My Life – In Spite of Myself! Roy Clark with Marc Eliot. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0671864347 and 0671864343. Also available in paperback (ISBN 978-0671526863 and 0671526863).
Roy Clark’s autobiography takes him from his early childhood through his ultimate success as a performer. He was a performer, too, and not just a musician: he was an emcee, a storyteller, hosted TV talk shows (at least one week for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, as well as Hee Haw), and undoubtedly other things not mentioned in his book.
We get a sense of a man who seems genuinely surprised by his success but knows it came about by dint of effort to build on natural talent. He learned guitar from a book, with help from his father who also played professionally (or semi-professionally, playing dances on weekends and sometimes the rare weeknight). Clark discusses his first failed marriage (equal blame to both) and his subsequent, second, long-lasting marriage to his beloved Barbara (27 years at the time the book was published, 58 years this year).
He doesn’t spare himself from criticism. As just mentioned, he writes of his failed marriage and also how he was not there for his children when they were growing up. He later remedied that failing, but it still weighed on him. He also talks of his use of dexedrine and his drinking. He doesn’t go on or into great detail about either, but he does get into it a bit. It’s refreshing to read about the warts of a person and not just all the high points of a person’s life as is typical in autobiographies.
And he had many highlights. Success as a musician, long lasting marriage, election to the Grand Ole Opry, and a State Department sponsored tour of the old Soviet Union are just a few of the high points. One might add his long time success as a cast member of Hee Haw and his long-running Las Vegas shows to boot.
Clark talks about his time as a travelling musician and many of the different famous people he met without the typical name dropping that happens with so many autobiographies. Among his friends he numbers Jimmy Dean (in whose band he played), Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, and a reluctant friendship with the late Buck Owens. He also writes of his time on Hee Haw as might be expected from someone whose career truly took off when that much derided show first aired, and also writes of his more current success in Branson (Missouri). All these people and things flesh out Roy Clark the man and performer and give a good idea of who the person is behind the stage persona.
I have two quibbles with the book. One is his dismissive way of writing about his dexedrine use (‘everyone was doing it. That doesn’t condone it, but we all did use it.’). I think he should have taken a little more responsibility for the choice to use drugs. The other quibble that doesn’t arise till near the end, is “God talk.” Almost every country music performer has that kind of background, and many others outside of country music wear their religion on their sleeves, but it’s still a bit much to read. Fortunately, it’s not a large part of the book, as though he knows not all his fans, admirers, or people curious about his life and career would be that interested in his religious side. But again, it’s a minor complaint and doesn’t detract too much from the book.
This is a fast reading, pleasant romp through an excellent musician’s justifiably famous life. As might be said about many other books (autobiographies in particular), it’s not the best read but it’s not the worst either. If you have an interest in country music, Hee Haw, performers and what it takes to succeed, then this might be a good read for you.