I'm pretty sure that in years to come if you were to look up the word "exhaustive" in an English-language dictionary, all they will need do is put a picture of Clay Eals beside the word and everyone will understand the meaning instantaneously. I guess other adjectives describing how completely he covers his subject in his biography of Steve Goodman: Facing The Music are also appropriate, but when a book is 800 pages long and over 1,000 people have been interviewed in its making you can't go wrong in starting with the extreme in comprehensiveness.
If you've never heard of Steve Goodman, and I'm sure there are a sizable number of people who haven't, you're probably going to be wondering why so much effort has gone into writing a book about this guy. That's probably a fair question and can be best answered in a couple of ways, starting with the people who were interviewed for this book, which includes Arlo Guthrie, who wrote the foreword and Studs Terkel, who wrote the preface and then proceeding down the line to Steve Martin, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Rait, Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Lily Tomlin, Carl Reiner, Martin Mull, Marty Stuart, and some woman named Hillary Rodham Clinton.
This guy obviously had something in him that he could touch such a disparate group of people across generations and that's what Clay has taken great pains to study and understand. Who was this meteoric ball of fire who passed through the music world and left it long before his trajectory should have ended?
You see Steve's career was always going to be finite -- he was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 20 but somehow held off the inevitable until 1984 -- and played every song, not knowing if it would the last time he got to play it. He was so successful at disguising what was going on with his body that it wasn't even until two or so years before he died and he had a major relapse that he even went public about his impending doom.
You might think you've never heard a Steve Goodman song, but if you've ever heard what Johnny Cash called the best damn train song ever written, "City of New Orleans," you've heard a Steve Goodman song. It was Arlo Guthrie who made the song famous and also kept Steve solvent. That song alone must have assured Steve and his family financial viability, especially considering that his medical bills must have been substantial.
It would have been easy for Eals to write one of those valiant tales of the little guy who fought against great odds to fulfill his dreams and turn it into something sentimental and smarmy. But that's not the picture he draws of Steve, because obviously no one can be that kind of saint.