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Straight Life

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  365 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Art Pepper (1925–1982) was called the greatest alto saxophonist of the post-Charlie Parker generation. But his autobiography, Straight Life, is much more than a jazz book—it is one of the most explosive, yet one of the most lyrical, of all autobiographies. This edition is updated with an extensive afterword by Laurie Pepper covering Art Pepper’s last years, and a complete ...more
Paperback, 616 pages
Published March 22nd 1994 by Da Capo Press (first published September 1980)
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Back in my jazzbo days, I had this one Art Pepper LP. At the time, I didn’t know much about his life, but the album cover told a story in itself. There was Pepper: a shady-looking dude, his once-handsome features coarsened by years of hard living, a bare forearm displaying crude jailhouse tats. He looked more like an old carny than a jazz musician. Yet the music itself was in stark contrast to this rough exterior: unguardedly tender and deeply beautiful, it had no earthly business coming out of ...more
This is an oral history with Art Pepper telling his story in short chronological segments with interviews of friends and associates spliced in. While Pepper is famous for his jazz and jazz is part of the story, there is more about the drug and prison culture of California at the time. As Art speaks (you know this because the margins are justified) you adjust to his point of view which is best summarized on p. 424: “I’d known him in jail. He was a real criminal and dopefiend, so I trusted him.”

I read a review in Harper's about another book written by Laurie Pepper (co-author of Straight Life ) about Art Pepper and at least 3/4 of this review was dedicated to discussing how amazing Straight Life was. I still have no sense at all how good the new book is, but a flat out advertisement encouraging one to read Straight Life could not have been more persuasive. I found it impossible not to be intrigued by the selected excerpts discussing Art Pepper's hideous childhood and introductio ...more
An amazing read - gritty, beautiful, sad, and pitchblack funny. You would have to go to Chandler to find an LA as simultaneously enchanting and repulsive.

Art is the ultimate charming asshole, spinning a story that soars and crashes thru a life wracked by self-doubt and bad choices, not the least of which was a heroin addiction that hobbled a brilliant career and left him spending most of the sixties in San Quentin.

But both God and the Devil are in the details. I am haunted by his descriptions
Ryan Van Runkle
Wow. This book is so heavy. I tell everyone about this book, especially musicians and art people and entertainment people. The down side about this book is its 500+ pages, like a tome. It's also excruciatingly painful at times. Pepper uses people, pimps people, but also loves people. This book is just so human and powerful. It's a great insight into the jazz scene and the Hollywood LA scene. The jail scene's there too. Pepper walks the line between depression and a deep sense of life erring on t ...more
pg 222, Art Pepper has just got out of prison for the 2nd time. though he has yet to commit a crime (they send you to federal prison for marks in 1957, no dope even needed). i've read some prety incredible books and bios about musicians, some standouts are joe strummers book, and miles davis' and frank zappas and etta james and john coltrane and bob marley and warren zevon and many others. all have some very special things about them, most forefront is artistry, drugs and outsider life, fucked u ...more
Allan MacDonell
Art Pepper's Straight Life may be the rawest autobiography anyone ever needs to read, drenched in drugs, sex, suicides, cult fiends, prison, mom issues, spousal abuse and rape, with a dash of jazz history. Pepper seems to pin the source of his human alienation on being a white musician in the black world of jazz, and being rejected by many African Americans in that world due to the color of his skin. But maybe the black musicians simply didn't like Art because he made himself so unlikeable. Ever ...more
Rick Barnes
As brutal, as honest, and as alive as Art's playing. I met Art in L.A. in 1972 or 73, but I didn't know who he was. I knew he played jazz, but I didn't really know what jazz was. A mutual friend had brought him over to hear a few of my stupid little folky-ass tunes. Art didn't appear to be very impressed. After he left my friend put on the album, "Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section". I said, "Holy Shit! THAT'S the guy that was just listening to my tunes? Why on earth did you do that to me?" I' ...more
Jul 17, 2008 Andy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: be-boppin' dopers
Shelves: jazznbeats
One of the hardest of hard-core junkies, Art Pepper would supplement his brilliant jazz career by stealing, lying and cheating to keep up an unstoppable drug habit. Even after incarceration he would bounce out and score again, get busted again and score some more!
The book has oodles of pictures of him loaded and looking ready for death. You've never seen so many torn-up addict pictures in your life. What gives his book three stars instead of five is his whiny tone all through the book. Typical
Straight Life--The Story of Art Pepper
Art and Laurie Pepper
506 Pages
ISBN# 0306805588
Da Capo Press

Writer's Note: Straight Life--The Story of Art Pepper is 35-years old and is a well-established piece of jazz reportage not requiring further comment, which has never stopped me. I have written this piece for a two-fold reason: one, to provide All About Jazz some commentary original to the magazine, and to anticipate Laurie Pepper's long awaited memoir, ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzma
Art Pepper was a terrific and well-known alto sax player whose potential was probably never realized because he was a dope fiend. In this book, Art narrates his life story to his third wife, Laurie. He talks about playing jazz and how it gave him access to heroin. His addiction led him to prison on several occasions. Where the book succeeds is in painting atmospheres of the drug and prison subcultures. It is a great book about addiction. Because the book is written first person (it's a literal t ...more
Harriett Milnes
After reading about Art's rape of a woman that he met and drank with during World War II, I lost interest in his autobiography:

We talked and drank, and the time went by. She was pretty and I was very lonely. . . We started lying close and goofing around with each other, and time kept passing. . . And as we're walking, all of a sudden she says, "Well, it was nice meeting you. We'll have to get together again." I said, "What are you talking about?" Here I'd spent the whole day! We'd drunk almost t
Maybe as good an autobiography as I have ever read in many ways-- Pepper's wife taped his reminiscences, then supplemented them with anecdotes from friends and family, and interviews and articles about Pepper from Downbeat. The effect is something like a Dos Passos novel, but it wouldn't have worked if Pepper had been anything less than as candid as he allowed himself to be. In some sense I suspect that the honesty he showed came about as a result of his time with Synanon, and that turns out to ...more
Jul 07, 2012 Jane rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Overeager college students looking to get in touch with real life.
I came to this book via Terry Castle, author of "The Professor," a collection of feminist/critical essays, including a very amusing one about her relationship with Susan Sontag. Included in the book is a piece called "My Heroin Christmas," dealing with "Straight Life" by Art Pepper. Terry Castle loves this autobiography, an incredibly detailed chronicle about his magical, horrible, creative and heartbreaking time on this earth. She says part of her admiration comes partly from sheer fellow feeli ...more
Art Pepper was a very talented musician, though not (in my judgment) a particularly original one. And he wasn't to blame for the fact that he wasn't just called "the greatest alto saxophonist of the post-Charlie Parker generation" (as the publisher's jacket copy says) but "the white Charlie Parker." The trouble is that he heard the "Charlie Parker" part but didn't understand that white fans added "white" because they wanted a White Hope. Instead he convinced himself that he could have been as im ...more
Mark Everton
Art Pepper is a wonderful musician - his elegant tone and graceful swing always puts me in a good mood. But his life - detailed here in a take-no-prisoners autobiography - is as dark and ugly as his playing is light and effervescent. This book was put together after Pepper's death by his 4th wife Laurie and she's done an excellent job as editor - carefully placing interviews with Art's friends, family and colleagues to help contextualise Pepper's own, sometimes outrageous, words. His description ...more
Straight Life was narrated by Art Pepper to his wife Laurie Pepper who edited and organized the book for publication. That may be why his voice comes through in such a direct and personal way. Or maybe it's because Pepper was such a fanatic about honesty and truth in his musical expression, and that carried over into his story-telling. In any case the result is a book that is a very compelling read, frightening, disgusting, and sometimes very funny (esp. the Synanon chapters). Straight Life is n ...more
Kevin Tole
I consider myself very fortunate to have been lucky to have seen and heard Art Pepper play at Ronnie Scott's in the 80's before he died. The result of those sessions produced 'Blues for the Fisherman' which is right up there in my prized records of all time.

Art was ever the great alto player. Supreme. Whilst at the same time being the perpetual gauche teenager. This book does real justice to the man and his loves not the least of which was heroin. He said on stage that he'd been addicted to thre
this is the raw art -- the book is an (edited) transcription of tapes. so it's raw and the sentences aren't beautifully constructed but there's still a music to them as one would expect from art pepper.

one doesn't have to know a thing about jazz to appreciate the life art lived. in his book he describes with clarity: drugs, prison, and cults. he tells things honestly, though one must be careful not to confuse this with "truth" -- there is some balance achieved through the insertion of interviews
Robert Linnemann
Art Pepper is a great jazz player, but a real screw-up in real life. He struggled constantly with his drug use. After getting to the end of the book I realize he did it to himself. Whenever he'd get something good going he'd self-sabotage.

He, himself, cut short his career.

The book is well written, the notes from other people are quite nice to get a biographical context. I recommend this book to any jazz musician or someone struggling with addiction. He shows what NOT to do.
This is one of the greatest music autobiographies I've read, but also one of the harshest. Art Pepper does not hold back anything and offers story after story of life as a musician, a junky, a petty criminal and an inveterate pervert. That he happens to be one the most important alto players of all time is a lovely bonus. If you're a fan of jazz or crime narratives, this book will not disappoint. If you're looking for tales of the virtuous, then move on, brother.
The saddest book ever! The man was a musical genius with a junk habit, like most of his peers. He was sent to prison for many years hence his career was always on hold. He never really kicked the habit but he did finish with a good and secure life thanks to his wife Lori.

If you want a treat stream his Winter Moon album! Realize that this man would finish second to Charlie Parker in musician polls during their simultaneous careers - East Coast Hot vs. West Coast Cool Jazz!
Tom Bim
Ok. Here's the deal. This guy is a musical genius. He is also a junky, a rapist, a thief, a racist and an abuser of women. His autobiography is a how-to-not and it's fantastic. Read it it while you listen to his music. Magic.
I am so glad this book is over. Art Pepper was a certified f*** up and it was really hard to read about his terrible behavior. This guy had a crazy, crazy life. That's all I have to say.

This is a long autobiography, but completely engaging and cringe worthy. I'm excited to delve back into his discography and listen a little deeper knowing exactly what he was up to during his "peak" years.

Jul 20, 2007 Tom rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: music fans
Art Pepper was a great jazz musician. This book unflinchingly tells the stories from his life as a junkie and musician, living the wild life in California decades before Guns & Roses found a way to market that kind of rebellion to the public at large. He walked the line, served hard jail time, made great music.

This is a wild and crazy ride, one of the all-time great music biographies.
Soon to be a movie it seems. Quite the story. Brilliant jazz musician becomes junky and petty criminal to feed his habit. Drug laws in California and general social view of addicts at the time conspire to make it harder to go straight. He redeems himself, to a point. It's so great that we've all learned our lesson and musicians don't do drugs any more.
Eh. Not worth the time. He was good at playing jazz (even though he's far, far from a fav of mine), he was a total asshole to all those around him, and he was a junkie. At least the book doesn't do a whole lot of romanticizing because really there's not much of anything to romanticize, he wasn't even eccentric enough to make it more interesting. Pass.
Jan 16, 2012 Thomas rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
More about his life on drugs and in prison than about his music... Book was published in 1979. A bit of digging online revealed that Art Pepper was dead a few years later. Took cocaine intravenously the night before he died. Not surprised... A pretty despicable person who wasted his talent... Sad.
Feb 01, 2008 Gabriel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone, seriously
This is an amazing book about a lifelong struggle, not just with heroin but with life itself. Miles Davis' autobiography is like Mickey Mouse in comparison. I love how it ends, on the inside cover, with the music sheet for Straight Life, the tune, which is as complex and messed up but also beautiful.
Steve Henry
This is a great read if you want to know how to fix heroin, get high on nutmeg, burglarize a nightclub by drilling a hole through a wall, spend the 60s in prison, get a vasectomy without anesthetic, deal with dudes in prison coming on to you, and play some remarkable music through it all.
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American jazz musician noted for the beauty of his sound and his improvisations on alto saxophone, and a major figure in the 1950s in West Coast jazz.

Pepper in his teens played in Los Angeles bands led by Lee Young and Benny Carter, then joined the Stan Kenton band briefly before serving in the U.S. Army (1944–46). He returned to Kenton in 1947 and remained until 1952, the year he began leading re
More about Art Pepper...
Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper The Genius of Art Pepper: Alto Saxophone W/Rhythm Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology

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