In the summer of 1980 after graduating from high school, I went with my parents and brother to see Coal Miner’s Daughter. I was so taken with Loretta Lynn’s story that I wrote my own song about being the daughter of a man who sold and serviced coin-operated machines. I don’t remember all the words, set to the tune of “Coal Miner’s Daughter, but looking back, that song was one of the silliest things I ever wrote. “I’m proud to be a service man’s daughter. If you should see a broken jukebox, holler.” I was still too young and privileged to understand Loretta Lynn’s life growing up in Butcher Hollow.
Sissy Spacek, who portrayed Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, decided after graduating from high school that instead of going to college, she would go to New York and try to make it as a singer. She eventually did, and I just finished reading her memoir, My Extraordinary Ordinary Life. Sissy was born on December 25th, 1949. She grew up in Quitman, Texas, and first became famous for her roles in Badlands and Carrie. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Coal Miner’s Daughter. She received Oscar nominations for her roles in Carrie, Missing, The River, Crimes of the Heart, and In the Bedroom. Click here to learn more about her.
In My Extraordinary Ordinary Life, Sissy starts by describing how when she was born, her mother went into labor on Christmas Eve in 1949 but wouldn’t let her father take her to the hospital until she had finished decorating the tree. She discusses her idyllic childhood when she was a tomboy who climbed trees, hated wearing dresses, and participated in numerous adventures with her older brothers. She explains how she became involved in music and acting as a teen-ager and how the drama teacher told her she wouldn’t succeed as an actress. Years later, when she won the Oscar for Coal Miner’s Daughter, the drama teacher approached her mother in the grocery store and told her Sissy wasn’t cast in any of the school’s productions because she didn’t learn her lines.
Sissy also explains how she was affected by the death of one of her brothers from leukemia and how she fell in love with the idea of being a singer when she spent a summer in New York before he died. She describes how after her high school graduation, she sang in various establishments and worked several jobs in New York before landing her first movie deal and moving to L.A. At one point in New York when a record producer told her they already had another singer who sounded just like her by the name of Loretta Lynn, she said, “Loretta who?”
She describes in detail the process of making most of her movies including Badlands, Carrie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Streets of Laredo to name a few. She talks about her marriage to Jack Fisk, a set designer who worked with her on most of her films, and how they settled on a farm in Virginia, raised two daughters, and eventually bought a home near the ocean in Los Angeles. She briefly touches on her older daughter’s career as an actress and musician. At the end of the book, she describes encountering a teen-aged fan with a tattoo of Carrie in the movie on her arm and her induction into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.
I downloaded a recording of this book from Audible, and Sissy does an excellent job narrating it. She even sings one of her songs a capella. I got the feeling she was telling me her story, not just reading it. I’m sure this book is available from bookstores and online retailers. I recommend it if you’re saying, “Sissy who?”