Julie Roberts has had a turbulent life, as she vividly recounts in her new memoir, Beauty in the Breakdown. And she’s still swimming against the current.
The South Carolina-born singer erupted onto the country music scene in 2004 with the hard-edged, wounded-woman single, “Break Down Here,” and its dark, foreboding music video. Although the song rose only to No. 18 in Billboard, Roberts’ bluesy delivery, glowing good looks and intensive label support soon propelled her self-titled debut album to gold status.
In many ways, the glittering party her label, Mercury Records, staged in February 2005 to celebrate the album’s sale of half-a-million copies was the emotional high point of Roberts’ career (CMT.com covered that party.).
During the months that followed, the bright-eyed newcomer was slammed repeatedly against the wall of record business realities. She was assigned a new producer against her wishes, pressured to record songs she couldn’t relate to and saddled with an album cover that — believe it or not — showed her only from the knees down.
But these shocks were overshadowed by her discovery later in 2005 that she had multiple sclerosis, a setback she would not disclose publicly until years later.
Of course, there were triumphs, too — an opening slot on a Rascal Flatts tour, her own float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and features in national magazines. She even came heartbreakingly close to starring in a movie about her life.
Certainly, she was and remains a fountain of dramatic material. She writes that her father was so abusive that he often sent her, her mother and her sisters fleeing from his wrath into the night. Her mother, on the other hand, was so supportive of Roberts’ dreams that she eventually divorced her husband and followed Roberts to Nashville to watch over and encourage her — not as a clinging, intrusive stage mother but as a best friend.
Roberts is parsimonious when it comes to providing details of her romantic life — so much so that the only place she acknowledges her marriage is in a photo caption. Nor does she make a big deal about the come-ons from men she’s had to put up with — including an unsolicited comment on the comeliness of her calves by a famous fellow country artist and a sustained campaign to woo her with gifts by an ancient NASCAR mogul.
There are many more entries in her catalog of woes, including her home being devastated in the 2010 Nashville flood and an ill-advised and humiliating audition for The Voice.
Even so, Roberts seems to emerge from each catastrophe a little more determined and a lot more strong. The time may come when she’s overwhelmed by circumstance, but, as she makes it obvious at this point, she’s not going to break down here.