I Got A Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock Da Capo Press, 336 pp., $25
That it's taken nearly four decades since his 1973 plane crash death at the young age of 30 for a biography of singer-songwriter Jim Croce to come out is a shame. However, while I Got A Name is an insightful look at the denim-jacketed/handlebar-mustachioed man and his music, there's still a better book out there waiting to be written.
Croce's widow and her current husband wrote the majority of the manuscript in the early '90s, making it more of a marriage memoir than biography. And the book is two-thirds complete before Croce records the first of his three major-label records, which spawned a slew of hits including "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" (who, it turns out, was a based on a real person), "You Don't Mess Around with Jim," "Operator," "Time In a Bottle" and "I Got a Name."
The book does shed light on Croce's near decade of struggling in the music business (in which Ingrid had influence as singing/writing partner), as well as the series of blue collar jobs he took. While they offered little in money, they were rich with characters and circumstances that Croce would later use in many story songs like "Leroy Brown," "Roller Derby Queen," "Speedball Tucker" and "Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy."
We also get reprints of Jim's love letters, and insight into the shady contracts he happily signed while ignoring Ingrid's reservations. Readers also learn about the birth of their son, Adrian James (today a performer/music exec himself who goes by A.J.) as well as a second boy who was stillborn.
But I Got a Name has a huge flaw in my eyes, because the bulk of the narrative is presented in dialogue format within quotation marks. Never mind that it would be impossible for Ingrid to vividly recall conversations and words from many years before (and often with usage that just screams stage-y dialogue), but she also includes as fact conversations and incidents that she has no firsthand knowledge of, was not present for, and would have no idea of what was actually said.
And while fans embrace the easygoing troubadour side of Croce, Ingrid also details incidents of drug intake, mental and physical abuse, and his appetite for groupies. The narrative is not always pretty. And I'm not just talking about when a raised-Italian Catholic adult Jim gets a ceremonial cut in his penis during his conversion to Ingrid's Jewish religion!
In the years since his death, Ingrid Croce has been a strong force in promoting her late husband's music, be it fighting for royalties, issuing new CDs and DVDs, penning cookbooks --including the ingeniusely-named Thyme in a Bottle --and operating Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar in San Diego.
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And -- like Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and Kurt Cobain --the tantalizing question of what Jim Croce would have done with his music if he had lived longer is only up for speculation.
I Got a Name does suffer from dramatic subjectivity and unverifiable instances/exchanges to be taken as a biography, but any book length look at Jim Croce is welcome and long overdue, and few would argue that anyone knew him better than this tome's co-author.