The Killer Goes to Hell

A few years ago, Sarah and I traveled around Tennessee and Arkansas. We spent a lot of time in Memphis, driving around and soaking in all the insanely great music and history and food there.

Among the many attractions that Memphis had to offer, one of the most compelling was the fact that you could visit Jerry Lee Lewis’ house. It only cost about $12. Now, keep in mind that the man is still alive, and still lives there. The whole thing sounded pretty compelling. So I asked a friendly bartender about it. It was a Tuesday or something, and the place was nearly empty, and we’d been bullshitting about music for about half an hour before our conversation turned to the Killer. It went something like this:

“Hey, is it worth it to visit Jerry Lee Lewis’ house?”

“Man . . . I went there once. I was a big fan of Jerry Lee . . .” The bartender said, his eyes slightly unfocusing. It was like in a movie—he’d been wiping down a glass, and he slowly just sort of stopped.


“ . . . Well, he was just sitting around in a bathrobe, and it was half open sort of, and . . . I guess it was noon or something, and he was acting all crazy like he was drunk, and kept screaming at his wife to bring him his Kool Aid and fried baloney. We all sort of . . . cowered, I guess. I don’t even know if he saw us. Hell, it was frightnin’ man! Fucking frightnin'.

So I didn’t go. There was a lot to see and not very much time to see it in. I also missed the telephone pole Chris Bell from Big Star crashed into, and I didn’t make the trek to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and we didn’t make it to Al Green’s church . . . but the thing I really wish I’d done was go pay respects to the Killer.

Anyway, in lieu of me having enough time to finish the other posts I had planned, here’s Jerry Lee fucking blowing his audience’s mind. Check him out—amphetamine-fueled, mad professor hair—the crowd rears back if he makes a sudden move. You get the sense that the guy's only a few milligrams away from being dangerous. This is one of the coolest video clips I’ve found on youtube, although I’m not sure what all that gobbledygook is over the image.

Check out those shoes! Where can I get shoes like that? Either way, that piano will never be the same again.

Here he is in the 1970s, still kicking ass. It’s strange to see him on one of these cheesy variety shows of the era. It’s like they accidentally let a yeti into the studio.

KaPOW! That mic down the front of the pants trick? Fucking brilliant, right? Right.

There’s a very cool biography on Jerry Lee called Hellfire, by Nick Tosches. Be warned that it’s a little . . . it’s a little heavy handed, but such an approach sort of suits the subject matter. Lord knows the guy had a ton of demons. Jerry Lee thought that he was going to go to hell, but if that was the case he was going to go there playing the piano, and he was going to take the audience with him. Man, that’s commitment.

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