Margo Price — Maybe We’ll Make It
It is not a surprise that Margo Price’s memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It, is compelling, honest, and powerful. I doubt that she’s capable of anything less.
Price’s story does not make for easy reading, but you never want to walk away from it or from her. Her deep commitment to the life of a musician and an artist drove her away from her family and toward years of an almost feral existence. Price does not gloss over or romanticize the hard times she went though, nor is she looking for sympathy. She is simply – and beautifully – telling her story.
About 95% of Maybe We’ll Make It recounts Price’s struggle to attain enough of a career to be able to support herself. The focus is almost entirely on the times before the release of her breakthrough album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. So instead of a rags to riches (or, this being non-radio country music, semi-riches) story this captures her journey from rags to marginally better rags. At no time does Price seem to question her calling (my word, not hers) to be an artist and a songwriter. That drive, coupled with a fierce commitment to doing things her own way, is manifest on every page of “Maybe We’ll Make It.” In what might be her mission statement, Price writes that
Looking back, there was a romanticism in knowing that we might be failures but we were talented failures in a business that championed mediocrity. Even in the lonely shadows of the burning spotlight, beyond the endless roads to the sprawling cities and trash towns, between the empty gas tank and the underattended gigs, we were spreading the true gospel of meaningful music and the lost art of poetry and songs. We would not sell out.
Price gives us a glimpse into a side of Nashville we don’t think much about. We know about starving artists, of course, but our vision of them is rarely as graphic as Price’s depiction of her time washing dishes, living in run-down houses, and eating food salvaged from local restaurants. And we tend to think of that struggle as a short-term situation, but it took Price over a decade – 14 years of busking, singing at “open mics,” and, always writing songs – before she got to record what we know as her first album.
Price is both chilling and matter-of-fact in describing the challenges she faced in the music industry, including blatant sexism. One label, for example, rejected her album because, as they told Price, they already had “two girls” on their roster. She recounts her reaction:
That specific rejection stuck with me for a long time because it wasn’t personal, it was sexist. I wondered how many other talented women out there weren’t being signed simply because they were women. I carry that moment with me today, known that I’ve always had to work twice as hard as the men to get what I want. But the way I figure, twice the work means twice the practice, and maybe that just makes me stronger in the end.
At the center of Maybe We’ll Make It is a moment of profound loss – the death of one of Price’s newborn sons. Such experiences are always horrific but in Price’s case the hospital and her doctors make an unbearable situation even worse. Price’s grief envelops her; it becomes the lens through which she experiences every facet of her life. And it drives her to abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Price gave up alcohol (but not other drugs) early in the COVID-19 pandemic; in a moving essay in (of all places) GQ Magazine, she calls sobriety “the most rebellious thing I’ve every done.”
Although far from mushy or cloy, Maybe We’ll Make It is also a love story. We meet her collaborator, and now-husband, Jeremy Ivey very early, and the ups and downs of their relationship are central to Price’s story. She writes searingly about the impact the loss of her son had on her marriage in what may be the book’s most poignant passages. Also, it is interesting that as close as she and Ivy are, as romantic and musical partners, Margo Price is always careful to specify which songs she wrote, which he wrote, and which they created together. Making sure credit is properly given is a central part of her commitment to truth-telling.
Much as Midwest Farmer’s Daughter did in song, Price’s memoir also discusses the larger policy issues around poverty in America. (In fact, the book is really a 200-plus page explication of the lead song on that album, “Cruel Hands of Time.”) Price’s parents worked hard but were victims of natural and financial hardships well beyond their control. They were forced to leave the family farm they had owned for generations. That loss – financial and psychological – deeply impacted Price.
Price acknowledges how much Patti Smith’s memoir (Just Kids), which focused on Smith’s life in Greenwich Village before she came to fame, inspired her. Smith and Price have much in common – love of language, an outsider’s worldview, and determination enough to make it on their own terms. In that way Maybe We’ll Make It also stands with Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile’s wonderful memoir.
Smith, Price and Carlile are very different artists, but all bring an outsider’s perspective to their work.
Price’s relationships with her songs is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. She clearly takes songwriting very seriously, but she does not seem to be at all precious about her songs. It was particularly interesting to see some of the songs from Midwest Farmer’s Daughter show up almost as another writer might introduce a new character. We know that, say, “Hurtin’ on the Bottle” ends up as one of the strongest songs on an indelible album, but when are exposed to it here its just one song among many she is trying to work out.
Maybe We’ll Make It should be required reading for anyone thinking about how music is made in the 2020’s. That applies not only to artists, but also (perhaps especially) to club owners, journalists, or record company executives.
Margo Price will release her next album, Strays, early in 2023. It is now available for preorder. She is on a U.S. tour until, at least, the middle of March. https://margoprice.net
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Show Review: Newport Folk Festival 2022
review by Mark Pelavin