|Everyone could use a little serenity.|
Art Pepper tells it like it is. Heroin is a hell of a drug.
Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper – Art Pepper, Laurie Pepper (1994)
I am not much of a biography or autobiography reader. Too many of them are self-congratulating, calculated pieces of semi-fictional propaganda. People tend to hide their ugliness, evil, and transgressions when they write their life stories. Bullshit, I say. Most autobiographies are ghost-written so then end up reading like the cheapest paperback you could buy at the airport souvenir store.
Not this bad boy! Art Pepper recounted his life to his wife Laurie Pepper, who recorded it all and transcribed the contents into this book. Jesus fuck! Art Pepper tells it like it was, never sparing himself, or his friends and family. He lays out all the ugly truths of his life, from his youth and the abuse he suffered, to his musical life, to his sexual experiences, and everything else that led to a crippling heroin addiction. He pulls zero punches and it is very easy to imagine his wife recoiling in horror at these stories.
I have never read a junkie’s account of his or her life that was so unvarnished, so un-romanticized. His musical talent was so great that it kept him afloat, where other musicians would have drifted into anonymous oblivion. Art Pepper was a giant, and for all the amazing music he made and recorded, it is plain to see that the world was blessed with very little compared to what a clean Art Pepper could have done. Much of his “prime” was spent in and out of prison. His health was always an issue when he used. He became a horrible, horrible human being, and by sharing his story, he lets us see how one can never be sure of things. Life can seem so planned-ahead, especially for transcendental talent, but decisions along the way will always, ALWAYS, come with a price to be paid.
Art Pepper covers everything. Since some of his tales are obviously colored by his drug use at the time, his wife Laurie intersperses his narration with relevant anecdotes from those that Art mentions, which is cool because you get to see the flip-side of things. So much of what happens to us is actually in our own heads, and we forget sometimes that people are in their own heads and cannot experience exactly what we experience at any given time.
This is not a tale of redemption, or of disaster, but instead it is a tale of a life that was exceptional in very specific ways, and also universal in others. It was at the same time a quick read, and a difficult read. The smart people among us learn from their mistakes. The truly smart among us learn from others' mistakes. This saves you time and trouble! There is no glamor in being a junkie. When you are a junkie, there is not much else in your life other than the horrors of being a junkie. Music can save your soul, unless you are intent on destroying it.