Friday, July 24, 2020

Non-fiction: Review of Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughn by Alan Paul & Andy Aledort

I had a Stevie Ray Vaughan phase in my life. There was a one or two year period in my twenties where I bought all his studio albums, as well as a handful of bootlegs. The speed, the energy, the passion, the talent—all fed me like a drug. Putting “Lovestruck Baby” on the stereo and cranking up the volume as loud as I could stand it put the hairs on my arm on end, Stevie's actually crackling in the background. And while I haven’t done that in a while (kids, middle age, yada yada), when I saw Alan Paul and Andy Aledort’s biography Texas Flood, I took a peek. When I saw that it was essentially a string of excerpts of interviews taken during and after Vaughan’s life, glued together by Paul and Aledort’s adroit editing, I splashed the cash. And after turning the last page, with Stevie’s uplifting, dark, uplifting, dramatic, human story fresh in my mind, I found the book’s value.

Texas Flood proves the old adage ‘You gotta live the blues to sing the blues’ both right and wrong. Vaughan subject to his own demons, the demons of a rough childhood, and the demons of fame and fortune, until ultimately killing the demons, Texas Flood details the life of a man born to play the guitar through the highest peaks and lowest valleys of life. The lives of the people around him told in live stereo, it is their words, as well as Stevie’s own, which comprise the overwhelming majority of the book. From bandmates, past and further past, to producers, friends, colleagues, fellow guitarists, and a number of people from within the industry, all chime in to comment upon the major milestones and lesser known details of Vaughan’s career and personal life.

Perhaps the most engaging and interesting aspect of this approach to the biography is the differing views. Multiple eye-witness accounts to the same event doesn’t always paint the same picture, rather a broader, more conflicting yet colorful and informative picture. In Texas Flood, such is the result. And while the readers get a broader view to Vaughan’s life, a secondary effect is to get a view into the lives of people around the guitarist who informed and were informed by his life, even as the larger picture takes on more nuance.

While much media may tend to focus on the tragic manner of Vaughan’s passing, the most dramatic moment of Vaughan’s life actually happened five years prior. My mother was a social worker, and she once estimated to me that only about 15% of people with personal problems ever rise from the mud permanently. Most either get stuck deeper, or just trudge through the same sludge, day in and day out. Vaughan was part of the 15%. As the reader has the details of Vaughan’s childhood and growing up in hand, it makes the man’s turnaround all the more powerful and inspiring. I sometimes think that willpower is the hardest aspect of being alive to govern, and Vaughan’s life proves that indeed it is difficult, but not insurmountable—all despite the sudden manner of his death.

While Steve Ray Vaughan’s life is more naturally the material of celebrity biography given all he did and went through, Texas Flood is anything but an expose. With the multitude of voices of people who knew, liked, and loved him, it is a heartfelt book that gives readers a view behind the scenes into the flashy Texan we most often saw onstage, and the blood, sweat, and tears that kept him alive. The style of the biography something I wish more writers went in for, the fact that the people who really knew Stevie tell the majority of the story lends an air of authenticity and humanity that more academic biographies have trouble matching. And even if you don’t like blues-rock, or Stevie’s specific brand of music, his story is still something special for the way in which he purged his demons. I don’t have the stereo I once did, nevertheless I did put on “Lovestruck Baby” as loud as I could upon completing Texas Flood. The magic is still there. Thanks, Stevie.

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