My Cross to Bear By Gregg Allman with Alan Light William Morrow, 400 pp., $27.99
If there were a classic-rocker version of the TV show Survivor, Gregg Allman would surely be one of the last contestants on the island, perhaps engaging in stealth coconut-bombing wars with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and David Crosby.
The massive cocaine, heroin and booze abuse, more than a dozen stints in rehab, a mental hospital stay, contracting hepatitis C, a liver transplant, dealing with six ex-wives -- and making the album Allman and Woman with one of them, Cher -- would have surely buried most other men. But in My Cross to Bear, Allman and co-author Light give equal pages to his musical life and his offstage adventures.
Through the book, Allman is a surprisingly unemotional, placid, just-the-facts-ma'am memoirist. Whether it's the deaths of brother Duane and ABB bassist Berry Oakley, band infighting, disdain for the music of the Grateful Dead, children or his fraught relationship with guitarist Dickey Betts, Allman lets the reader know pretty straightforwardly his feelings and opinions, with no hint of regret or self-evaluation. It works.
Allman Brothers Band fans, of course, will find scores of interesting anecdotes about the songs, records and concerts. Like Gregg's writing the lyrics to "Whipping Post" with the ends of burnt matches on an ironing board cover in near-darkness, keeping quiet so as not to wake Berry Oakley's baby daughter. Or how, stuck for a girl's name for a song he was writing, he heard a woman calling for her daughter "Melissa"...
Allman also writes movingly of friends -- some famous, some not -- who have shaped his life over the years. But the most interesting passages deal in his relationship with Duane, which, in the tradition of rock and roll brothers, might start the day with an affectionate kiss and end with a full-on punch-out. Duane is loving. Duane is an asshole.
One interesting revelation is that Gregg's last conversation with his brother before the latter's 1971 death by motorcycle accident -- just as the band was starting to break big -- was an argument about Duane's missing cocaine.
He asked Gregg if he had stolen it and Gregg denied it. It was a lie. On another note, if he hadn't gotten into music, Allman says he would have probably pursued a career in... dentistry!
In the end, My Cross to Bear is certainly no burden to read, and instead is one of the best-formed and most cohesive rock autobios of recent years. And the road is certainly not over for this Midnight Rider.