Art Pepper is a gifted, much-recorded alto saxophonist (he's played with Benny Carter, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, and in...


STRAIGHT LIFE: The Story of Art Pepper

Art Pepper is a gifted, much-recorded alto saxophonist (he's played with Benny Carter, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, and in smaller groups), but the musical interest in this long, dank memoir is barely incidental: Pepper's longtime heroin addiction is the focus here, with all the pathetic, harrowing, strangely self-congratulatory tales of degradation that one has come to expect in addict-confessionals. An unwanted child partly raised by a puritanical grandmother, Art grew up to be guiltily obsessed with sex, an obsession easily (and here, graphically) indulged because Of his good looks and the loose jazz milieu. But ""I thought, 'I've got to stop this!'"" And: ""Heroin stopped it for me,"" providing self-loving peace of mind. Thus began nearly 20 arrest-prone, fix-hungry years in and out of county jails, Fort Worth Hospital, and San Quentin, with a mix of music-making and burglary when not in prison. Pepper describes it all in repetitious detail: cold turkey (""It's awful but it's quiet. You just lay there and suffer""), prison-survival tactics among ""the dregs of humanity"" (through it all, his greatest horror is of homosexual contact), the cockroaches, the racism, the tattoos. And, after first wife Patti, two she-monsters to keep him company: dumb, suicidal Diane (""The Great Zeeero""), whose only way to stay alive was to join in shooting up; and creepy, tough Christine, handy with a knife at the throat. Then, finally, dangerously ill while on tour with Buddy Rich in '69 and ""finished with life"" at 44, Pepper tried communal salvation at Synanon-which he didn't like much; but he found wife #3 Laurie there, and that led to a methadone program: ""I will die as--a junkie,"" As for the music, Pepper leaves that mostly to quotes from colleagues and reprints from Down Beat magazine--and, though it's remarkable that he's worked so steadily, the music only occasionally surfaces as a major theme in Pepper's life. So: a sad tale, self-indulgently told by a never-sympathetic hero--flatly depressing and far from inspirational.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0306805588

Page Count: -

Publisher: Schirmer/Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979