Award-winning country musician Billy Ray Cyrus's candid and poignant new memoir, Hillbilly Heart, was published this week.
Q: You've shared many of your life stories in your lyrics. What inspired you to take it to the next level with a book, and how was writing Hillbilly Heart different from writing a song?
Billy Ray Cyrus: You know, for me, writing a book was a whole lot like the songs that I write. It ain’t always pretty, but it was the truth. I sing and write what I am living, and I live singing and writing. And this book is like the little thing the Book of Psalms says in the beginning: His truth shall be your shield and buckler. That’s why I wrote the book—to tell the truth.
Like anyone, I am looking for purpose, trying to find things that matter. It can’t be a coincidence that a kid from Flatwoods, Kentucky, thought he was going to be a baseball player and ended up buying a guitar and starting a band and going on this crazy journey. This is the summation of my life—Billy Ray Cyrus, Hillbilly Heart.
Q: Beyond diehard fans, what kinds of readers are you hoping to reach? What would you like them to take away from the highs and lows of your life?
BRC: If someone can learn from my mistakes and save themselves from making the same mistakes, then there is purpose writing the book. When I set a goal, I write it down and clarify it and visualize it, then take steps toward it. "To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." And when people "have no vision, they shall perish." "What a man can conceive and believe, he can achieve." It’s about visualization and persistence.
I wrote a chapter on my buddy Robbie Tooley, who committed suicide. I end Robbie’s story with the 1-800 number and website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in hopes that all these years later, he could help some kid out there. If this book saves one life, then there is the reason I wrote the book.
Q: You write a lot about your determination to make it as a musician. What fueled your persistence, even when Nashville was nonresponsive and your goals seemed like they were a million miles away? How can your audience capture that spirit and apply it to their own lives?
BRC: I think this goes back to purpose. I had a dream and a burning desire that the music and my life could make a difference, make something positive. Something that represented God’s light and God’s love. That somebody could take something away from it and in some way bring about a positive change, whether in their life or to the world.
Q: What's the best advice you've received about music or life? What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
BRC: If I could have read this book and gone back to being a 20-year-old, trust me, I would have skipped everything that hurt. It would have been nothing but yes and bliss and happiness. All the things that hurt or were painful, I would have just skipped those parts. I would eliminate so many mistakes, because I failed way more times than I succeeded. But then, you know, failure is the most important ingredient for success. Every time you fail, you eliminate one way that won’t work, therefore getting one step closer to a way that will.