Monday, September 17, 2012

My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman

I would think you'd have to be a fan of the Allman Brothers Band to have reason to pick up this memoir.  If not, perhaps the reader wants a glimpse of what it is to be a rock star in the '60's and '70's (and many years there after).  In as much as a book could arouse curiosity in some one's music My Cross to Bear is a tease; it is more of a 'how I got here' in reference to the summation of Gregg Allman's person than an account of all the details of his life.  For the music lover I think this book would make a reader give the Allman Brothers Band a listen if they previously weren't familiar with them, and once past the first few pages any reader would be more than curious enough to finish the ups and downs of the author's life. 

The two primary issues that seem to complicate Allman's life are women, and substance abuse--both in near apocalyptic quantity.  There may not be much original material here in terms of 'sex drugs and rock and roll' but every icon from that era has their unique twist on the cliche.  Allman's take on the 'rock star' idiom seems to be his passivity: there is no sense of control or direction to his life as he tells it (or the book for that matter).  Purpose in his later life seems to be getting clean and in his younger days was given, if not dictated by the an icon even larger than himself.

My Cross to Bear is as much a memoir of legendary guitar icon Duane Allman as it is the story of Gregg's life.  As is to be expected there is a greater sense of intimacy than readers may have previously encountered concerning Duane's life that in Randy Poe's 2006 Skydog: The Duane Allman Story.  While getting a firsthand look at Duane we come to see how Gregg was guided, pushed, prodded force and even hung, to be the person he is.  Of everything the two may have shared it seems only music and heroin would be the two facets of life that Gregg would discover on his own.  Even then these to attributes are absconded by Duane: Duane took the guitar and ascended to the level where he is mentioned in the 'Greatest of All Time' debate, and of his heroin indulgence it's difficult to wrap one's head around his capacity.

Like so many in his station, music--art--was an outlet in which he could lose himself.  While Duane may have been an alpha-male of legend commanding Gregg to 'be in this band' 'write this song' 'write ten more' 'play the organ' Gregg not only enjoyed it, but needed such a dominate personality in his life.  He complains about never having enough to eat, being broke, exhausted, and always strung out, but for all his virtue and (an astounding number of) vices Duane gave him direction.

So far as the telling of the story goes the humor and honesty come through both in shocking amounts.  At times Allman preaches, other times he tells jokes only appropriate for a dive-bar; he is always unfiltered and swears enough to shock even me.  (After reading this I no longer consider myself to be foul-mouthed.)  Often times what he says is funny, and unusually how he expresses himself is hilarious.  The humor works particularly well when he's telling you why he has no time for Jerry Garcia, why--and exactly how badly--he hated his band manager, the good years he was married to Cher (that's right, years, and for his part he has nothing bad to say) or what he thought of her singing voice, or how much he disliked long time band mate Dickey Betts.  The honesty only gets disturbing when he talks about himself and his substance abuse; his desire to get clean and multiple failed attempts to do so. 

Allman's is an interesting life to read about but perhaps one I wouldn't want to get closer to than a book.  He is unabashedly biased and equally disenchanting yet not quite repulsive.  My Cross to Bear deals with a man who for much of his life most people would want nothing to do with: he employed and was good friends with a murderer both before and after his release from jail,  he hung out with drug enthusiast, and thugs of all kinds, to say nothing for his own personal short comings and even in his later life he would prove hard to related to.  My Cross to Bear was a lot of fun to read, I think I laughed on every page.  While the burden is nothing more than the totality of his life--the bitter last words he shared with his brother, the trials of drugs and alcohol, the insecurity of all his hard work and zero success that continued for so many years, but after completion of the book, the albums Eat a Peach and Live at the Filmore are as close to Gregg Allman as I need to be. 


Marion said...

Glad to see another review from you! I've missed posts on your blog lately.

Chad Hull said...

Thanks for checking in on me. It's been a rough month, but there should be a little more to come.