An engaging account of a troubled kid whose dreams kind of came true.
Despite her numerous albums and two Grammys, Rickie Lee Jones is remembered by many in the main for her brief relationship with Tom Waits. When she almost immediately mentions Waits in the prologue of her memoir, saying of him that, “In bed he was the greatest performing lion in the world,” one worries that the book will turn out to be something of a kiss and tell confessional, trailing in the wake of his celebrity. Fortunately, this is not the case as the majority of the book details her childhood, adolescence and teen years which were quite a wild ride and her infamous Boho relationship doesn’t come into view until towards the end.
Jones’ early years are described with both a sense of childhood wonder, touched with magic and invisible friends and her awareness of how unlike a Disney-styled “normal” family they were. Her mother was “stolen” from her own mother by a social worker and placed in care, handed over to the “religious fanatics and paedophiles and sadists that seemed to gravitate towards children’s homes.” Her father came and went, could be violent when in his cups and eventually left the family. Her siblings fare poorly. Her elder sister is taken into care while her brother lost a leg when hit by a car. Her parents are nomadic, leading to Jones attending a bewildering number of schools, a perpetual new kid in the class. She writes of her teen self when snubbed by new classmates, “Some of us are born to live lives on an exaggerated scale…we are cumbersome, beautiful and ugly, fistfighters and bugsnatchers…we have imagination and maybe mine was always active while others were shining their Sunday shoes.”
The Beatles in 1963 are her first salvation and by the end of the 60s she is fully immersed in the hippie dream, running away from home aged 14 to hitchhike her way into some dangerous encounters, a pattern which continues for several years. After a road trip to Canada she is detained at the US border and arrested for “being in danger of leading a lewd and lascivious life.” It was on this trip that she first wears a beret by the way.
By 1973, Jones finally feels at home having landed in Venice Beach in LA although there are still several years of numerous jobs and failed romances before she takes her first tentative steps into song writing and performing. Her romance with Waits only begins on page 292 and coincides with the release of her debut album and her ascent to fame. For a short time they were the hottest couple in town but interestingly, Jones notes in hindsight regarding their legacy, “Was I ever there? …Do women have an impact on men or is it only the other way around? Well, depending on which men you read, I suppose the answer is no, men alone influence women. What a crock of shit.”
Her somewhat dizzy ascent to the top is followed by a slow decline (in record sales) and Jones notes ruefully that those who were only too eager to accommodate her initially lost interest as her star waned. With around three-quarters of the book dedicated to her pre-fame years, it’s fortunate that Jones has such a rich story to tell. That she tells it with style and some wonderful turns of phrase is a bonus. Her parents, despite Jones’ often difficult relationships with them, are given full weight as are their own family histories. The final chapter just about ditches any mention of her career as it rushes from 1982 to the present day. She has a child and says farewell to both parents, having made some peace with them. So, definitely not a kiss and tell lurid tome. More a rite of passage into adulthood with plenty of colourful escapades and an engaging read.
“Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour” by Rickie Lee Jones was published by Grove Press UK in April 2021