Maybe it's true that Faron Young didn't get enough recognition. The man had more than eighty hits during his career, a feat even Mariah Carey has yet to reach. Yet Mariah Carey is mostly a household name. Faron Young isn't. Despite working in record stores and thinking I knew a lot about country music, I have discovered how wrong I was.
Diane Diekman's biography of the biggest star you've never heard of, Live Fast, Love Hard, set me straight. Faron Young rose from an abusive household to become a country music star who began before Elvis and finished well after the King had changed the face of popular music forever. A fixture at the Grand Ole Opry and a force in the country music landscape, this is one star whose shine has faded, perhaps without cause.
Faron Young did more than watch all those hits climb the country music charts. He founded the Music City News, a long-running, well-respected country music magazine -- and did it with honesty and integrity during a time when payola ruled the day. He took care of the people around him, as much as he could. And, of course, like all good musicians, he touched his fans deeply, including the one who decided to write his biography despite not having any sort of writing background whatsoever.
Diekman acquits herself well in this freshman outing. She gives us a clear idea of who Faron was and what he was about. While we never quite see first-hand the aftermath of the reasons why she was implored to be kind to him in this book, we see enough of Young's mean streak to understand where the plea came from.
Yet this mean streak is balanced by a loyalty that was rare in a time when road musicians didn't play on recordings and when studio bands didn't tour. When a star's backing band often resembled a revolving door -- complete with ill-fitting uniforms. When musicians drove themselves to gigs, and when drugs and alcohol were the only way to make this impossible lifestyle happen. Faron Young did well by many of these musicians -- but not all of them. His generosity was unpredictable and would never manifest when sought out. Spontaneity was the name of the game, accompanied with a no-holds-barred attitude toward the recipient.
What struck me most about the story of Faron Young was how typical it was -- in a sense, if you've heard his story, you've also heard the story of many of the men making music in the 1950s and early 1960s. The days on the road, the splurges on new cars, the nights at the Grand Ole Opry.
But go back and look at that track record. Eighty songs on the country music charts. Faron Young was more than a typical music star. He had to be in order to meet with that much success. This is a point that I wish Diekman had been better able to emphasize in the book. Young's generosity is well documented, as is his inability to be a good husband and father. What lacks is Young's drive to make hit records.
Perhaps the problem is that Young had already passed on when Diekman began work on the book. That in his later years, Young was all but a recluse -- a time period Diekman writes about with the right touch of sympathy and matter-of-factness. It seems that despite the large number of people who knew Faron Young, he'd kept to himself so much that no one really knew him.
That means that Diekman's inexperience with writing has no bearing on this flaw in the book. Any biographer would have been hard pressed to get inside Faron Young. I'm not even certain his long-suffering wife could.
There are a few ways in which Diekman's rookie status shows: broad, widely-encompassing statements such as "This is what depression looks like" are proclamations, maybe even excuses for Young's bad behavior. Facts supporting these statements would better serve Diekman's arguments for depression, alcoholism, and even the abusive past that Young suffered. This is a point that sticks out all the more, given how well researched and documented every other point of Young's life was.
research and documentation needs to be noted. In a time when memoirs
debunked as fiction almost daily, Diekman has gone above and beyond to
her readers the cold, hard facts. Chapters are short, yet each features
least 40 footnotes, many of which cite interview after interview. The
into this book is awe-inspiring.
At times, there was a bit too much detail, particularly concerning the revolving door that was Young's backing band, the Country Deputies. This man comes, this one leaves, that one returns. It gets a bit overwhelming -- yet a true fan will love these small details. Even casual fans who want to know about the time period will find the constant changes amazing. Suddenly, a band like Whitesnake, whose Overall, Live Fast, Love Hard is a great snapshot of a style of music that survived so much and is still hanging on in this digital age, even without the pioneers that made it what it is today. It's also a great snapshot of this one particular man who rode out many trends and remained a star throughout them all.
music owes much to Faron Young. Diane Diekman is helping make sure we
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