Loretta Lynn, the eighty-year-old country legend, has a new book out called Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics, which is a complete delight to read. Like her best-selling autobiography Coal Miner's Daughter (1976), adapted into an Academy-Award-winning film by the same name in 1980, Lynn's latest book is all about her fascinating life, the interesting people she knew, and how she came to write her chart-topping songs.
Lynn's plucky personality leaps off every page of this book--her voice so real and so sincere as she tells the reader about growing up in the south as a dirt-poor girl. She tells her stories in a folksy, conversational way that makes you forget you're even reading. It's more like you're listening to her talk at a concert in between songs.
She opens Honky Tonk Girl with these lines: "This is me. Loretta. And this whole book is me, too. These lyrics cover fifty years of my sittin' down with my pencil and my guitar and writing about my life."
Lynn taught herself to play the guitar after her husband "Doo" bought her a $17 one for her 21st birthday. When she was 24, he encouraged her to become a singer--and she did. Doo and Lynn got married, by the way, when she was 13-years-old and, despite his philandering ways, they stayed married until he died in 1996.
In the book, Lynn tells us about those early years of her marriage when she was first learning to write songs (via Amazon):
I wrote the song "The Story of My Life" just because I was born in old Kentucky in them hills where folks are lucky!
I wrote this song in about 1959. It was one of my first ones. Doo and I'd just started, and I was learning how to write songs. For me, I could and can only write what I've lived. I recorded this song on my very first session on Zero Records and forgot about it! Patsy, on the other hand, didn't. I told ya'll she is my biggest fan. She loved it, drug it out, and wrote a couple of new verses to it, played it for Jack White, and the rest is history. Now I can forget about this song again (laughing)!
The lyrics to the song are here.
The Lynn song that I love most is "Little Red Shoes," which she recorded with Jack White, who produced her latest album Van Lear Rose (2004). There are two stories here: the story she tells in the song and the story of how the song came to be. Here's the latter:
Jack White had this melody track, and he and I were talking about trying to write a song together to this melody. So we're sitting in the sutio listening and talking. Jack was having them play the track over and over for me so I maybe could think of a song title or words. But he pulled a fast one on me! I started telling him a story about when I was a little girl and my daddy and mommy had saved up enough money and they bought me a pair of little red shoes. They were the prettiest things I ever saw. That same year I got really sick, and the town doctor told mommy I might die, and I almost did. My mommy put my little red shoes away thinking I would never get to wear them. Well, I did get better and I did wear those shoes, and how I loved them! I was just sitting and talking to Jack, telling him all about this. I didn't know he was taping me. When we were done he said, "Well, there's the song!"
I said, "What?"
He played it back to me, and I said, "Are you kidding me?"
He said, "No," and he meant it.
Funny thing is a lot of people have told me how much they love that track of me just talking to Jack's music.
And, again, here are they words to the song "Little Red Shoes." They're adorable. You can also listen to it. I just listened to the song again and it made me realize how right Elvis Costello is when he writes the following in the foreword to the book (but about another song): "Now it was time for Loretta to fix one line that had dropped out on a live recording. I was gathering up our various drafts as Loretta slipped into the vocal booth. As I was closing my guitar case, I heard what I took to be a tape of the flawed live recording. Looking up, I saw it was actually Loretta delivering a first-take performance that few singers could achieve without an hour of warm-up. No preparation, no warning. She is right there when the red light goes on."
Her rags-to-riches life story, which has resonated with millions of people already, will soon hit Broadway. Lynn has recently tapped the buzzy young actress Zooey Deschanel to play her in a new musical about Lynn's life named after her autobiography Coal Miner's Daughter: "Well, there's a little girl back stage that's going to do the play of 'Coal Miner's Daughter' on Broadway," Lynn told the Los Angeles Times. "Zooey, where you at, honey?"
Just like that quote, the thing that makes Honky Tonk Girl so fun to read is Lynn's twangy charm. You can buy the book here.