Ray Wylie Hubbard ‘s “a life…well, lived” Reviewed
Geographic perspective can tamper with your sense of reality. A few years ago, when Robert Christgau referred to Ray Wylie Hubbard as a “fringe” artist, I was taken aback by the characterization. It’s not that Hubbard sells out arenas in Texas, but he’s certainly viewed as one of the founders of the alt-country/outlaw country movement. For example, my local BBQ joint has a mural with five Texas artists – Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Hubbard. Recently, Hubbard sold out two nights in a row at the Kessler in Dallas. Often, I see respected national touring artists at the Kessler who perform to as many empty seats as paying customers.
Hubbard lives in the real world and would most likely agree with Christgau’s adjective (in fact, he uses the same word). “a life…well, lived”, the title a representation of Hubbard’s e.e. cummings like aversion to capitalization and a clever riff on the Keith Richards’ book titled Life, is a tale about living on the fringes of the music industry, but much more a personal tale of redemption. It’s a story about how Hubbard overcame fear and addiction resulting in a fulfilling professional and personal life.
There are many facets to the Hubbard persona – guru, wit, groovemaster, serious songwriter, bemused observer. All of these aspects of Hubbard are represented in the book (this is a man who writes about guitar chords as a religious experience). The chapters are short and the book is comprised of three themes – song lyrics, a narrative of his life, and vignettes about specific events. At times, it seems like Hubbard lived like a character from a Hunter S. Thompson book – he spent decades in a haze of alcohol, cocaine, strip clubs, and describes being booked by motorcycle gangs and at a gig where a couple was having sex in a nearby pasture. In addition, there are the usual bad business deals, career disappointments, and substance abuse regrets.
In his early 40s, Ray began AA treatment, met his second wife (who became his manager), and was born again, if not in the traditional Christian sense, at least metaphorically. He swallowed his pride to take guitar lessons, focused on being a songwriter, and has seen steady (if incremental) strides in his commercial prospects since that time. Hubbard could have simply written an entertaining book filled with road stories, but he always aims higher than that. He provides the secret of life, or perhaps better stated, the formula for a purpose filled life, something that we all strive to obtain.
At some level, Hubbard almost works like a magician; he’s a guy who seems to have a perpetual ace in the hole. So, always remember to keep your gratitude higher than your expectations, if you are a day person, give a night person money, and perpetually work to get out of your rut and stay in a groove. Also, buy this book. A clever, talented, spiritual hippie Texas groovemaster/blues aficionado could use the coin.
Grade – A