The title of this review? Recently, I had the great fortune to do an online interview with Grammy Award winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee guitarist (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, and a lengthy solo career) Jorma Kaukonen for the Finnish American Reporter. My interviews for the paper are generally limited to 1,000 words but, in Jorma’s case, Dave Maki, the editor, made an exception. There was just so much to ask and answer given the man is now in his ninth decade of life. But to my point: I wish I’d have taken the time to read Jorma’s memoir before creating my questions. Had I done so, I would have been far more astute in what I was asking the man about his Finnish roots, his life, and his career in music. Anyway.
This is a nicely crafted work of nonfiction. It’s written in a breezy, easy-to-relate style that, if I ever sit down with the author over a cup of coffee, I’ll anticipate to be his matter-of-fact manner. There’s plenty here about Mr. Kaukonen’s fairly turbulent upbringing as the son of a father employed in foreign service (which caused frequent moves for the family) and a frustrated-by-her-limited-role (given the times and opportunities for women) intellectual mother. But Jorma doesn’t cast stones: he only tells his truth. Puzzling, more so than his reflections of his parents and his connections to them is the missing Kaukonen: brother Peter. Scattered within the work are references to his younger sibling and the distance between them. But while that wound apparently continues today, into both men’s old age, there’s no in-depth examination of the rift.
It may well be that, unlike discussing an abortion a former girlfriend experienced, an affair while married to his present wife that resulted in another pregnancy and the birth of a son, myriad bad choices the author made regarding his first marriage, or his affinity for substance abuse (all of which are explored with candor) the gap between brothers is simply too personal to bear detailed exploration. Whatever the reason, I found myself slightly perplexed, and certainly saddened, that the basis for the distance between siblings wasn’t more fully disected. That’s minor quibble doesn’t detract from the books’s overall “read”.
More difficult to understand is the decision, by the author, editors, and publisher to include lyrics from songs penned by Kaukonen in both the body of the memoir and as an appendix. There’s no question that Jorma Kaukonen is one of the world’s finest finger-picking guitarists on the planet. As I type this, I’m listening to his CD, River of Time, which not only features great licks but some fine, understated vocals as well. But Kaukonen is not Dylan or Springsteen or Browne or Chapin Carpenter. While it’s clear, having listened to songs he penned with the Airplane and Hot Tuna, his songwriting skills have matured, including lyrics within the work and then at the end of the tale doesn’t, to me, make a whole lot of sense. But hey, it’s his book, not mine.
This memoir takes you across America, riding on motorcycles and in cars that Kaukonen loves. You meet Janice and the Dead and a host of other luminaries in rock, blues, folk, and Americana along the way. More importantly, the man bears his soul to the world, exposing his faults, his travails, his loves, and his disappointments. He shows we mere mortals that even the greatest amongst us are flawed. Flawed yes, but capable of redemption.
It’s a fine journey, well written, despite the minor beefs noted above.
4 stars out of 5.