Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story

A concert announcer once introduced Jerry Lee Lewis as ”a man who’s so unreal it’s hard to believe he’s really here.” Readers of this authoritative book about the much-married, booze-friendly, ex-pill-popping singer and piano player may well agree by the time they’ve finished Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. It is certainly difficult to understand how the 79-year-old Lewis can still be alive and in possession of his unrepentant, biographer-assisting faculties—as well as what author Rick Bragg describes in the introduction as ”a loaded, long-barreled pistol behind a pillow, a small arsenal in a dresser drawer, and a compact black automatic on a bedside table.”

Lewis was born poor in rural Louisiana. When he visited Memphis in 1956 to seek his musical fortune, he and his father regarded the running water in their hotel-room sink as if it were the eighth wonder of the world: ”First time we’d been in a place like that.” Lewis claims he was ”born to be on a stage,” and just a couple of years after discovering the delights of indoor plumbing he’d become a huge star thanks to the lubricious hits ”Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and ”Great Balls of Fire.” It could be said that above all, Lewis was born to be, and to get into, trouble. From the midway point, His Own Story documents the performer’s many ups and often self-inflicted downs—professional, personal, and sexual. (Lewis developed such a reputation in the latter department that, at shows, husbands took to leaving bullets on top of his piano as a warning to leave their wives alone.)

It is tempting to borrow one of Bragg’s folksy phrases and characterize this book as ”more fun than a goat roping at a prison rodeo.” But with an alarming number of Lewis family members dying young, there is far too much tragedy here for that. Regardless, the result is an enthralling look at the birth of rock & roll and the ensuing life of its arguably most colorful exponent. B+

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story
  • Book