Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Dec. 4, 2009
Man Of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Timesby Dr. Ralph Stanley with Eddie Dean
Gotham Books, 453 pp., $27.50
In the prologue to Man of Constant Sorrow Ralph Stanley writes: "I've always done my best to honor what God gave me. I've never tried to put any airs on it. I sing it the way I feel it, just the way it comes out." With music writer Eddie Dean, he relates his life in the same speaking voice – honestly and with extraordinary detail. Too young to witness the birth of country music, Stanley's tale covers a great deal of its history along with the birth of bluegrass: his boyhood in coal country Virginia, a rise to fame and hard life on the road with his brother Carter and the Clinch Mountain Boys post-World War II, then Carter's death from alcoholism in 1966 and Ralph's influential career as a bandleader that peaked with an appearance on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. All the while, the banjoist interacts with legendary characters like A.P. Carter, Bill Monroe, Syd Nathan of King Records, and plenty more. The only things missing are photographs to highlight the narrative. You don't have to be a fan of country or mountain music to enjoy Man of Constant Sorrow, but an appreciation of American history for most of the last century helps.