Jerry Lee Lewis: still alive and making music, at 79
December 26, 2014 10:31 PM   Subscribe

The Killer at Peace: Jerry Lee Lewis's Golden Years
In the living room, directly above Lewis' chair, is a framed photo from the day in December 1956 when Lewis, Cash, Carl Perkins and Presley – a.k.a. "the Million-Dollar Quartet" – hung out and recorded at Sun. Elvis is at the piano, looking upward, eyes fixed on Lewis. Above the bar is a photo from the sessions for the Class of '55 LP, a 1985 reunion of Lewis, Perkins, Cash and Roy Orbison. "All of them, really good friends," he says quietly. "All gone." Lewis took his survival as a point of pride by naming his 2006 comeback LP Last Man Standing. "A lot of people didn't like it when I said that. But they had to accept it."
Jerry Lee Lewis is still alive and rocking, having just released his third album in the 2000s, titled Rock & Roll Time, though his most raucous days are behind him.
posted by filthy light thief (41 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
More diamonds!
posted by clavdivs at 10:40 PM on December 26, 2014


Jerry Lee epitomizes the dangerous, rowdy and out-of-control primal energy of rock and roll: the energy that really did frighten the bejesus out of the older white folks who saw the music as a genuine threat to civilization. And, hey, maybe it was! Haha! I love Jerry Lee, even at his most base and distasteful. That was his function, actually, to be base and distasteful. A true enemy of bourgeois middle class values.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the grotesque double-entendre song of his called Keep Your hands Off Of It, which was one of the reasons I chose to cover it* back in 2010.

*that's a Metafilter Music link, by the way. A subsite of Metafilter.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:55 PM on December 26, 2014 [10 favorites]


Lewis took his survival as a point of pride by naming his 2006 comeback LP Last Man Standing . "A lot of people didn't like it when I said that. But they had to accept it."

coughLittleRichardcoughChuckBerrycough
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:10 PM on December 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't think Little Richard or Chuck Berry recorded for Sun, did they?
posted by bashos_frog at 11:18 PM on December 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure about Little Richard, but Chuck Berry has not released a lot of new material in over 40 years, as far as I can tell. That said, Chuck Berry's 1972 concert in London is really good. He had a really good backing band.
posted by Nevin at 12:14 AM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Hehe. My dingaling. Good one, Chuck.

Chuck would later get in hot water for putting hidden cameras in toilets and making watersports videos.
posted by ostranenie at 12:31 AM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Shame about the sex with his 13 year old cousin. But hey! Way to stick it to middle class bourgeois values!
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:19 AM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't think Little Richard or Chuck Berry recorded for Sun, did they?

Indeed they didn't, and I suppose it must've indeed been Sun recording artists he was referring to, with that Last Man Standing title, as opposed to *all* iconic figures of early rock'n'roll, which is what I was thinking.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:25 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


He's the last among some country/rock'n'roll names, but definitely not all. At the same time, for whatever it is worth, neither Little Richard nor Chuck Berry have released any new recordings in a few decades, but the three of them have toured together in the relatively recent past.

The Killer's last three albums are decent, with the first two still having a significant amount of kick to them. In this last one, it sounds like time has really caught up with Jerry Lee, but the arrangements aren't ones to highlight the fact he's a much quieter man, now that he's approaching 80.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:58 AM on December 27, 2014


The Killer.


posted by spitbull at 3:38 AM on December 27, 2014 [18 favorites]


Jerry Lee Lewis is a terrifying monster.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:57 AM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


that's the point
posted by pyramid termite at 4:08 AM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


When you read Hellfire, by Nick Tosches (and you should) it's hard to believe Lewis had more than half an hour to live after it was published. And yet here he is, 32 years later.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:52 AM on December 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Here is a great article from popmatters titled Holy Rollers, Rock 'n' Rollers, and the Birth of Rock Music, regarding the influence of the Pentacostal and Baptist churches on rock music, the article also spans, as best the few words can, the influence of gospel music as it has effected rock music. The article is occasionally simple but not unkind.
posted by vapidave at 6:02 AM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


I came in looking for that Daily Beast article spitbull posted. I had no idea Killer was his nickname. Jesus, talk about poor taste.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:11 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I remember watching Great Balls of Fire at the drive in when I was 12. In the movie they of course covered the scandal of him marrying Myra. at the time I did not blame him one bit cuz I was 12 and very much would have liked to marry and bed Winona Ryder. I haven't really given it any thought since then but hard not to say 'eww'. I wonder what his career would have been like if that hadn't happened.
posted by ian1977 at 6:51 AM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Before, he made me think of movie trailers for terrible comedies about party bros. Now, he makes me think of True Detective.
posted by ignignokt at 7:09 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Interesting that the album was produced (funded, mostly) by Steve Bing, a movie exec, who's only other music credits seem to be previous recent JLL albums.

Wonder what the story is there, it's not like Bing needs money, maybe he's just a superfan who wants to see JLL keep making music, profits be damned - which is a really great thing to think about, like a modern Medici keeping their favorite artists making art.

If I had scads of money I would totally pay for, like, Walt Mink to reform and make another album.
posted by remlapm at 7:23 AM on December 27, 2014


There might be something in that water in Ferriday. Jimmy Swaggart and Mickey Gilley are also still standing.
posted by bukvich at 7:57 AM on December 27, 2014




Shame about the sex with his 13 year old cousin. But hey! Way to stick it to middle class bourgeois values!

Back then, those were the middle class bourgeois values of the American South. It just might be the only tradition JLL has ever followed.
posted by Renoroc at 8:15 AM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Neither Little Richard nor Chuck Berry have released anything new in decades. Chuck at least continues to perform regularly. I'm not sure about Richard. Does he still go through phases of thinking rock n roll is a sin for a while and then forgiving himself and going back on the road?

Anyway It's a major peeve of mine that Little Richard is still alive and Paul McCartney has not recorded a duet album with him. Why don't they understand that the world needs this? Hell, one of Jerry Lee's recent albums has Little Richard duetting with the Killer on "I Saw Her Standing There." Time is running out people.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:05 AM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


wabbitwax and remlapm, there's always Kickstarter to get these dream albums a reality.

Actually, that sounds like the most awesome use of crowd-funding - wish fulfillment for fans, so this kind of thing isn't only in the realm of billionaire super-fans who can single-handedly support an ailing/aging artist. Some of this crosses over with Sweet Relief and other efforts to support older artists who weren't able to set aside savings for their futures. There's another label/effort like this, who got money to help (southern blues?) artists, who then put on a big show, with much renown. I'm totally blanking on the label/organization and the artists, and my google-fu is failing me today.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:53 AM on December 27, 2014


Filthy Light Thief, I doubt this is who you are thinking of, but the rediscovery of Mississippi John Hurt is a rad story.

I also seem to recall a bunch of guys who started a label tracking down similar blues artists like you said. I though it was Harry Nilssen or Al Kooper but wiki says no.

Edit - it may have been Yazoo, but I don't think so.
posted by remlapm at 10:10 AM on December 27, 2014


Back then, those were the middle class bourgeois values of the American South.

No no, back then those were the working class values that the middle-class bourgeiousie did not want to see in public. That's a big part of why he was being prosecuted for it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:37 AM on December 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


Live at the Star Club is amazing!
posted by PHINC at 10:50 AM on December 27, 2014


Speaking of Country, I still think that the working class blues that Lewis did in the 60s and 70s, pure country misery, might be the greatest second act in American popular recordings, a ghost that Rubin must have remembered when telling Cash what to do--but successful, his last significant billboard movement came from songs like What Made Milwuake Famous. It also lasted decades longer than the Rock stuff. I mean early rock and roll had as much country as it did anything else--and those four could be proto models for a genre split that never really existed, but seriously- Country Songs for City Folks, from 1965, Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 1 and 2 from 1969, The Golden Cream of the Country from 1970, Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano? from 1972, Country Class from 1976, Country Memories from 1977, Killer Country from 1980 and the 1982 live album with Cash and Perkins, a lost memory of Lewis, who produced an enormous amount of work, and so you have to carve narratives out of this, and I keep thinking the country one is one that is not written about. (Though Tosches, of course, in his history of country music, talks alot about it in his book on country music.) I wonder considering his last couple of albums, if LEwis refuses to think of his ballad work as legitimate, the 2002 album collapses the history completely, like the 70s didnt happen. Also Gale Lewis is a great country singer.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:22 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Arhoolie.
posted by spitbull at 12:38 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Killer.

That article puts a darker spin on Dukes of Hazzard County.
posted by Nevin at 1:56 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Being an outlaw means never having to say you're sorry. (Speaking of cousins....)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:16 PM on December 27, 2014


One of the things that consistently both impresses me about human beings and disgusts me about human beings is that violent, misogynist, horrible people can have "peaceful golden years". The older I get, the less willing I am to laud, enjoy or even give two shits about the talent of people who abuse the people around them, particularly their wives/girlfriends/lovers.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:19 PM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


The older I get, the less willing I am to laud, enjoy or even give two shits about the talent of people who abuse the people around them

Yeah but where do you draw the line? Refuse to go the Picasso exhibit because he was such a horrible person? Not read the Aubrey/Maturin novels because O'Brian abandoned his family? Not watch "Chinatown" because Polanski drugged and raped a teenager?

Is the sum of who we are the worst things we do?

I hope to hell not.

The art is not the artist. Unless it's Jeff Koons, who, seriously, can go fuck himself.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:47 PM on December 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not asking artists be perfect--I'm saying that I have no respect or admiration for the talents of people who beat their loved ones, whether those talents are merely ordinary or spectacular. There is plenty of beauty in the world and many genius artists--even those who are never known outside a small circle--that I need not give two shits for the work of a horrible person.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:36 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


In other words, yes, I believe that as a society we should not support people who beat children, partners, or strangers in a bar who pissed them off, by paying them money to entertain us. I strongly believe that the net loss to music, art, sports, or entertainment is less than the net benefit to society by no longer tolerating physical violence in personal interactions and relationships. Jerry Lee Lewis did not need to hit the women in his life, but everyone let him get away with believing he did.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:45 PM on December 27, 2014


Not read the Aubrey/Maturin novels because O'Brian abandoned his family?

Not quite the same as murdering two wives as Jerry Lewis is alleged to have done.
posted by Nevin at 5:10 PM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah that Beast article was awful. Just a total American Gothic Shroud of Darkness lifted and temporarily revealed: the good ol' boy culture, the worship of small town heroes or things like rapey football teams to the exclusion of justice due to an inadequate quality of life, and corrupt murderous cops.

I give your everyday cover-up cop 1:3 odds on having done one themselves or helped a fellow cop, whether an old school lynching or whatever, and each cover-up for a cop is like murdering every member of the victim's family, just shy of it, in my furious estimation.

I liked the Dennis Quaid movie but barely remember it now...but even as a 12 year old at the time, I thought they deliberately picked Winona Ryder to simultaneously "look young" while being recognizable and comfortably, obviously, not that young.
posted by aydeejones at 5:49 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think when it comes to despicable artists we have to start with the present and make sure that society doesn't give breaks and advantages and privileges to people who commit despicable things, we should actively shun and not coddle these people, but the past scoundrels can't be simply erased from history, and we must recognize that even as they were assholes in their historical context, it was the contemporary culture that enabled them.

The problem is that our sense of celebrity and greatness that underlies our opinion of all powerful people and we allow them to get away with being abusive. There are plenty of obvious recent examples. But I still remember our old Colorado Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy and how he has the occasional domestic violence (wife beating) call and people would freak out about whether or not he would be able to play the next night or whatever.
posted by aydeejones at 5:55 PM on December 27, 2014


Also, being a scoundrel can help you become successful, it can be an alpha behavior, and our culture is already insensitive to women and the wanton mistreatment of "underclasses" so a successful alpha who literally doesn't pull punches really is just built for ass-ness and in our system, wild success and lionization, even as we move towards a more nuanced way of worshipping old heroes, in the way that a recovering drug addict might fondly talk about their escapades while trying to insist that they aren't proud of it and aren't glorifying it...but man it seems to be all they want to talk about...
posted by aydeejones at 5:56 PM on December 27, 2014


I've mentioned this once before and have meant to do a post on it: Don't Fuck with the Lewises is a Norwegian documentary about a drive thru liquor store and bar (they sell mixed drinks made to order to go) located next to JLL's childhood home in Ferriday, LA, run by his character of a sister Frankie Jean Lewis and her equally colorful husband. It's an unusual portrait of an unusual family - absolutely fascinating and very much worth the watch. Forewarning: from what I recall, there's quite a bit of racist talk and an incident fueled by racism in the liquor store.
posted by item at 8:42 PM on December 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Thanks for posting this! I don't have much to add to the conversation here, but the Bitter Empire piece in the post was written by Kaleb Horton, a good photographer and a funny guy whom you should follow on Twitter if you aren't already doing so.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:49 AM on December 29, 2014


The older I get, the less willing I am to laud, enjoy or even give two shits about the talent of people who abuse the people around them, particularly their wives/girlfriends/lovers. -crush-onastick

Yeah but where do you draw the line?...The art is not the artist. -Bitter Old Punk

This is something I think a lot about. Here is where I personally draw the line.

Does this artist benefit, financially or otherwise, from me consuming their work?

I have an old James Brown record that was originally sold before I was born. The only person who made money off me buying it was the owner of a kitschy record store in Palm Springs; when I play it in my house, it makes no one any money at all. While I honestly wouldn't mind money going to the many children he never acknowledged during his lifetime, if I occasionally put aside the knowledge that he was a real piece of work aside and throw on Papa's Got a Brand New Bag while I vacuum, no one is hurt and no one benefits. And if I threw it into a fire in some grand gesture, again, no one would benefit.

Does the art have anything to do with the abuser's crime?

People argued a lot about "separating the art from the artist" when Woody Allen's molestation of his daughter became impossible to ignore. However, here's the thing: almost all of Woody Allen's work is about a thinly guised version of him. A lot of it is about some old weird creep having a sexual relationship with a younger, beautiful woman under a clear imbalance of power. How the hell am I supposed to separate the art from the artist?

I have no desire to see Woody Allen make a movie about a professor entering a relationship with his student. I have no desire to hear R. Kelly sing about sex. It's disgusting. It's them describing their loathesome crimes through art.

Could I be promoting/boosting/enjoying/supporting the work of a marginalized, ignored genius instead of this widely recognized talent who happens to be a piece of garbage?

Like, I could go see Woody Allen's new movie. Or I could go see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I could listen to Modest Mouse, whose lead singer is accused of rape; or I could listen to In School, a feminist hardcore band who openly talks about injustice and abuse.

I mean, I'm not saying those examples have anything to do with each other. But a big part of continuing to enjoy the work of abusers depends on complacency. I'm not going to find any new bands to listen to because I can't be bothered. I'm not going to care that this artist did horrible things because I can't be bothered.

I paraphrase this sentiment on Twitter a lot: you guys know there are bands with no members who killed someone while driving drunk or committed rape, right? You know you can just go find bands that didn't do those things and listen to them instead, right?

How are other survivors of abuse affected by my support of this artist?

Imagine you're on a third date with someone who you're really hitting it off with, and you launch into a long-winded defense of Woody Allen and separating the art from the artist. It's just conversation, right? You guys keep dating, and now you're a serious item. How long do you think it takes them to trust you enough to confide in you that they were molested? Do they ever trust you enough?

How do you think survivors of abuse (and believe me, you know PLENTY, even if you don't know it) feel when you defend abusers on Facebook? Are you contributing to the culture that told them "there isn't enough proof, you can't ruin your abuser's life like this, you should forget about it and move on"? How does their opinion of you change?

Could I be spending the time I'm spending defending an abusive person/project on supporting victims of abuse, fighting against the type of abuse they perpetrated, or boosting marginalized groups instead?

I enjoy Ru Paul's Drag Race. I also think their use of the t-word, and their subsequent non-apology, is BS. I would like to keep watching the show; however, I have absolutely zero interest in defending their use of the slur, their "right" to use it, telling activists calling for the end of the use of the slur that they're overly sensitive, etc.

Instead, I use that precious time and energy to tell people I hear using that word in public that it's inappropriate and hurtful and not the correct word to use. I write emails to companies producing adult entertainment that uses harmful slurs to describe their performers, asking them to start promoting their products differently and explaining why it matters so much, not only to the performers but also to the consumers. I also tell all my friends about queer media I enjoy that is empowering to transgender performers, rather than insulting.

I donate to and help promote Trans Tech, Project Fierce, and Chicago House, which are all charities local to me that help transgender people find employment and housing. I try my best to be sensitive in my own speech and own it when I make a mistake.

None of this is intended as a sort of "carbon offset" to make up for the fact I watch Drag Race; it's just an issue I care about deeply. But you have to ask yourself, am I doing more to perpetuate and support a culture where these sort of abuses are seen as ok and forgivable, or am I working to make the world a better place?
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:22 AM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


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