Monday, May 20, 2013

Satan is Real – the Ballad of the Louvin brothers – Charlie Louvin with Benjamin Whitmer

While the Louvin Brothers were a country gospel duo whose songs regularly hit the charts (and Charlie continued to do so once he went solo), I believe they are probably best known for the extreme kitsch of their album cover for Satan is Real. I think that Charlie must understand this, as well, since he used the same image for this autobiography. This is his tale, as told to Whitmer, who transcribed his recollections and put it all together to give us this story of the heavens and hells that the two went through in order to "make it".

The chapters about their childhood are actually difficult to read because their father is described as an evil, sadistic bastard. He would beat them mercilessly for minor infractions and he would kill animals without a thought – something that he did his best to pass on to the children. They did some awful things to the animals on their farm and were responsible for killing beasts just in the name of a prank.

But they grew up with music – their father played banjo and their mother sang and taught them many traditional tunes that stayed with them. They soon decided that they didn’t want to live the life their father did – barely scraping by and working the soil from sun-up til sundown. Luckily, they did have talent and won a few contests, got a couple of radio shows and started touring, only being interrupted by spending time in the service. For the rest of their lives they made their living with music, together as the Louvin Brothers for a number of years, until Charlie got tired of Ira's drinking and went off on his own.

I think it’s funny that Charlie talks about how good Ira was at preachin’ and how well he knew the bible since he was a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, alcoholic womanizer, but I suppose that is pretty common with the religious. Not much in the book explores the music itself – shows, recordings, writing, etc – mostly this is a collection of anecdotes about the times they spent together. Overall, he is pretty even-handed, and while he says a lot of (apparently justifiable) negative things about Ira, he is quick to praise his abilities – mandolin playing, songwriting, and vocals - which makes it appear, at least, to be a fair account of their lives.

This is an entertaining read and Charlie does come off as a sincere and good person who just wanted to make music. It is interesting to see how different the business - and the music - is these days - something that Charlie lamented, as well. Nicely done.