“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.

Cosas Que Leo #7: JOLLY LAD, John Doran

Jolly Lad Doran

“There was dirt, horror and disfigurement everywhere I looked. But after one stiff drink I could leave the house; after two drinks the fear started lifting and after the third drink I’d feel like an artist. Or to be more precise, I would see the world through the eyes of an artist. And after five drinks, well, I could take my pick of them. On a good day I felt like Picasso. But there were all kinds of days. Imagine being Gustav Klimt in Hull, the golden light of the low winter sun at 3pm in the afternoon radiating along The Avenues. Imagine being Walter Sickert in Manchester, the violent brown and black smudges radiating from your feet and along canal towpaths. Imagine being Vincent van Gogh in St Helens, the sky ablaze with stars. That is something close to victory, something close to beating death.

They laughed at me and called me a piss artist. And how right they were. I was an aesthete with a broken nose in a stained shirt and inside-out boxer shorts, drinking the world beautiful.

When you drink constantly, you become numb, slipping down into a sub-life, a waking coma. You become a chaotic ghost that exists almost at one step removed from everything else. You float through the film of your own life. You see the sublime in the augury of fried chicken bones and tomato sauce cast upon the upper deck floor of a bus. You can divine a narrative among the finger-drawn doodles on the misted windows. You can feel your destiny in hundreds of individual condensation droplets on the glass turning red, then amber, then green.

Everything that you’d worried about a few hours previously… Where will I get the money from? What if he beats me up? Am I seriously ill? Am I dying? Have I got cancer? What will she say when I finally get home a week late? Will she cry when we eventually go to bed together? Will she pack her things and leave the next day? How near is death? What will it be like? Will I scream and cry? What is it like to die? And now, after some drinks, there is just the sweet sensation of your life passing you by with no struggle and no fuss. The rope slides through your fingers with no friction, just warmth as a balloon rises higher and higher out of sight. I have bottles and bottles and bottles and my phone is out of credit. A Mark Rothko night. A Jackson Pollock night…

This is the eternal holiday of the alcoholic. Once you create as much distance from your everyday life as you naturally have from orange tinted Polaroids of childhood caravan trips or stays in seaside hotels and Super 8 film reels of school sports days, then you start to experience your quotidian life like it’s the sunbleached memory of a happy event. You feel nostalgia and warmth for boring events that are unfolding right in front of you. You feel wistful about experiences that most people would find barbaric or gauche or unremarkable. You experience the epic, the heartwarming and the hilarious in post office and supermarket queues. You develop permanently rose-tinted glasses.

But there’s no getting away from it, after a while the strategy starts failing. You start seeing everything through the eyes of Francis Bacon, through the eyes of Edvard Munch, through the eyes of HR Giger… Your vision becomes stained and cracked.”

Jolly Lad


Strange Attractor Press, 2015

295 págs.