When people think of Jerry Lee Lewis, known to many as ‘The Killer,’ one of two things probably come to mind: a rock ‘n’ roll legend or a man who married his cousin.
As both of these things are true, there is more to The Killer than initially meets the eye.
Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times Best Seller Rick Bragg recently wrote a book about the legend and came to JSU to speak about it on November 12, 2014 at the Leone Cole Auditorium.
“Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story” is about a young, musically inclined boy; a rising rock ‘n’ roll star; a father who lost too much; and a man who fell from fame due to one life choice.
“I would sit and listen to him talk and think ‘this is the living history of rock ‘n’ roll,’” said Bragg in an interview.
Bragg got much of the information for his book by sitting at The Killer’s bedside at his ranch home in Northern Mississippi.
Bragg said one of his favorite stories Lewis told him was “the day he met Elvis. You had a rising rock ‘n’ roll artist talking to the king of rock ‘n’ roll about cars. It sounds very southern.”
“We couldn’t do a book on Jerry Lee Lewis and ignore history,” said Bragg. “We knew we couldn’t rewrite history, and Jerry Lee had no interest in whitewashing himself.”
“If you take the meanness, fighting, gouging, cutting, shooting and women out of that story, he’s like everybody else,” said Bragg
Bragg talked about how Lewis is one of the few people still alive that can talk about the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, which is “one of the reasons why the book is out there.”
He goes on to express that there is a gap between the music today and the music of his day. “Unfortunately, there isn’t music you hear today that doesn’t make you want to stick your head under a truck,” said Bragg. He also stated that Lewis can play Hank Williams and Ray Price and Ray Charles.
“He even made Elvis cry,” Bragg said.
“The first time I saw him in person was when I went to interview him. I thought, ‘surely I can handle one rock ‘n’ roll man.” When I showed up, he was just looking at me across the room, and then I thought, “well, maybe not.’”
One day, while Lewis was eating ice cream, he told Bragg about hitting a man with the butt end of his microphone stand during a performance.
As some content of the book is humorous, some stories “will make you cry,” explained Bragg.
Lewis lost two sons in his life. “When we had to talk about the sons he lost, he physically turned away from me.”
“It was great to realize how lucky I was to hear all these stories that music nerds would kill to hear,” Bragg said. He called the time he spent listening to The Killer go through his life “a gift.”
“Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story” is currently listed as number 16 on the New York Times Best Seller list in Hardcover Nonfiction.