ou can't judge a book by its cover - unless of course you're Ringo Starr. That bygone Beatle's blurb for Ray Wylie Hubbard's freewheeling memoir goes like this: "Ray has written a book. I haven't read it yet, but I'm sure it's great."
Ringo the reluctant reader is absolutely right. It's a great book even if it doesn't exactly read like a book. If you were ever fortunate enough to sit down with Ray Wylie Hubbard and listen while he talked to you about his life, it's unlikely he would start at the beginning with his birth and childhood and on up to the present day. He's much too creative and digressive a raconteur to be bound by linear constraints.
Oh, he'd probably start at the beginning with his boyhood in Soper, Okla. - but before you know it something would remind him of something else that happened later in life - and he would follow that tangent. And at certain points during this evening, a guitar would appear, and Ray would sing a song for you.
And that's exactly the way this rollicking chronicle is laid out. He starts with one of his earliest memories - beaning his cousin with a rock and promising God he would go to the local Baptist Church every Sunday for five years if his cousin recovered. And succeeding chapters cover his early days in the music business, his struggles with alcoholism and depression and his unorthodox spiritual awakening.
But these straight autobiographical chapters are interspersed with stream-of-consciousness road stories as full of wit and whimsy as they are lacking in punctuation and capitalization - like the time he was kidnapped by members of Willie Nelson's crew or the time his band mate refused to hand over his wallet to an armed robber because he didn't want to give up the driver's license that it took him several attempts to attain. You'll also meet the original redneck mother that inspired Hubbard's biggest hit.
And then there are lyrics from Hubbard's impressive musical catalog because it turns out Townes Van Zandt was right - song lyrics should be able to stand on their own without music.
One could read this as three separate books - an autobiography, a meandering melange of memories and a songbook, but it's much more fun the way Hubbard has laid it out. It feels like you're spending an evening just hanging out with a great Americana artist at the top of his game. An unforgettable evening.
It's just too bad Ringo couldn't be there.