Chris Price and Joe Harland are two English mates who first working for BBC Radio 1. They are music nuts, but their tastes differ widely. For instance, Chris is obsessed with the music of Gram Parsons, while Joe doesn’t like him at all.
Nevertheless, the two conceive the idea of traveling across America with the aim of finding the places significant to Parson’s story and in the process, finding the heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll America. The story of that trip is Live Fast, Die Young: Misadventures in Rock ‘n Roll America.
This seems like an odd plan at best, as Gram’s music certainly does not dwell in the heart of American Rock, While his music is not always strictly “country,” as Joe keeps insisting, certainly his influences were more country and folk than rock ‘n’ roll.
But any excuse for a road trip, I say, and this one is a lot of fun. Joe and Chris meet interesting characters, including Gram Parson’s daughter and his former road manager,Phil Kaufman. In Nashville, they hang out with John Carter Cash and tour Johnny Cash’s own studio. They stay in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram died of a drug overdose, and visit Waycross, Georgia, where he grew up, as well as Winter Haven,Florida, where he was born.
Along the way, they also visit the “Crossroads,” in Clarksdale, Mississippi where Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the Devil, and attempt to do the same. They enjoy the charms of Charleston, South Carolina and visit a county fair, enduring the endless empty stretches of Oklahoma and Kansas. They visit Graceland and Tupelo, Mississippi, where Elvis was born.
Joe and Chris also grow mustaches, attempt to learn the ukelele, act out their western fantasies in Pioneertown, and visit the Grand Canyon.
While few of the places visited have anything to do with the heart of rock ‘n roll, and indeed, they came closer to the heart of blues and country, this tale is a fun and fascinating one just the same.
The main quibble I have with Live Fast, Die Young is that there are no pictures. I really do feel that road books need photographs, especially when there is so much talk of picture-taking. Even if the photos were only black and white, the book would have been enhanced by their inclusion.
The true friendship of these two and their humor and openness to an American adventure make this book a very worthwhile read. just the same. You’ll enjoy your trip with Joe and Chris, even though they may say things that frustrate you once in a while, just as they frustrate each other, when it comes to music.
Even without pictures, though, Live Fast, Die Young is a great vicarious trip across America.