Martha Wainwright Stories I Might Regret Telling You book

Photo by Carl Lessard

Martha Wainwright gets personal about music, family, love and heartbreak in her new book

We spoke to the singer-songwriter about her memoir Stories I Might Regret Telling You, and having charted her own course in life, independent from the successes of her musical family.

She released seven studio albums, made several film appearances, garnered a Juno nomination and she owns the Montreal café/event space URSA. Now, singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright can add a memoir to her list of accomplishments.

Released on March 29, Stories I Might Regret Telling You covers her life from her childhood growing up in Montreal, through love and heartbreak and her storied musical career, to motherhood and finally achieving a sense of having charted her own course in life, independent from the successes of her musical family. 

But it would not be possible to write an autobiography without discussing the discographies of her brother Rufus Wainwright, her father Louden Wainwright III and her mother Kate of the duo Kate & Anna McGarrigle. 

“I think people asked me to write a book because of my story, because of my parents, my brother and the people that I’ve met. So it wasn’t going to be a book of recipes, or my thoughts on politics,” she says about her thoughts in those early days conceptualizing the book. 

“But with that in mind, and also with the title already set, I wanted to do something that was not really about my family, but about me. And also, of course, it’s touching on subjects that are very taboo and that really relate to not only my life but a lot of people’s lives. I think the more personal, the more universal it becomes.”

Sure, there’s enough taboo to go around when it comes to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, which makes for some very entertaining reading. But the soul of the book, at least for this reader, is in Wainwright navigating persistent feelings of insecurity, in many aspects of her life. 

She admits to loving fiercely in her romantic relationships, but also with the unshakeable fear that she’s not loved so fiercely in return. It often feels like she’s saying she wishes she behaved differently, looked differently and thought differently. 

Stories I Might Regret Telling You Martha Wainwright book
Stories I Might Regret Telling You, the new book by Martha Wainwright

She’s a talented musician, but she writes of a concern that she is known by the accomplishments of others in her family. Getting out of the shadow of the successes of her relatives almost seems like the crux of the entire book.

As she explains, it “has been something that has been both my calling card but also a bit of a burden in some way for my life, as an artist, as a musician.” 

“I will say that I was always conflicted with my worth next to these other people in my family and put them up on pedestals and I think rightfully so in some cases, and always considered myself, because of insecurity, lesser than or not as talented and all that.” 

But there is a shift that happens, that the reader can follow along as the years pass in the book.

“My ability to feel equal has been more about the long road that I’ve taken. It’s after 25 years of performing, and after making many records, and after learning a lot, and after writing many songs and now after writing this book that I finally feel that there is no difference as artists between me and many of these people. The path is different for people.”

Much of the book takes place in Montreal and New York, but Los Angeles and the United Kingdom are also featured. Montrealers will appreciate nostalgic accounts of St-Laurent Blvd. before gentrification irreparably damaged its nightlife, or witty comments about the city’s anglophone community. 

“Because I’m not super philosophical, I felt that I can be descriptive of these places and these times. Because otherwise, it’s just a bunch of young people getting shit-faced. Unless you put it in the context of the space and get a sense of what that feeling was in that place, it’s not as interesting,” she says. 

“And for me as a young person travelling and having the opportunity to travel to those places, it was very affecting. When I showed up in Los Angeles, and when you get up and you walk out of the airport, and there’s that heat, and there are those differences, the different trees and the different air and different smells and all of those things reflect back to the past.” 

New York, Los Angeles, London: music centres of the world.

“You’re arriving in these places going, ‘Can I make it here? How am I going to fit in here? Am I a part of this story?’” she says. “I think that that’s why those details sort of felt important, because it really gave a sense of that kind of wanting to belong in a way.”

Though Wainwright has written many songs in her life, she said that writing the memoir was not an easy task for her. She almost didn’t complete it. 

But one of the strengths of the book might very well originate in her songwriting skills, a medium in which every word must serve a purpose. Stories I Might Regret Telling You has something to say, and Wainwright does not waste time belabouring the points she is making. Her observations are concise, but they cut right to the meat of what’s going on. 

Though she discusses her songs and those of her family members, the book remains accessible to readers who aren’t familiar with her music or that of her parents and brother — those who are are sure to gain some valuable insight into the meaning and context of the many discographies she brings up.

“My hope was to widen my audience,” she explains, “that the book is not for the people who are in the book.” ■

This article was originally published in the April issue of Cult MTL.

For more on her book and music, please visit the Martha Wainwright website.

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section