‘Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,’ by Rick Bragg

Stephen King reviews Rick Bragg’s new book about the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis.

My mother first clapped eyes on Jerry Lee Lewis in 1958, when he performed “Great Balls of Fire” on one of Dick Clark’s shows. There he was in all his leopard skin glory, with his long blond hair flying and flash-pots going off in the background. Most acts lip-synced, but that was never Lewis’s way. My mother — no slouch at the keyboard herself, and more than willing to play barrelhouse boogie on the Methodist church piano after she’d had a drink or two — was transfixed. When the performance was over, after less than two minutes of high-­tension rock ’n’ roll, she said softly, wonderingly, “I think that young man is crazy.” Then she added, almost to herself, “But he can play the piano like the Devil lit his behind on fire.”

Yes. Just like that. And although Rick Bragg belabors the point, it makes this overlong biography worth reading.

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