In 1987, when I was a sophomore at Sulphur Springs (TX) High School, I interviewed country singer Dwight Yoakam for my school paper when he played the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center. I had not been paying attention to country music for a few years, was unfamiliar with him, but had made certain negative assumptions about him based on his Li’l Abner-evoking name and on his physical appearance, what with his cowboy hat pulled nearly down to his sternum.
As I’ve told many people over the years, I’ve never interviewed anyone more gracious or well-spoken. And I’m saying it again in this space because Don McLeese‘s new book, Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles from Nowhere, has accomplished the twin feat of reminding me vividly of the revelation of that interview and of deepening my love for the music I’ve loved from that night forward. I devoured the book, listening nonstop to Yoakam’s music the whole while and enjoying every minute of the experience.
McLeese’s book is also heartening to me as a nonfiction writer, for reasons he laid out in a blog post for Kirkus last month. “Writing a book can go so wrong in so many ways that it’s amazing when it turns out so right,” he began. Then came the marvelous details on things falling into place just so.
Things not only turned out all right, they proceeded to get much better than I’d ever dared hope. Yoakam was inexhaustibly quotable, attaching no strings to his cooperation, never asking to approve the manuscript. He made [Pete] Anderson seem like such an integral part of the story that I had to contact his former producer/guitarist/bandleader, who also agreed to talk. Between the two, I had a story that no one else hadâ€”not dirt, not he said/he said, but a detailed account of who did what, why things worked so well, how the partnership fell apart. Neither had discussed the other at any length since the split, and both expressed admiration for the other.
And then I really hit the jackpot. During the course of the writing, Yoakam resigned with Warner Bros., his label during the glory years, and would undoubtedly be receiving more promotion and publicity than he had in two decades with an album to be released around the time of the book. Even with the album delayed by a few months (it’s now due this summer), I couldn’t have anticipated such great fortune.
Impressive timing aside, McLeese did a terrific job. When Yoakam’s new record finally comes out, I look forward to rereading — redevouring — his book in that fresh new context.