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.

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John Prine, Bob Dylan

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