Gosh recollects a successful career as a songwriter and his long love affair with marijuana in this debut memoir.
The author was born in 1936 in Pennsylvania and began piano lessons when he was 6 years old. At the age of 18, he had his first experience of truly getting high from smoking marijuana, which he says helped him to perform music that seemed to possess an “otherworldly character.” Out of these early experiences sprang the twin themes of Gosh’s life and of this memoir: a devotion to the salutary benefits of marijuana use—he later started ingesting it via homemade baked goods instead of smoking it—and the enthusiastic pursuit of musical creativity. These ultimately dovetailed for the author, as he says that the use of marijuana fuels his artistic imagination and offers him an atheistic spirituality: “I get many great hook ideas…under the influence of marijuana,” he writes. “It may sound far-fetched, but maybe I’m communing in some way with the frequency waves of the universe.” Gosh chronicles his career through a series of brief vignettes rather than in a thorough, linear history. The result is an unconventional memoir whose chapters can easily be read nonsequentially. After getting his start playing in New York City piano bars, Gosh partnered with the famed lyricist Sammy Cahn, and from there, his career took off; he toured with Paul Anka, opened for Barbra Streisand, and was awarded a gold record for “A Little Bit More,” a song that became an international hit in 1976 for the band Dr. Hook.
Gosh’s remembrance is delightfully unpretentious, which is an especially endearing quality given his considerable talent and accomplishments. His prose is as informally charming as the book’s structure is free-wheeling—as if the reader is being regaled with stories over a quiet drink (or, perhaps more fittingly, a shared joint). He discusses a wide range of personal and intellectual issues—the two seem inextricably intertwined here—including the reasons why he became a “staunch atheist,” the state of his marriage, and his adventures buying rare books and contemporary art. The memoir is spangled with tantalizing tales about the musical greats that Gosh met or worked with, such as Frank Sinatra, Björk, and Tony Bennett. However, his advocacy for marijuana can feel a touch strident at times. Also, his descriptions of his creative experiences after consuming drugs often rely on shopworn phrases that are more familiar than they are illustrative; for example, regarding an early 1980s peyote experience, he writes, “I felt like I was in outer space and one with the universe. I seemed to understand the reason for everything.” Nevertheless, the book’s virtues outweigh these minor vices. For readers interested in the craft of songwriting, Gosh’s lucid account of how he composes a song will be enough to justify the book’s purchase. Overall, the author has lived a rich, fascinating life—personally, artistically, and professionally—and he thoughtfully conveys the highlights in this enjoyable work.
An often wild and always engaging autobiography.