His eyesight started blurring at age five, just weeks after he saw his brother drown (he doesn't suggest a connection). By seven he was blind and one eye had been removed, but Ray Charles Robinson's dirt-poor Georgia mama ""never let me get away with anything just 'cause I was blind. I was treated like I was normal. I acted like I was normal."" SO, when singer-pianist-composer Ray tells his story--in a funky, down-home patois that sometimes seems a shade too artfully orchestrated--his blindness only comes up in special situations. Like the problem of never knowing when someone's watching (""A school for the blind ain't the easiest place to jack off""). Or the irony of segregation when you can't tell white from black. Ray concentrates instead on his music, his women, and his dope, in all of which areas he has been an eclectic enthusiast. Starting out with imitations of his idol, Nat Cole, Ray moved from Florida joints to Seattle (just got on a bus by himself at 18 and went), then L.A. and the road, soon finding his own distinctive mix of ""gospel and blues with maybe a sweet melody thrown in for good measure""; but, surprising his fans, he has insisted on indulging in such longtime passions as jazz and country, singing ""damn near everything."" His professionalism, gratitude to colleagues, and audience-oriented artistic integrity (accused of going commercial, he said ""I thought I had always been commercial"") are impressive. Less endearing is his refusal to warn kids against drugs: he has ""no regrets"" about using ""various shit regularly for 16 or 17 years"" (after some arrests, he quit to avoid the risk of jail). And, as for women, ""I can't leave them alone"": nine kids with seven women (three with a long-suffering wife), two ""nasty paternity suits,"" and the joys of being an orgy-master: ""I'm like a chemist or a cook balancing the ingredients. . . . I touch. I feel. I listen. . . ."" With all that pleasuring, readers in search of an inspirational tale of bravery-over-blindness will have to read real hard between the lines. Ray ""didn't turn to God"" (and he has some weird opinions about the Bible); he turned to music and maximum satisfaction, and he hasn't scrubbed up the facts to make this juicy but shapeless memoir into a more likable or satisfying book.