Author Don McLeese promises right at the outset of Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere that this book was intended to be more like an extended piece of music and cultural criticism than a comprehensive chronicling of Dwight’s life. It offers a lot of analysis of and context for Yoakam’s artistic progression, and little to nothing of “what Sharon Stone said about him, what veejay Duff thought about him or what his high school teachers remembered about him.” Indeed, McLeese, a pop critic for the Chicago Sun Times, the Austin-American Statesman, as well as a columnist for Rolling Stone, and a senior Editor for No Depression, keeps the focus on Yoakam and his music.
Drawn primarily from interviews with Yoakam, long-time collaborator and producer Pete Anderson and others, A Thousand Miles From Nowhere digs deep into the roots and genesis of Yoakam, his disdain for Nashville (and the utter indifference he received in return), his adoption of LA as home and the acceptance into the burgeoning roots/punk scene, with assists from The Blasters and X.
Fans of Yoakam and his music will revel in the details McLeese provides for each album and it’s songs, as well as the maturation process of Yoakam into, arguably, the most important (“true”) country artist of his generation. Albums are laid out in chapter sequentially, with McLeese providing commentary about each song, and context about the album in Dwight’s career arc, all guided by interviews with Yoakam himself. More importantly, McLeese also provides crucial insight into the state of country music in the wake of Urban Cowboy, as well as “before and after” Garth Brooks, and Yoakam’s place in the return to credibility of the genre.
An interesting subtext runs throughout the book, and that is the notion that Dwight Yoakam is a “character” and perhaps less than authentic. It starts at the very beginning when McLeese, points out several times that Yoakam is as much a product of the Monkees as he is of “hillbilly” music. This train of thought rumbles on through many of Dwight’s important developments: the change of direction in Gone, his acting career, and ultimately questions whether his entire musical persona is only the means to an end. To both of their credit, both Yoakam and McCleese offer compelling insight and persuasive arguments that champion artistic growth and risk-taking as an essential attribute of an artist. The notion of Yoakam as less than authentic also runs counter to his early acceptance amongst the aforementioned LA roots rook /punk crowds, whom craved authenticity, credibility and passion.
Finally, there’s the “Pete Anderson problem.” Anderson was Yoakam’s guitarist, producer and onstage foil, the “Don Rich” to Dwight’s “Buck Owens.” Their partnership began with 1986’s Guitars, Cadillacs, etc. etc before parting ways following 2003’s Population: Me. McLeese states in the opening introduction that he has no intent on “exploiting (the) tensions between Dwight and Pete.” Instead, he illuminates the bitter breakup (which resulted in lawsuits) through the words of the principals in separate interviews. Through it all, the two complement each other and are thankful and genuinely appreciative of the other’s talents and the work they accomplished together. In the end, as Dwight says, “Things change.”
Fans (such as me) will eat this book up; it’s very well written and McLeese’s criticisms and commentary are well–founded and fair. Additionally, much of the dialogue and perspective comes from Yoakam himself or others who were very close to the man and his music. A Thousand Miles From Nowhere delves deeply into what’s most important — the music itself — and most of all gives the reader ample motivation to dig in and listen again to these great records with fresh ears.
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