Rock 'n' roll fables equally good on paper

NPR's Mitch Myers mixes tales, essays and memoirs with flair.

By William McKeen
Published May 20, 2007

Back in the early days of Rolling Stone, the magazine had a mysterious contributor named J.R. Young. While other critics discussed "pumping bass lines" and deconstructed the political content of the lyrics, Young threw out any pretense of actually writing about the music and instead wrote short stories. Sometimes, these stories bore direct relation to music, but often they did not. To use the parlance of the time, if you dug the story, you'd dig the music.

Young apparently dropped off the face of the earth in the early 1970s and was never heard from again. But here in the new millennium, we have a wonderful writer, Mitch Myers, who takes the approach to the next level.

Myers is a storyteller who captivates listeners on NPR's All Things Considered with his rock 'n' roll fables and now, with The Boy Who Cried Freebird, he has collected them.

We have tall tales, casual essays, memoirs and even a ghost story. In Hellhound on My Trail, Myers tells of working late one night, listening to the recordings of bluesman Robert Johnson of sold-his-soul-to-the-devil fame. Surprised when he hears a Johnson song that isn't on the CD, he makes a wish he soon regrets amid the stench of brimstone. It's a chilling story worthy of a campfire.

In a time travel story, a young man from deep in this century transports himself back to San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium in 1969 to hear the Grateful Dead. What he had not planned was that he would end up standing in with Sonny Barger, maximum leader of the Hell's Angels. Sonny has other plans for our young friend.

Several pieces touch on writers who played a role in developing a literature of rock music, but Myers isn't stuck in the world of classic rock. His stories include tales of Duke Ellington, Captain Beefheart, the Edwin Hawkins Singers and even trash-rockers Grand Funk Railroad. He has a wide range of influences, and he riffs on them all.

William McKeen teaches journalism at the University of Florida.


The Boy Who Cried Freebird

By Mitch Myers

HarperCollins, 321 pages, $25.95