Friday, October 28, 2022

Jerry Lee Lewis, 1935-2022

Rest in Peace Jerry Lee Lewis, a complicated man. He was equal parts gifted, profane, and egocentric, deeply flawed, burdened by talent in an era when blazing a trail meant fucking up without much precedent. He will always be defined by his recklessness, some of it brutal and damaging, much of it unforgivable, but also by his scintillating gifts, his vast knowledge of, and deep love for, the Great Americana Songbook, to which he contributed in astonishing, break-the-mold ways. His early records still ignite any room they're played in, his Wilderness Years in the 1960s were both unfair and just, and his commercial resurgence via his honky tonk records in the late-60 and 1970s was, in its peaks and valleys, movingly authentic. He was one of a kind, and he reveled in that immaturely and was crippled by it in unfathomable ways. 

I never met him, and didn't really want to. He was Myth decades ago. Despite his personal shortcomings, which anyone interested in his life and career will always need to reckon with, his piano playing, singing, showmanship, interpretive gifts, and native energies onstage were remarkable, and will live on eternally no matter what the hell you or I think about the man. It all coalesced one night at the Star-Club in Hamburg in 1964, a performance so astonishing to me that I wrote a book about it.

"Y'know, there's nothin' like tearing up a good club now and then," he once said. Watch out Heavens, or Hell.

Photo by David McClister
Artwork by Jon Langford

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