I gauge a book by how fast I’m reading it. If I’m meandering my way through, plodding along, reading but not digesting and not thinking much about during the day, then it’s a good book. Meh.
It won’t enhance my life in the long run.
If it’s a book that I’m slowing myself down from finishing, cutting my nighttime reading sessions short so I can chase the rush the next night, then it’s a book I’ll return to again and again.
Like Tiger Man, it’s a Winner!
Ray Wylie Hubbard, the longtime Americana recording artist from Texas, wrote a memoir like that called, “A Life…Well, Lived.” It’s a fantastic, honest, unique read, this 174 page trip through Ray’s life in and out of music.
The book is broken down into three styles of text. One is the lyrics to his songs, which read likes poems. Another looks like posts off Facebook written by E.E. Cummings with a rambling feel to them. The other are more traditional, with commas and dashes and capitals and stuff.
Now, what can I tell you about the Ray Wylie Hubbard of today, the artist?
Well, at 66, he’s a legend in the business of country music, whether he believes it or not. He’s played with and written songs for most everyone who’s meant anything in country music – Willie and Ringo and Jerry Jeff Walker and more. He doesn’t have a big touring bus or a compound outside Nashville and you won’t have to slug your way through a massive crowd to see him perform.
Just pay your $25.
But when you hear him sing his songs, you know straight off that Ray Wylie has indeed lived a life well lived. And you know what that means: trouble. Cocaine and women and booze, all of it digested with Olympian speed as Hubbard stumbled his way into his forties still playing truck stop gigs and torture sets in skank bars.
And don’t forget the blood sucking record deals Ray signed out of urgency.
All that living is juicy to read, and there are plenty of books out there about artists spiraling into a vomitus bowl of soullessness. Thankfully, Ray decided not to lather up his past with a slew of stories about blacking out in some basement bar. Instead, the stories in the book (which you can get at raywylie.com) aren’t so much about what he did in his debauchery, but more about why he did it. And how he got out.
Fear and doubt, we learn, played a major reason why Ray allowed himself to stall his career. Hell, he had the chops, always did, even when he was playing with the Cowboy Twinkies in tiny clubs. But he lacked the will to beat back the devil and bring cowardice to its knees.
Until he learned to finger pick, of course.
Regret is another reason why Ray Wylie stayed under the radar nationally. He’d burned too many bridges in the recording business to be taken seriously. Again, not for his writing or playing, but for his professionalism, his lack of patience.
Until he got clean in his 40’s.
It’s then that the book really heated up for me. While describing his first days in AA, Ray manages to bring humor to the debacle which was his life. As he approached the first few steps of AA, Ray realized he had a lot of apologizing to do in his recovery. Making a list of people he’d wronged was daunting enough, but looking them in the eye, reminding them how he screwed them over, well, that’s tougher than a car wash gig on a rainy Wednesday morning.
Hubbard softens the dark spots with beautiful passages about his favorite guitars, like the 1949 Gibson J45 and his Gold Top Les Paul. And how to master the “E chord without the third.” Whatever that means. Ray lovingly describes meeting his wife, Judy, also known as “Mother Hubbard” in his early days at AA when he ceased to fool anyone any longer. Her love saved him.
If you’re starting to wonder who this Ray guy is, search his name on I Tunes, Hubbard with an “H.” Right there, press “Preview All.” Now sit back and smell the grease coming off that guitar, smell the oil in them words, the fire in his brimstone. Good meat.
Ray sounds like a man who for the last 20 years has lived a life, not just well lived, but worth living. It now has craft, purpose, a real formula for living, which Ray shares with us, songwriter or black angel: Inspiration+ Craft x Time and Effort – Fear & Doubt + Purpose = Prosperous Songwriter. Or human.
So now, with the book stretched open on a table to my right, dog eared and loose at the spine, I can’t help but return to the single best line Ray wrote in his book : “And the days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations. Well, those are some real good days.”
And with that, my life has been enhanced.