Book Review: Read My Lips

Unauthorized bio isn't even helped by its own subject

Read My Lips

John Prine, In Spite of Himself

by Eddie Huffman
University of Texas Press, 224 pp., $24.95

"In spite of" being rejected by John Prine's camp, which considered this unauthorized biography competition to their forthcoming documentary and songbook, North Carolina writer Eddie Huffman remained steadfast and produced this hardcover – his first book – on the life of one of the great Midwestern songmen. The result neither conveys enough drama to intrigue a Prine novice, nor is it in-depth enough to satisfy true fans. Huffman's research, secondhand sourcing of radio and print interviews, liner note revelations, genealogical digging, and stories the singer told onstage are enough to carry Prine's journey from mailman to the new Dylan, through good times (Bruised Orange) and bad (Common Sense), continuing past matrimony and cancer into the lifestyle of a happily lazy legend. Yet John Prine, In Spite of Himself is frustratingly formulaic in charting the artist's output (introduce LP, detail its personnel and recording, insert Robert Christgau rating), and overinflates long passages of lyrics any Prine fan knows by heart. Worse than the fatiguing minutiae, the book's true failing is its personalized insight from the artist. Prine's things-just-worked-out-for-me life story won't capture anyone's attention the way his mind, voice, and spirit will. For that, we'll have to wait for the film.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More John Prine
Gift Guide: John Prine
Gift Guide: John Prine
Crooked Piece of Time: The Atlantic & Asylum Albums (1971-1980) (Rhino)

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 4, 2020

John Prine Beyond Words
John Prine Beyond Words

Kevin Curtin, June 16, 2017

More Music Reviews
<i>Me & Mr. Cigar</i>
Me & Mr. Cigar
Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes debuts a deeply weird and wonderful young adult novel.

Alyssa Quiles, Feb. 21, 2020

Revenge of the She-Punks
Revenge of the She-Punks

Rachel Rascoe, Dec. 6, 2019

More by Kevin Curtin
The Austin Chronic: Meet the Stoner Who Puts Plants Onstage at Concerts
The Austin Chronic: Meet the Stoner Who Puts Plants Onstage at Concerts
Zak Peters and Play to the Plants bring greenery to Austin music

Dec. 8, 2023

The Austin Chronic: A Guide to the Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Weed-Walk
The Austin Chronic: A Guide to the Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Weed-Walk
There is an etiquette to getting baked before the big meal

Nov. 24, 2023


John Prine, Bob Dylan

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle