know. He also got some good earthly advice from his dad early on, when he said how much he wanted to have a normal life with two parents at home: life isn't fair. But that didn't seem to sink in for a long time.
Eventually, in what seemed at impetuous, life-wrecking move at the time, Cyrus gave up a career in baseball - he was a star catcher - he decided he would be a musician. A famous musician. His mother was a musician, his father a regionally famous member of a Gospel quartet, and music was always in the house. But, as he explains it, he didn't really connect it to his future until he bought a left-handed guitar. He could play it, he started writing and singing songs, he formed a few bands, and, a decade of sweat, tears, flaming drinks, burnt-down bars, and music industry brush-offs later, came Achy Breaky Heart and instant stardom.
Later came Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana, and more drama, but you'll have to read all about that in Hillbilly Heart.
(To the left you'll find the long version of the interview Billy Ray Cyrus and I recorded in the green room of at Ora TV in Glendale, where Larry King tapes Larry King Now.)