'My Cross to Bear' Review: Allman Comes Clean on Life, Love and His Famous Brothers
Gregg Allman is still rambling’.
Allman, the co-founder of the classic southern rock band The Allman Brothers, shares everything from musical inspirations to rampant drug abuse in his new memoir, “My Cross to Bear.”
The autobiography, in stores today, recalls the dawn of his seminal southern rock combo. But it’s more than just a treatise on the voice behind “Whipping Post” and “Melissa.” Along the way we learn how Allman got married – and married – and married - while drinking and drugging through a skein of unsuccessful rehabs. The music always had his back.
"Bear" recalls the Allman Brothers Band's legendary infighting in exhausting detail, but the fresh, unadorned prose grants his life story an added layer of pathos.
Allman is as musically gifted as he is cursed in understanding the ladies. It’s not just that his marriage certificate tally puts him in league with both Larry King and the late Elizabeth Taylor. He seems as incapable of reading women today at 64 as he was when he first learned the seductive power of being a dude in a band. Yet he quietly insists he's a quick study on getting to know strangers.
“Bear” recounts Allman’s high school days, a time when he and his brother, Duane, first found the glories of rock and all its beautiful sub-categories - think R&B, Jazz and Country. His older brother had a knack for playing the guitar, and Allman worshiped every note the young man played.
The Allman Brothers were rising to stardom when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1971. The older brother’s death crushed Allman, leaving a deep, purple bruise that never faded with time. But the music, and the band marched on through years of great songs, back stage dust-ups and rotating lineups.
Allman Brothers fans will relish the smaller details of life on the road, ‘70s style. Others will marvel at how the author breaks down his artistic process, like when he recalls the advice given to him by Floyd Miles on screaming for one's supper.
“When you know you’re going to scream, you lay your head back, which spreads your vocal cords real wide, and when the scream comes out, it barely nicks your vocal cords. You don’t want to do too much of that, because there’s soft, tender meat down there,” Floyd told him.
Better still, Allman deconstructs the life of a rock star in a humble yet starkly revealing manner. Readers might think all they need do is pick up a used guitar and start playing, and fame, fortune and Cher-like romances await.
We also get some tasty rock anecdotes, the kind only a road warrior like Allman can share. The best might be the time Allman was forced to get inoculated in both buttocks for a sexually transmitted disease before hitting the stage. He played the gig with his pants drooping down, “kinda like the kids wear them now," he notes.
Allman never pretties up his language. It’s coarse, unsophisticated and yet oddly poetic. It’s his voice, and co-writer Alan Light clearly let its sandpaper tone seep into every page.
“My Cross to Bear” doesn’t want to settle scores, but that doesn’t mean Allman won’t share his side of stories only hinted at in the past. We hear plenty about his tumultuous time married to Cher and, like the southern gentleman he is, Allman thanks her for publicly declaring him her finest lover.
In fact, Allman’s aw, shucks approach helps unabashed hedonism go down easily. You can see his sheepish grin as he recalls how he bed-hopped through the 1970s.
The book’s waning chapters lose their urgency, although Allman’s eventual spiritual awakening comes across as both genuine and well earned.
“My Cross to Bear” will obviously make readers scramble to load "Ramlin' Man," "Melissa" and "I'm No Angel" onto their iPods - assuming they're not already there. This time, they’ll have a better appreciation for the hard luck tales lurking behind the microphone.