She’s one of Canada’s preminent classical voices, a New Brunswick-born soprano who’s toured the world and performed before audiences ranging from the Olympics to Queen Elizabeth II. And yet some of Measha Brueggergosman’s most compelling tales take place off stage and away from the recording studio.
Brueggergosman, 40, who admits she’s never read a memoir, has written one of her own, Something Is Always On Fire: My Life So Far, in which the mother of two young boys recounts both the misery and the miracles, from love and loss to tales of adultery, debt, health struggles, motherhood and faith, all in her trademark candid tone. We met at a downtown Toronto hotel recently to discuss her dishing all her personal details in the book and, by the end of the interview, even came up with the premise for the sequel. Hint: it involves a utopian world and a bionic Brueggergosman…
MIKE CRISOLAGO: How do you compare the excitement and the anxiety of releasing a memoir to releasing an album?
MEASHA BRUEGGERGOSMAN: Oh, who cares about the albums? Please. Compared to this? This birth is different from all my previous births, because it just started in my own mind … It’s of course far more personal, but it helps to have released things into the wild before. So I know how to cope, which usually comes down to leaving the country and not reading one thing, ’cause I’m too thin-skinned to invite the opinions of people who don’t know me, even though the book tells so much about me. It’s a funny thing. I don’t know how I’ll react to this kind of scrutiny over this kind of thing.
MC: You’ve called it “all of the ugly” – the not-so-great stuff that you write about. And there’s a lot. And there’s a lot of good, too.
MB: There’s a lot of ugly, but there’s a lot of good. Yeah, that’s true.
MC: And I feel like you kind of have to live through one to appreciate the other.
MB: You’re the first man who has interviewed me who understands the math of how much misery and struggle. But then there’s, on balance, quite a lot of joy in triumph. I think it’s difficult, sometimes, and the best men are so protective. And I think it’s hard because I’m pretty, so it’s also difficult to reconcile pretty people doing ugly things. But you know, God looks at the soul of a man. And I like to be pretty and I am soft and pink, but I have the head of a man and the heart of a woman, so I can’t concern myself with what people think, because I’d probably just end up in the fetal position in the corner.
MC: Why was it important to put all of these personal stories out there?
MB: Well, I don’t think you become a wise woman unless you do a tremendous amount of stupid things. And stumbling into place still has you in place. You still get there. I know that there have been missed opportunities and roads not taken and bad decisions and regret, but the regret doesn’t define me and I can’t seize my future if I keep looking behind me. So it’s almost like you tell all the truth you can so that it’s balanced with your own liberation, because it does set you free. No one will ever be able to whisper some scandalous secret to my sons, because it’s all in the book. I have neutralised it. So I exist between wanting to be accountable to my sons and the pride of my parents. And I think I would want to raise sons who would be proud of this kind of truth-telling, and my parents certainly did raise me to tell the truth, but they also taught me the value of an artful lie.
MC: And you wrote the book, not a ghostwriter.
MB: I did start my process once I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to use a ghostwriter, because I just couldn’t. It didn’t sound like me, because it wasn’t me. And it’s nobody’s fault, ’cause I just really was hoping I could just take the money [Laughs] and just retire to Stouffville. Your money goes far in Stouffville … So it was literally, “dammit.” So I went to Banff and I committed to writing, first thing, two hours, just about anything – whatever came to my head, just how to find a way to link thought in my own voice. I loved that process, ’cause I love rehearsing, too. I love the process of getting to the thing. The book is the best part. It’s like the cherry. But the peak of the mountain is only the peak because of the majesty of the rest of it. So I got the other part. Like, I got the mountain; you guys got the peak.
MC: It’s the journey, not the destination.
MB: Yeah. I was trying to avoid saying that.
MC: So given you don’t read memoirs and nonfiction, what was your inspiration when you were writing this?