A brilliant excavation of an obscure piece of music history, Steve Earle's I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is a ballad of regret and redemption, and of the ways in which we remake ourselves and our world through the smallest of miracles.
Doc Ebersole lives with the ghost of Hank Williams - not just in the figurative sense, not just because he was one of the last people to see him alive, and not just because he is rumored to have given Hank the final morphine dose that killed him.
In 1963, ten years after Hank's death, Doc himself is wracked by addiction. Having lost his license to practice medicine, his morphine habit isn't as easy to support as it used to be. So he lives in a rented room in the red-light district on the south side of San Antonio, performing abortions and patching up the odd knife or gunshot wound. But when Graciela, a young Mexican immigrant, appears in the neighborhood in search of Doc's services, miraculous things begin to happen. Graciela sustains a wound on her wrist that never heals, yet she heals others with the touch of her hand. Everyone she meets is transformed for the better, except, maybe, for Hank's angry ghost - who isn't at all pleased to see Doc doing well.
Doc woke up sick, every cell in his body screaming for morphine - head pounding - eyes, nose, and throat burning. His back and legs ached deep down inside and when he tried to sit up he immediately doubled over, racked with abdominal cramps. He barely managed to make it to the toilet down the hall before his guts turned inside out.
Just like every day. Day in, day out. No pardon, no parole. Until he got a shot of dope in him, it wasnt going to get any better. Doc knew well that the physical withdrawal symptoms were nothing compared with the deeper demons, the mind-numbing fear and heart-crushing despair that awaited him if he didnt get his ass moving and out on the street. The worst part was that three quarters of a mile of semi-molten asphalt and humiliation lay between him and his first fix, and every inch would be an insistent reminder of just how far he had fallen in the last ten years.
In the old days, back in Bossier City, all Doc had to do was sit up and swing ...
There's something endearingly old-fashioned about Steve Earle's debut novel I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, a tale with a straightforward beginning, middle, and end, punctuated by spectral showdowns and heavenly healings. While it will likely appeal most to music fans eager to see how this iconoclastic singer/songwriter will fare in the literary sweepstakes, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive deserves praise for the way it captures both the squalor and the community spirit of a down-and-out enclave populated with lively, believable characters. That one of them is dead only adds to the festivities.
(Reviewed by Marnie Colton).
Full Review (879 words).
Speculation and myth swirl around accounts of 29-year-old country music legend Hank Williams's death in the back seat of a Cadillac on January 1, 1953. For years, Charles Carr, the only person who knew for sure what had happened that snowy day in the hinterlands of West Virginia, never talked about it.
A mere 17 at the time, Charles Carr was home on vacation from Auburn University on December 30, 1952, when his father, the owner of a limousine service and an acquaintance of Hank's, asked Charles if he would drive the country singer from his home in Montgomery, Alabama to a New Year's Eve gig in Charleston, West Virginia and then to a New Year's Day concert in Canton, Ohio. Charles agreed, but, after a late start and with a freezing ...
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