The Most Beautiful Girl
My first book, The Most Beautiful Girl: A True Story of a Dad, a Daughter and the Healing Power of Music, will be published in Spring, 2014. Stay tuned for details. Meanwhile, here is a synopsis and some nice comments from other authors. (The image to the left is the book cover, a painting by Julyan Davis.)
Foreword by Kris Kristofferson:
Tamara Saviano held up the Grammy she had just won. “Stephen Foster died a hundred and forty two years ago, and it’s about time he got this,” she said. And it was hard not to think that the words applied to her as well. The painful past revealed in The Most Beautiful Girl bears little resemblance to the happily married, positive, creative person she is today.
Home was where the hurt was. At age 15—never an easy time of life—she discovered that the man she knew as her father wasn’t, and the difficulties of their parent/teenager relationship understandably intensified. Alcohol didn’t help. It’s sad to see the attempts at a loving relationship (He taught her how to drive a car, forgave her when she wrecked his, got her a job and comforted her when she was fired the first day and got her another, and bought her a car of her own) erased by physical and verbal abuse.
Her life turned around miraculously and this memoir is the story of that inspiring journey.
The Most Beautiful Girl: A Memoir
by Tamara Saviano
I am at Johnny Cash’s funeral. The pianist plays “I Walk The Line” as a haunting gospel hymn while the congregation settles into cushioned pews. The lifeless body of the icon lies still in an open casket, dressed, of course, in black. The opening to Cash’s 1970s television show flashes on an oversized video screen at the front of the church. Johnny, larger-than-life, proclaims “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” and I half expect to see him walk out on stage with the Tennessee Three and kick things off with “Folsom Prison Blues.”
I shiver and pull my thin summer sweater around my shoulders. This moment feels like the real ending between Dad and me. He’s been gone for two years, and we were estranged for a decade before that, but until now I haven’t grieved either the demise of our relationship or Dad’s death.
I have a picture of Dad, his black hair slicked back like the young Cash, leaning back in a chair and balancing a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon on his belly with his Memphis Soul album collection on a shelf next to him. Both men were young and virile when the photo was taken in 1968 and now I’m at Cash’s funeral and Dad is long gone. I wonder if they will run across one another in the hereafter.
Cash has been entangled in my life from the time I was a small child, present mostly through his music, the ghost of a man I didn’t really know. In more recent years, Cash is the celebrity subject of magazine articles I author and the dear friend of my client. I’m here today in a somewhat official capacity as Kris Kristofferson’s publicist, but Kris isn’t talking to the media today. Today is all about his friend John.
Kris’s wife, Lisa, and their kids sit in the pew to my right. I’m on the aisle and try to collect myself as Kris paces on my left. He moves like a panther, slunk low, his shoulders hunched as he wears a path on the sea green carpet. I focus on Kris’s black trench coat as he walks back and forth. The reflections from the stained glass windows tinge his coat with shades of green and blue. Kris’s agitation makes me nervous. I’ve been unsteady on my feet since an Associated Press reporter broke the news of Cash’s death to me at 6 o’clock in the morning three days ago.
Al Gore stands at the altar behind a podium. As he eulogizes Johnny he talks about how he, Gore, was supposed to be the next president of the United States and if it were up to Cash he would have been. The former vice president describes Johnny Cash as a man of contradiction—like Kristofferson’s song “The Pilgrim (Chapter 33)”—“a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction”—and recalls how Cash faced those contradictions—he didn’t deny or run from them but embraced them as part of being human.
My dad was also a man of contradiction and Cash’s music is the bones of the soundtrack of my life with my dad. The Most Beautiful Girl: A Memoir opens with the scene at Johnny Cash’s funeral, when I am struck with grief about the unfinished business with my father, who died two years before Cash, and hadn’t spoken to me for more than a decade before that.
My grief led me on a journey to rediscover my dad and examine the lost relationship with a father I once loved. The Most Beautiful Girl is the result of that exploration and reveals a heartbreaking and complicated, yet, at times, touching relationship between a young girl and her dad.
The story takes the reader through our sweet early years before the alcoholism and violence took hold; my coming of age in Wisconsin; the teenage years as I grew angry and disenchanted with my father and discovered a dark family secret: Bob Ruditys is not my biological father. My life continued to spin out of control with an early pregnancy, bad marriage, and the trauma of my daughter’s molestation by her own father.
Through the hard times, my love of music kept me sane and helped me cope. It’s a strategy I unconsciously picked up from my dad.
A falling out with my parents led to a 10-year estrangement, and my dad died at age 59 without any resolution or forgiveness between us. During those years, I moved from Wisconsin to Nashville and built a successful career working in the music business.
In spite of the drama, my father left me with great gifts; chief among them is the love of music, which led to my career and success as a Grammy-winning producer. The Most Beautiful Girl concludes at the 2005 Grammy Awards, as I win a Grammy for co-producing Best Traditional Folk Album: Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster.
After Johnny Cash’s funeral, as I reflected on my relationship with my dad and grieved our ending, the journalist in me took over. I steeped myself in his music and made a pilgrimage to Memphis to tour the Stax Museum and Sun Records. I dug through old photos and returned to Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to research his family history. I interviewed those closest to Dad—and received an earth-shattering revelation from my mom, which changed my point of view.
At the same time, I dove into the extensive body of memoirs and literature about family and relationships, including Jeannette Walls’ “The Glass Castle,” Pat Conroy’s “The Prince of Tides,” John Grogan’s “The Longest Trip Home,” Ann Patchett’s “Truth and Beauty,” and Meredith Hall’s “Without A Map.”
Like those books, readers will relate to The Most Beautiful Girl and its bittersweet themes of family drama and the ties that bind us to our parents. The book is also an inspiring story of breaking away, independence, self-discovery, loss and the complexity of forgiveness.
Quotes from Authors:
The Most Beautiful Girl is Tamara Saviano’s powerfully painful and beautifully written story of her own transformation and redemption into a life filled with meaning, purpose and value. This is a story of her triumph over a past darkened by abuse and uncertainty into a life founded in love and creativity. Driven by hard work, a passion for music and her ability to forgive and to move forward with her life, Tamara has emerged as one of the best friends Americana music has. But that’s now. The Most Beautiful Girl is the story of how she became all she is.
—Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country
Tamara Saviano’s journey from child of an alcoholic father to Grammy Award-winning record producer left me breathless. The Most Beautiful Girl is a triumph of the human spirit that resides in us all.
—Marshall Chapman, author of Goodbye Little Rock n’ Roller and They Came To Nashville
“A courageous writer, Saviano explores a childhood that is bitter and wondrous, a place where madness and music mingle to tell us the truths about life.”
—Michael Streissguth, author of Johnny Cash: The Biography;
Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, “The List” and the Spirit of Southern Music ; and
Like a Moth to a Flame: The Jim Reeves Story
Music is the common thread that ties together so many of our life experiences, both good and bad. In The Most Beautiful Girl, Tamara Saviano brilliantly weaves together stories and songs to retrace the often painful but ultimately inspiring journey that has been her life so far. This unvarnished account of family dynamics that range from tender affection to savage cruelty is a riveting tale that readers will find both shocking and exhilarating.
—Dr. Gary Hartman, Director, Center for Texas Music History and author of The History of Texas Music
In The Most Beautiful Girl, Tamara Saviano examines unmentionable scars and unthinkable sins with clear eyes and objective accountability. The author’s singular style fortifies these vivid vignettes with authenticity that mirrors the legendary songwriters who sheltered her troubled youth. Like Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, Saviano confronts demons directly. She seeks truths tirelessly. Engages always. Her leanly crafted yet meticulously detailed prose proves undeniably: A truly fearless heart guides this remarkable journey toward salvation.
—Brian T. Atkinson, author of I’ll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt
Tamara Saviano’s courageously written memoir The Most Beautiful Girl proves yet again that familial dysfunction is no match for the healing power of love and forgiveness. With Johnny Cash, Otis Redding and Charlie Rich providing, via the family turntable, the soundtrack to many a riveting scene, Tamara paints a picture of her early life in northern Wisconsin that is as harrowing as it is idyllic. This is the story of one heart’s triumph over the human condition, told unflinchingly and without self-pity. No small feat, that. My hat’s off.
—Rodney Crowell, Author of Chinaberry Sidewalks
Tamara Saviano renders the truth of who she is with a gritty, unapologetic page-turner that will leave you captivated. Saviano’s storytelling is so skillful and refined, allowing her reader to trust and to be taken by the hand on this colorful journey of mind, body and most importantly–spirit. The Most Beautiful Girl is, in equal measure, excruciating and triumphant; ultimately delivering massive doses of compassion for those of whom she writes and for Saviano, herself.
—Chely Wright, Author of Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer