Womack opens his as-told-to-memoir stripped down to his skivvies and hunted by his wife with a gun. He plays dead after the gun goes off, and then runs when his wife leaves the scene. “I bumped into cops scoping the neighbourhood [sic] for housebreakers and other likely fuck-ups.”
Two pages after that, a Cleveland childhood “so ghetto” that the rats “walked past and said, ‘How you doin’ man?’” sets the scene. Turn the pages, though, and a weirdness seeps in—no payoff, no slam-bang in-the-spotlight “I made it” moment.
Womack grew up broke, got into singing but still couldn’t get laid, married the widow of his best friend Sam Cooke (she’s the one with the gun), slept with his stepdaughter (who went off with his brother Cecil and became a star alongside him), barely dodged bullets, stuck his nose into nose candy, said goodbye to Janis Joplin right before she said hello to the dealer with her fatal dose, hung out with the Rolling Stones (but they wouldn’t let him use the limo)—and through all of it, no payoff, no pleasure—only hard times.
Informative, even with all the British-isms thrown in—but frustrating. Nowhere can you intuit the man who grabbed “Sweet Caroline,” stripped it down to its gospel roots with his own gospel roots, pumped it full of climaxes, and ran with elation towards some bright light of ecstasy.
As his 2014 Jazz Fest set demonstrated, he deserves his legacy. But you need “Sweet Caroline” and the other records to know that.