Monday, January 24, 2005

Straight Life

The autobiography of Art Pepper. A tremendous read. This is the brutally honest story of the self-destructive life of one of jazz music's greatest players. Art holds nothing back as he tells his life story of obsessive sex, drug use, prison time and thievery, while pursuing the art of jazz and the alto saxophone. Art's career spanned over four decades, though his playing was interupted time and again for long harsh prison terms in hard-core facilities like San Quenton. Yet each time he gets released from prison, he returns to his life of getting wasted on drugs and alcohol. Finally, in a desperate moment, after being thrown out by his girlfreind and rejected by his mother, Pepper checks into Synanon, a rehab center with an unorthodox cult-like method of therapy. Finally he kicks his addictions (though continues using drugs), and enters the most productive and artistic stage of his career till an early death at age 56.

This gut wrenching story really gets you into the mind of Art Pepper. If you can't relate to his life at some level, you at least get an understanding of how the mind of a self-destructive artist thinks. Although you may despise his addictions, criminality and seemingly racist attitudes, on some level you admire his independent 'I don't give a fuck about anyone, i am going to do, say, feel, play whatever I want, and I will deal with the consequences'.

The book was written by wife Laurie Pepper, from transcripts of Art Pepper's telling his life story on tape. It is augmented by interviews from friends and musicians. Throughtout the book, you read the story as told by Art, and then read the same account from a different perspective by those who were there at the time. It is one of the most compelling and addictive (no pun) books I have read.

For the past week, I have been doing nothing but seeking out and listening to the music of Art Pepper (a great collection is at eMusic, a great music download service especially for jazz-heads). This cat consistantly created great recordings no matter what drugs he was using or how loaded he was at the time. My next radio show, Jan 31, will be an Art Pepper special.

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