I'll always take the opportunity to see Rick Bragg. At the Southern Festival of Books, he told us he'd tell us the life story of his latest book, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story.
It started with a call from his agent. When you see that area code (212) come up on the phone, you think "Shit". His agent asked Bragg if he had any interest in doing a book about Jerry Lee Lewis. He said he should have hid under the bed. Instead, he thought, "How could that be dull?" Bragg's friends warned him that Jerry Lee was a little bit crazy. "He shot his bass player." Why not shoot a writer?
Rick and Jerry Lee worked on the book over two summers because Lewis has serious health problems. He'd finally kicked a lifelong addiction to pain medicine that started with back problems. He was flat on his back as the interviews were done. Rick sat in a rocking chair while he was in a dark room, and asked questions.
There was more than one bullet hole in the wall of Jerry Lee Lewis' room. There was a picture of Hank Williams, still covered with a black ribbon. Lewis loved Hank. And, the whole time Rick was thinking, "I'm in no danger. He wouldn't shoot me on purpose."
Of Jerry Lee Lewis, Bragg says, "He has lived his life exactly as he wanted to, and he owns his sin." Jerry Lee Lewis said, I have "Such sins at my back, it would kill me to turn around." Bragg admitted it was a trick to make readers feel some kind of sympathy for him.
Bragg only talked to Jerry Lee Lewis in the afternoons. Like Bragg, he was not an early riser. And he had that Southern phenomenon of not turning off TV, so he'd watch High Chaparral and other westerns.
And, Jerry Lee Lewis calls people "The Killer" if he likes you or wants to win you over.
Rick Bragg, who already owned the audience, read from Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, answered questions, and continued to tell us stories.
Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story by Rick Bragg. HarperCollins. 2014. ISBN 9780062078223 (hardcover), 512p.