Rickie Lee Jones: Last Chance Texaco
The "FUV Book Club" continues this month — and we're encouraging you to read along with us! Musicians turned literary authors have been releasing exceptional memoirs this year. This past spring, Rickie Lee Jones published her poetic and candid recollections of a life lived in music and on the road. In the player above, listen to Jones read an excerpt from Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour, and below, Laura Fedele's review:
Rickie Lee Jones
Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour
The only way to really learn about what makes an artist like Rickie Lee Jones tick is to hear it from her. Thank goodness she is willing to tell us, in the form of a memoir, Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour. If you’ve been touched by her music and you want to know more, you’ve got to read her book like you listen to her albums, just start at the beginning and trust her to take you on a ride.
Meet the Author:
Rickie Lee Jones, as a person with a driving, restless spirit and a musician who has pushed the boundaries of nearly every genre, has always been hard to describe. The effort brings up big questions, like “what is art?” and “where does it come from?” Some songwriters are expert craftspeople, taking ideas and weaving them around melodies, forming them into verses and choruses and middle-8 bridges. Then there are artists like Jones, who dig deep, taking the most specific and personal sparks from inside themselves and coaxing them into flames of songs (or paintings, or poems, or books). Either way, it’s hard work. But a true artist’s process is never completely seen or understood, even if the artwork that results from it feels relatable to the core. Only the artist can even try to explain that spark, and Jones does as good a job of it as anyone has.
Jones’s memoir brings us through her childhood and early career, up through 2006. She was always a wild, wild one. Bright and impulsive, she wasn’t pinned down by parents or schools, hitchhiking across the continent in search of music, connections, drugs, and soul. The most fascinating element to reading her keenly recalled tales is the self-awareness and insight she (now) has about how events shaped her character; she can tell us how specific conversations or kid traumas impressed her and formed her view of the world.
When 14-year-old Rickie Lee met a boy with as much wanderlust as she had, they decided to steal a car and bust out of Phoenix, headed for California. Out of gas and money, the police picked them up and returned her to angry parents. “This event changed my identity. I became Rickie Lee the person on her own. You treat me like I’m the bad girl, I’m gonna be bad. Besides, I kind of liked being out there and in danger. I liked the thrill of living by my wits.”
“How to write a song using my love and feelings, my humor, my life, that wasn’t just another love song about me me me? One afternoon [...] I began a story about other people’s lives that touched the edges of adventures I had almost had. Imaginary people.”
"Last Chance Texaco"
“A long stretch of headlights bend into I-9 / Tiptoe into truck stops and… I lit a Winston and looked up from the page for more inspiration. Into the dark? Into the trucker’s cab? ...sleepy diesel eyes. Yes, that was it. I could see the whole picture now.”
After Jones heard the song on Australian television in a hotel room, with an entire stadium singing along: “...the song I’d written for my only child, my daughter Charlotte Rose, the year she was born. 1988. That was the day I discovered that my song had a life of its own far beyond me.”
Jones isn’t shy about love, relationships, sex, drugs, darkness. She names names (Lowell George, Dr. John). On her time with Tom Waits: “We were religions, we converted to each other, we inspired each other and we spoke in tongues. He growled, I cooed. He softened, I growled. Our natures similar, both of us apparently lacked the ability to hang onto our core identity… We stayed in character for our entire romance.”
Jones gives us pointed insight into the arc of an artistic life that began with singing songs from West Side Story in the schoolyard, carried her through hippie chaos and Coolsville addiction, and saw her build herself into a singular and strong writer/interpreter who follows only her own vision. It’s an unrepeatable journey, dizzying in the telling.
Audiobook excerpt from 'Last Chance Texaco' courtesy of Simon and Schuster.