Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"The Billy Bob Tapes" by Billy Bob Thornton with Kinky Friedman (2012)

This is a very well written, and organized, account of the life of Billy Bob Thornton, who is surprisingly “normal”, whatever that is. With a foreword by Angelina Jolie, and some guidance by co-author/editor Kinky Friedman to keep him on track, the book is the result of the audio tapes which Mr. Thornton made in lieu of “writing” an autobiography. It’s kind of like Harry Truman’s “Plain Speaking”, which is a true “oral” autobiography.  Interspersed with commentary from his close friend Tom Epperson, as well as peppered with some recollections by the likes of Dwight Yoakam, and Robert Duvall; with whom the author feels a deep kinship; this is a very upbeat and honest look at the life of the author.

Written candidly, and talking about his likes and dislikes, as well as his own disabilities; he is severely dyslexic; this book beguiles the reader into a sense of camaraderie with author, it’s almost as if we have made the journey with him. It’s just nice to have had company, albeit unknown.

One of the most enjoyable chapters in this book concerns the making of “Sling Blade”; which Mr. Thornton wrote; and his experiences with John Ritter and Dwight Yoakam. Mr. Yoakam’s understanding of his own character in that film is quite remarkable for its insight into the dark side which inhabits us all. And the story of John Ritter’s haircut, done just days shy of his Public Service Announcement being filmed, is hilarious.

Living in a rural town in Arkansas during the 1950’s and 60’s was a very sparse existence. Perhaps this helped shape the author’s thirst for life outside of that small world. Who knows? But his accounts of playing in “garage” bands, and his subsequent brief foray into, as well as his continued interest in,  life as a musician, all speak to the wanderlust which eventually lead him to Hollywood. Along the way there are trips to New York, sleeping in the car as they crossed the country on $500 coast to coast, eating donuts for a week while waiting to get paid at the pizza place, all filled with the characters we have all known; the characters who shape our individual worlds.

And that’s the best part of this book. Mr. Thornton becomes aware at an early age that he has a special talent.  He “sees” all those characters, and then effortlessly portrays them. Initially encouraged by a high school drama teacher; and later an acting coach, as well as Billy Wilder; he is able to get in touch with his own abilities to really “act”. And along the way he has given us some very memorable characters, all of whom will live forever.  This was a fast, and entertaining read.

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