Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story
by Rick Bragg
A Review by Kay McAdam
You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain. Too much love drives a man insane. You broke my will, oh what a thrill. . . Goodness gracious. . . I had great expectations for this book, but didn’t find a whole lotta shakin’ going on.
There is no question that Pulitzer prize-winning author Rick Bragg, born in Piedmont, Alabama, is adept at giving life, character and depth to southern culture. I recommend his amazing memoir and homage to his mother’s strength of will and character, All Over But the Shoutin’, and his biography of his maternal grandfather, Ava’s Man. They are elegantly written and captivating.
Unfortunately, to this reviewer, Bragg’s oftentimes eloquent, linguistic treatment given to the life of the legendary rock ‘n roll pioneer, we know as The Killer, doesn’t complement Jerry Lee’s piano-pounding, hair-flying, lock-up-your daughters style of living and performing.
Bragg’s sometimes wistful and languid approach
. . . Jerry Lee enjoyed the notion of the troubadour, . . . , the idea of a man just traveling, talking poetry, singing songs. He did not know the origins of the word or the history of the composers and poets who flourished in the High Middle Ages and spread throughout Europe before fading out about the time of the Black Death. But he knew it meant a singer of songs and a wandering man. . .”
doesn’t quite echo the strength and simplicity of Jerry Lee’s own words, I was goin’ out to play the piano and sing, and make the women holler. . . . And I’d hook them old pianos up and kick it off. . . .
Nevertheless, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story is worth the read, a well-documented account of his somewhat reckless youth in Ferriday, LA, to being the “Last Man Standing.” For a non-musician as this reviewer is, the realization that Jerry Lee is a self-taught piano player is a great part of his allure. His showmanship is another. His life as a rock ‘n roll pioneer is stuff that movies are made of (and have been!). Even though Jerry Lee is not known as a writer of songs, every song he does choose to sing adds a chapter to his own story:
We’ve laughed and you know we’ve cried together done a million shows
So I kinda think like I have every single right to know
Who’s gonna keep this music going who will carry on
Who’s gonna play this old piano after the Killer’s gone
(Who’s Gonna to Play this Old Piano? by Ray Griff)
A good question indeed, Jerry Lee.