Book Review: 33 Revolutions Per Page
Tall tales of Texas and beyond
Reviewed by Kevin Curtin, Fri., June 15, 2012
Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothersby Charlie Louvin with Benjamin Whitmer
Igniter/It Books/HarperCollins, 297 pp., $22.99
Charlie Louvin was a good man: hardworking, sober, polite. Ira Louvin was a hot-headed drunk who smashed mandolins, got shot by his wife, called Elvis Presley a "damn white-nigger," and gave his little brother hell. They had an angel/demon dynamic not uncommon in siblings and together they were the best harmony team in country music. Satan Is Real begins in Alabama on the family cotton farm where pleasures were few. To Charlie and Ira, making it as singers was mostly about not ending up cotton farmers themselves. Their dream was the Grand Ole Opry, and the road to Ryman ran long and treacherous, but those "determined little bastards" stayed the course – playing hundreds of shows a year until they got there. While Ira's haunting high tenor trademarked the group, his boozy, self-destructive behavior threatened it and Charlie was constantly pushed to his limits trying to keep the train-wreck on rails (Ira was killed by a drunk driver in 1965). Satan Is Real is plainspoken in its prose and penetrating in its wisdom. Louvin's ability to recollect specifics makes it a historical read, and his talent for contextualizing events makes it profoundly human. Unforgettable cameos by Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Bill Monroe aren't name-dropping: They help you understand what the Louvin Brothers meant in their day. Billed as "a real-life Cain and Abel story," this posthumous memoir (Louvin died of cancer last year) is true in character though not outcome. The good son lives in this one, but the way he keeps his brother's memory alive makes it a superb duet.