Books

Visiting Brits Search for the Soul of Rock and Roll

Live Fast, Die Young: Misadventures in Rock 'n' Roll America by Chris Price and Joe Harland Trafalgar Square Publishing, 320 pp., $13.95

Friends and former coworkers at the BBC -- where they programmed radio and video music -- Price and Harland's jumping-off point for this music travelogue across the U.S. is to celebrate what would have been the 60th birthday of country rock pioneer Gram Parsons.

Price is a devotee of Parsons and country music, while Harland dislikes the genre and acts as the dragged-along buddy. But both hope to discover something about the U.S. which fermented the music and performers that they grew up loving.

Unfortunately...there's not much compelling adventure, or even misadventure, in the narrative in which both men tag-team their writing while trying a bit too hard to be entertaining.

The duo's more interesting destinations are Parsons-centric, including a stay at the Joshua Tree motel room in which he died, meeting up with eccentric road manager Phil Kaufman (who famously stole Parsons's body and set it on fire as per the singer's wishes), visits to his hometown and birthplace, and an unexpected run-in with Gram's daughter, Polly.

Other stops include '70s singer-songwriter haven Laurel Canyon, Graceland, Dodge City, Morgan Freeman's blues club in Clarksdale (where the pair haplessly await an appearance by the owner), and a visit to Johnny and June Carter Cash's cabin guided by none other than their son, John Carter.

In between, the duo are able to crack wise and offer Englishmen-in-America observations on the World Series, beef jerky, Liquid Paper, Christian music radio, The Dukes of Hazzard and the westerns of John Ford.

Unfortunately, they too often have little amusing or insightful to offer. And a visit to a music and food festival in South Carolina provides its more than fair share of tired -- if often true -- Southern clichés about fried food, the Charlie Daniels Band and redneck paunches.

In fairness, the book is probably geared more toward readers on the other side of the pond, and Harland and Price are congenial blokes that the reader does get to know and like. Still, their journey is a literary road trip that promises more on paper than delivers actual experiences.


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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero