“Great balls of fire” was a fine and sleazy record, the yell of a tribe sloughing his senses. The day the record was released, the Commies fired their second silly Sputnik, a half-ton ball circling nine hundred miles up, a dog panting fearfully within, stranger than any Egyptian glyph. Eisenhower lay numb and still from a stroke; Nixon, large wet cow liver of a human, ruled. Charlie Starkweather, five-foot-two, “red-headed peckerwood” (the words of his confession), thrashed and skidded trough Nebraska and Wyoming murdering and murdering and murdering. How many times did Starkweather gnash and grin with sexy delight as “Great balls of fire” crackled from his car radio?

By 1958 Jerry Lee Lewis was on top. Of all the rock-and-roll creatures, he projected the most hellish persona. He was feared more than the rest, and hated more too. Preachers railed against him, mothers smelled his awful presence in the laundry of their daughters, and young boys coveted his wicked, wicked ways.

My friend Michael Bane grew up in Memphis in the fifties, and he has tenebrous memories of the Killer’s role in local society.

“There was this dive, I mean a real dive, called Hernando’s Hideaway. It was located just south of  town, toward the Mississippi line -a great two-story house, all black. When we drove by, my parents would snort and say, ‘That’s where people like Jerry Lee Lewis play’. My mother was real adamant about how, essentially, he was the garbage of the earth. She couldn’t stand him; she couldn’t stand thinking about him,

“He kind of balanced things out in Memphis. He made Elvis acceptable. Elvis tried to be good. Folks could look at him and say, ‘This is a good boy’. But Jerry lee was always a shitkicker. There was always horror stories. There was an aura of extreme violence to Jerry Lee”.

Jerry Lee is the greatest song stylist in country music. (He himself will tell you there have been only three real stylists in the whole of music: Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers, and Jerry Lee Lewis). A recording by Jerry Lee is an unmistakable as a passage by Faulkner. Bursting phrases recur throughout Jerry Lee’s music. “Think about it!” he yells before a strafe-note barrage of ascending triplets. (Scholars please note: the first “Think about it!” is found in “Foolish kind of man”, in the 1971 album Touching home). Pindar would have loved it: “Think about it!” How similar to Faulkner, who while writing his third novel fell upon the word indomitable and for the rest of his days did not write a book without a handful of grand, truculent indomitables. And Jerry Lee is permitted his vast liberties, as Faulkner was permitted his. Jerry Lee is the only country singer who can get away with yelling at his audience, referring to his musicians as motherfuckers, just as Faulkner got away with statements such as his description of a mule in Flags in the dust: “Misunderstood even by that creature (the nigger who drives him) whose impulses and mental processes most closely resemble his”.

Country; the twisted roots of rock’n’roll


Da Capo Press, 1985 (publicado originalmente en 1977)

268 págs.