Rickie Lee Jones posing with a car, 1968.


Rickie Lee Jones is back in the spotlight with a compelling memoir, Last Chance Texaco, and a 40th anniversary box set and tour to celebrate her landmark release Pirates, the follow-up to her 1979 debut that put her, and her raspberry beret, on the cultural map, won her a Grammy and kicked off her fascinating career. Over the course of the pandemic year just passed, Cree McCree spoke with Rickie Lee Jones about her hardscrabble childhood, itinerant life, meteoric rise to fame, and the struggles that have tested her innate survival instincts.

“Some of us are born to live life on an exaggerated scale,” writes Rickie Lee Jones in her compulsively readable memoir Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour (Grove Press), officially released on April 6. Put Jones at the top of that list. The scale of her own epically cinematic life is as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon in her childhood crucible of Arizona, with as many tributaries as the mighty river that runs through it. And her meteoric rise to Time-proclaimed ‘Duchess of Coolsville’ status in 1979, when she rocketed from complete obscurity to raspberry beret ubiquity and reached the pop-culture pinnacles of Rolling Stone and SNL in less than a year, is but one fascinating chapter in an often hardscrabble life with enough cliffhangers and whiplash twists to do Charles Dickens proud.

Jacket photo by Bonnie Schiffman

I’d spent a week seeing the world through Rickie Lee Jones’ eyes when we met at an outdoor cafe next to the railroad tracks in our adopted hometown of New Orleans, where our conversation was punctuated by loud blasts from passing trains like the ones her dad once hopped. It was almost a year to the day since we’d last met in person during the Deep Gras groove that culminates in Fat Tuesday, when we were both blissfully unaware that Mardi Gras 2020 would soon be maligned as a super-spreader event.

In the interim, my Offbeat cover story, which was pegged to Jones’ Covid-canceled appearances at French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest, had morphed into a digital-only version. When we met via Zoom in late May for a pandemic update, nationwide protests were erupting over the murder of George Floyd, which cut her to the quick. “My heart hurts so much,” said Jones, who first wrote about murder-by-cop 40 years ago in “Skeletons” on Pirates. “Another Black man murdered by the police.”

Like she did last year, Jones cruised up to our interview on her bike, and joined me at a socially distanced table center-pieced by a crazy eyeball hat I’d made. Like a true New Orleanian, she was making the most of the pandemic-era Mardi Gras by decorating her Marigny front porch with some favorite pieces from past Carnivals. Topping off the ad hoc altar was a three-babydoll bustier, complete with babydoll pussy, which Jones bought from me a couple seasons ago. Later, we’d add my eyeball hat. Now it was time to get down to business. But before we take a deep dive into Texaco, Jones wants to flag another landmark 2021 event.

“It’s the 40th anniversary of Pirates, arguably my most important release,” says Jones. Many critics would concur. The follow-up to her wildly successful debut, which earned her a Best New Artist Grammy and sent the single “Chuck E.’s In Love” soaring to Billboard’s Top 10, Pirates dates back to her first stint in New Orleans, when Jones dived headfirst into the seamy side of the Quarter with a tribe of swashbuckling outlaws. Vivid characters like “cunt-finger Louie” came to life on Pirates, which she recorded while commuting back and forth from New York’s East Village to the lower Decatur St. loft she shared with her crew of hipster buccaneers.

To celebrate this milestone, Jones is releasing an entire commemorative package in October: Rickie Lee Jones (1979), Pirates (1981), and a third album of unreleased demos and outtakes. She plans to start touring behind it as early as August and play performing arts centers this fall. “I want to play the Greek,” she enthuses. “I haven’t been there in 25 or 30 years. People can be outside, and I can actually sell tickets! That would be really wonderful, and there’s a magical aura that’s always surrounded Pirates.”

“What’s the most magical part of Pirates for you?” I ask her later in a follow-up text.

As I place myself in danger again and again and then return from hell over and over it’s impossible not to get a whiff of destiny,” she shoots back instantly, and that’s as good a way as any to summarize her book.

From the moment she was born, to the orphaned son of one-legged vaudevillian Peg-Leg Jones and a mother raised in an orphanage after her grandmother’s mad dash across a cornfield failed to save baby Bettye from child protective services, Jones had an inner radar that both courted catastrophe and saved her from its most dire consequences, usually at the 11th hour. And even during her childhood, in the enchanted desertscape of Arizona, she was constantly on the move, uprooted by her parents, separately or together, honing the survivalist skills she’d need when she struck out on her own and hitched across the country in 1969 at age 14.

Like the vivid tone poems Jones creates in her songs, Last Chance Texaco is studded with a rogue’s gallery of wildly eccentric characters, famous and obscure, and larded with striking images like Alfred’s Decapitated Doll Emporium (the mannequin-littered home of her first songwriting partner, Alfred Johnson). The cast includes a host of guardian angels, because “magic never left me,” along with oft-unwitting oracles and seers, like the Canadian border guard who warned the bra-less teen she was “in danger of living a lewd and lascivious life.”

But what really sucks you in, and lifts you up, is the dazzling magic of her prose. Some of the most lyrical passages are channeled in a fever dream, like her description of her and Tom Waits at the peak of their doomed romance: “Now we were religions, we converted to each other, we inspired each other and we spoke in tongues. He growled, I cooed. He softened, I growled….We were jellyfish, floating from day to night.”

Whether you’re a longtime Rickie Lee Jones fan, or only vaguely know her name, Last Chance Texaco speaks for itself and is one of the most compelling memoirs I’ve ever read. So I was delighted to explore its revelations with the author in the conversation that follows.

Rickie Lee Jones in fourth grade, and current photo by Astor Morgan

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rickie Lee Jones: What did you like about the book? What makes this memoir different than somebody else’s memoir?

PKM: I feel like I’m living your life, minute by minute, exactly how it happened. You get so deeply inside me that I feel like I am you. And I was savoring it. I was even savoring the trauma, if that makes any sense.

Rickie Lee Jones: Oh excellent.

[RLJ reaches over the table and swats a mosquito away from my head.]

PKM: Oh my god! Thank you! I got vaccinated for Covid, but I didn’t get vaccinated against mosquitos! So it was your ability to put me inside Rickie Lee Jones that really made the book come alive for me. Were you keeping any diaries or journals? Or is this all drawn out of your memory?

Family in 1963

Rickie Lee Jones: If I wanted to, I could almost remember every day. Once memory begins, it’s really acute. That story about the horse kicking me in the head would not come to the surface at first. Because it was a feeling more than a memory. I can feel myself hiding in that cupboard. That head injury must have happened just a few minutes before, and it sent me into some other world. And one day I did hide in a cupboard, and I remembered really clearly that I have to come back with handles. And I’m going to use each handle: the corral door, the Volkswagen door, the door to my house. And when I came to the door of my house I thought I’m back now. Isn’t that funny? How do I come back? I use handles. [laughs]

PKM: That’s also a great metaphor. Maybe that traumatic injury sparked something in your brain that helped you access your ability to come back, and to remember so clearly. You always trust your inner radar, and pass that wisdom along to us: “When I sing, you can hear your own tears falling on that window sill.”

Rickie Lee Jones: When I sing, you’re in my room, looking out of my window.

PKM: When did you actually start the writing process and say, ‘OK, this is a memoir’?

Rickie Lee Jones: I started writing funny little short stories about my life back in 2001, and I did a live afternoon show at Santa Monica College of reading poems, playing songs and telling personal stories. Then I got an agent, who’d been reading my writing on my website. And when I knew I had a contract, I began working on it seriously about seven years ago. But it took me a few years.

Vaudevillian Peg Leg Jones was Rickie Lee Jones’ paternal grandfather.

PKM. There’s a big difference between performing and writing a book. Because when you’re writing a book, you’re talking to one person. It’s very intimate.

Rickie Lee Jones: You’re right, it’s totally different. In the first years of writing it, I’m telling my story. But eventually I’m crafting your journey from here to there. And that took a long time to learn. Because I really want to let them know what color those shoes were! [laughs]

PKM: But sometimes the color of the shoes is important. Because so many of your details are really striking.

Rickie Lee Jones: [laughs] That’s when Jamie [Dell’Apa] would say, you’re taking too much out!

PKM: Is Jamie your editor or your agent?

Rickie Lee Jones: He’s my reader. I have to have a reader, somebody I’m talking to, and Jamie showed up two or three years ago. Finally. I was about to give up. And he said, ‘it’s kind of a mess but you have good stuff here. Let’s talk about your themes’. And once we see what themes I gravitate toward, we can craft a book. Magic was one of them. And running away. He said, ‘your family’s always running away, and so are you’.

PKM: And it’s an incredible story! Do you have any idea how many times your family moved? Either as a unit or you with your father or you with your mother? It seems like it was dozens! How many schools did you go to?

Rickie Lee Jones: Eleven by the time I was asked to leave in the 11th grade. And then I went to three colleges: vocational college, Tacoma College and Santa Monica College. That’s a lot of schools, a lot of enrolling. It’s a miracle that I’m here [laughs]

Age 14

PKM: There were miracles all along the way. But there were also times when you really took charge. Like when you were in Bud Dain’s office, and you’re totally broke, your employment is running out and he offers you $800 a month for writing songs. Which was a lot back then! And you said, ‘wait a minute, I have to think about that’.

Rickie Lee Jones: No, it’s worse than that! They had offered it and I said ‘OK, I’ll do it’. So I was coming back to sign the contract. And I was about to sign it and I had that feeling of don’t do it. If they want you, someone even better will want you. That takes a lot of faith. Not to settle for good and instead go for great.

PKM: Yeah! I feel like there was almost an invisible hand stopping you. It gives me chills thinking about some of those moments, when you started becoming Rickie Lee Jones for real. One thing that really holds the book together is the way you organized it: The Back Seat, Riding Shotgun, Driving, The Way Back Seat. Did you come up with that initially?

Rickie Lee Jones: Yes.

PKM: And the shotgun section’s so cool because you were riding shotgun with Dr. John, you were riding shotgun with Lowell George, you were riding shotgun with Tom Waits. You picked your drivers well [laughs]

Rickie Lee Jones: Well, they were the guys who came along. [laughs]

PKM: I remember you telling that story about Lowell George when you were doing one of your live streams, about floating in the pool while he was singing “Willin’” for you.

Rickie Lee Jones: That was a beautiful moment. It’s a beautiful song. And he was illuminated from the back, so you couldn’t really see him well. That’s an image I love so much. And I thought, how can this be happening to me? [laughs]

Rickie Lee Jones, right, with Dr. John and her baby daughter Charlotte during the video shoot for their duet on “Makin’ Whoopee.”

PKM: Another through-line in the book is West Side Story…It’s like a scene out of the musical when you and Tom Waits and whoever else was at the Troubadour that night burst into singing the Jets song.

Rickie Lee Jones: There were rumors that Tom Waits hung out there so I had a feeling he might be there. And after the show, everyone was standing in front of the club, pretending like they were in a movie of their own. And someone said, it’s like the Jets and the Sharks out here. And somebody sang a line from the song and I answered them: [sings] “When you’re a Jet you’re the swinging-est thing, little boy you’re a man, little man you’re a king…”  I was always singing “when you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way,” and that’s how I began to find my people. Because if they know it, they’ll answer!

PKM: Another one is “Something’s Coming.” You circle back to that a few times.

Rickie Lee Jones: Yeah. So thrilling, so exciting, that moment right before something happens. And sometimes something terrible happens. But before awful things happen, beautiful things happen.

PKM: When we finally get to the Way Back Seat, you’re at the peak of your meteoric rise, when you appeared on Saturday Night Live. And that Coolsville trilogy, which was like a 12-minute video, was playing in record stores across the country. That was so influential, way ahead of its time.

“Coolsville Trilogy”-Rickie Lee Jones, 1979:

Rickie Lee Jones: It was so successful that people went, ‘this is the wave of the future’. But by the time they got MTV started, they were going in that cheap direction. [laughs]

PKM: You also started seeping into the culture. Everything from Chuck E. Cheese to the beret.

Rickie Lee Jones: That’s one of the things that’s lost all these decades later. People don’t remember that. That I had an impact on the culture.

PKM: And it happened really quickly.

Rickie Lee Jones: It did. The Way Back Seat is the limousine. And I was just thinking, if I read a review that said she doesn’t get to the cool part until the end of the book, I wouldn’t want to read that book. And I thought how are you going to let people know you’re gonna be really glad to read how all these stories unfolded….

PKM: You do it in the introduction, which is sort of a preview of coming attractions.

Rickie Lee Jones: That’s how Jamie helped me. And he was right.

PKM: Because people do want to know about Tom Waits and “Chuck E’s In Love” and Lowell George, and you drop all that in as teasers. But you don’t whip through the book to get to the “good parts.” I certainly didn’t! I was really compelled by the story of how you somehow managed to survive on the run all those years. With and without your family. But I do want to talk about Tom Waits. Because I was one of those people who thought of you and Tom Waits as the ultimate cool hipster couple.

Rickie Lee Jones: How did you know I was with Tom Waits?

PKM: You weren’t completely on the QT. You made a couple of public appearances together.

Rickie Lee Jones: Yeah, he showed up in London. That’s where all those pictures came from.

PKM: And Second City did a skit on TV about you and Tom Waits inventing yourselves inventing yourselves, which I loved.

Rickie Lee Jones: That’s right. That was incredible.

SCTV skit featuring “Rickie Lee and Tom Waits” (and “Ella Fitzgerald”):

PKM: And you totally stayed in character when you moved in with him and actually set up housekeeping together. That house without air conditioning!? When you both had money!? You were driving around looking for motels to stay in ‘cause it was so damn hot. Because Tom liked that down and out image, I guess. He didn’t want to be the guy with the air conditioning. [laughs]

Rickie Lee Jones: Exactly! [laughs] But he’s got it now!

PKM: Have you been in touch with Tom Waits since those days?

Rickie Lee Jones: No.

PKM: Would you like to reach out to him?

Rickie Lee Jones: I think the time has passed.

PKM: Yeah, he’s kind of settled into a whole new life. He’s no longer the Tom Waits character.

Rickie Lee Jones: I don’t know what he is. Remember the L.A. riots, in the ‘90s? There was a spirit of ‘let’s all get back together again’, and Waits and Chuck Weiss did a concert so I showed up to bury the hatchet. I’m not going to tell you about what happened…But it had to do with his wife…And at first I said, ‘it’s like the Yoko syndrome. Fans are mad that she took him away’. But it wasn’t….What is the hold that she has over him that he can’t even say hello? Can’t even look at me? And at that time, it hurt so much.

Rickie Lee Jones with Tom Waits on the Santa Monica Pier.

PKM:  I used to be a huge Tom Waits fan. Starting with Blue Valentine. And I loved the photos on that album, even though I didn’t know at the time that was you leaning back against the car.

Rickie Lee Jones: He’s not real.

PKM: You both could have afforded a fabulous place when you moved in together. And it’s so Tom Waitsian to opt to get this little un-airconditioned bungalow in a sketchy neighborhood. But I was really shocked at his reaction when you told him you had been using heroin, and he just couldn’t handle it. It was painfully honest for you to tell him, but I don’t see how you could not have told him. How could the person who loves you and is setting up house with you not say, ‘hey let’s do this together, and get this monkey off your back?’

Rickie Lee Jones: You know, he had left the world he created when he created Tom Waits and moved into this house that was more like a house his mom lived in. As close to real as he wanted to come. So he wasn’t safe. And all I can think of is maybe people behind the scenes were talking about me, I just don’t know. Back then, I might have regretted telling him. But that’s how he felt: I don’t want anything to do with you. If that’s who you are.

PKM: I also found it amazing that you were able to stop using heroin on your own. I don’t know too many people who have done that. Without having to go to NA and all that stuff.

Rickie Lee Jones: That would have destroyed me [laughs]

PKM: I knew about Mac [Dr. John] shooting you up for the first time, that was in the book. What made you decide you wanted to try heroin?

Rickie Lee Jones: I knew Mac was a source because I knew about his past. And at that time, Tom and I were on the outs, the record was coming out, and my father had moved in. These are just little psychological things. And I might have had a romantic picture, that I’d be like Billie Holiday. So I don’t know. I tried to supply pictures in the book of why I thought it was possible, like seeing that great movie, The Man with the Golden Arm. But I don’t know why. I don’t know why.

But it’s just a drug. And when people take it, they just fall asleep all day. That’s all there is to it. The moral decrepitude of being addicted is out of date. And there’s so many addicts. It’s a tragic thing.

I think there’s still a thing that people have about heroin addicts. People are so attracted to it. It will be the first question when I go to talk to people from England. And I think it’s so complex why they’re attracted to it. But it’s just a drug. And when people take it, they just fall asleep all day. That’s all there is to it. The moral decrepitude of being addicted is out of date. And there’s so many addicts. It’s a tragic thing.

PKM: Well, it was also romanticized by people like Lou Reed, and Marianne Faithfull, who I interviewed when she was first coming out of her addiction. My god, “Sister Morphine”! That made it very attractive, back in the day. These days, going on heroin is probably a good thing compared to going on fentanyl or all that other crap.

Rickie Lee Jones: It’s hard to get in and out of that life. I scrambled out as fast as I could. I was gonna die, I was losing my soul. Like I said. I was an addict the way I did everything else. I remember a couple people saying, ‘I’ve never seen anyone as bad as you are’. That’s pretty amazing. Thank you! Do I get a ribbon? [laughs] But that wasn’t true. I’ve met people who used water out of the sewer to shoot up. I never did that.

PKM: But you had to work at getting addicted. It made you throw up a lot but it didn’t stop you.

Rickie Lee Jones: I know this sounds ridiculous. But you know that movie, The Man with the Golden Arm and that doo-da-de-doo-dah, doo-da-de-doo-dah [hums jazzy theme] as Frank walks across the street? And he goes to the man! And it fixes everything! I wanna know what that is, from a young age. So I found out.

The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)-trailer:

PKM: Let’s jump to the boldface names. You have that encounter with Dylan, where he called you a poet.

Rickie Lee Jones: A real poet.

PKM: Right. Not just a poet, a real poet. That’s something to treasure. But, other than people we’ve already mentioned, you don’t really talk about many celebrities in your book. You say in passing, oh I could tell more stories about Lou Reed, and Bob Dylan. So I wondered if maybe that’s in the second memoir.

Rickie Lee Jones: It will be. I’m writing little three- or four-page vignettes about each of them.

PKM: Good, good! But what I love, and you even say “wait for it.” The one you zero in on is Eddie Money!

Rickie Lee Jones: I know! [laughs]

PKM: That’s so hysterical! I literally laughed out loud.

Rickie Lee Jones: It’s a beautiful story. I was just starting to write Pirates, it was summertime, and I was walking on the Upper West Side. Near John Lennon’s apartment. I walked by a bar, and I heard somebody call my name. And this guy was standing in front of the bar and he went ‘Rickie! It’s Eddie Money!’ Like I was supposed to know him. [laughs] ‘Come on in, I’m with my brother. Come on in and have a drink’.

And so we drank and drank and drank. And his brother was a detective with the NYPD. And they were just delightful. And then the bar closed, and they said ‘OK, we know a place that stays open’. When I tell this story, I just can’t imagine how people can drink as much as we drank! Cause once you take a drink, that’s pretty much it, and you can’t get any higher than how high you already got. [laughs] Horrible drug.

So we drove downtown, and Eddie’s brother put the [police] light on top of the car. With the siren. And as we drove, it was if all the lights turned green for us! We went through every light!

PKM: And this was in Manhattan, mind you. For me, that was one of the most thrilling scenes in the book.

Rickie Lee Jones: Oh my god! We’re going to the bar!!!

And this guy was standing in front of the bar and he went ‘Rickie! It’s Eddie Money!’ Like I was supposed to know him. [laughs]

PKM: Because I lived in Manhattan for years, so I know how magical that must have been.

Rickie Lee Jones: I love that you know how all these things feel!

PKM: Yeah. I’ve never been to SNL, but I have some friends in a band who were on SNL, so I know how exciting it is to have that experience. But you didn’t live in Manhattan for too long, did you?

Rickie Lee Jones: Well, I was an addict when I lived there. I didn’t really have an experience of it, other than being an addict. But also, I’d just become rich. And I thought ‘I have so much money, how can I ever run out? I’m gonna stay in a hotel and spend whatever I want’. [laughs]

PKM: So how did you decide when to end the book? Because it ends long before you moved to New Orleans [in 2014].

Rickie Lee Jones: Well, from the time my career begins, there’s a lot to tell. And by then, I’m already on page 300. And I hadn’t even told that much about what came after, and the book is getting long. So even though I really didn’t want to end the book after the initial success, that’s where it wanted to end. It just delivered itself. And I thought, ‘if things go well, I’ll find a way to tell how to stay in music’, or whatever this story is, in another story.

PKM: I think it was a very smart decision. Leave ‘em wanting more!

Rickie Lee Jones: I wanted to bring it back to family, to deliver you back to family.

PKM: I texted you when I finished it, because I was really moved by the ending. After all the ups and downs with your mom and dad, separately and individually, the unconditional love that came through for the family at the end was amazing.

Rickie Lee Jones: I wanted to remind people that even though people are neither good nor bad, they’re wonderful and terrible, they’re your family. And in our case, they may have betrayed you a few times. But in the end, as part of the infrastructure, there’s this faith and hope that never leaves.

PKM: And I’m sure this wasn’t calculated. But for the pandemic, it’s great to bring it back to family, when everyone’s kind of locked in with their families now. I mean, people aren’t running away as much now because it’s hard to run away.

Rickie Lee Jones: The last thing I added into the book was the bit about my brother, Danny [who lost a leg in an accident as a teen]. I connected with him again about two years ago, when he was in bad straits. And what came out was that memory of trying to get him a membership in a health club. Danny thinks, ‘oh good, I’m finally at a club’. ‘No you’re not, you’re out of here’. And I said to the guy, ‘hey, you’ve just broken a law! It’s against the law!’ [to refuse service to a handicapped person]. And he just didn’t care! And that’s what it’s like to be a handicapped human being every day of your life. That story was good, without being melodramatic. Danny’s OK, and life is fucking hard. But we all keep going on. And we’re talking to each other in the invisible world. And we keep going.

With Bob Dylan at Chasen’s restaurant in Beverly Hills, 1980.

PKM: We keep going…What’s the most important thing you want to say about the book?

Rickie Lee Jones: It’s a memoir like no other. It reads more like fiction.

PKM: Because you’ve had a life that’s incredibly cinematic!

Rickie Lee Jones: It doesn’t shy away from, but it doesn’t focus on, celebrity. And by the time it does get to celebrity, I think it’s very classy. I don’t not tell you about lovers, but I’m never salacious. I’m sexy, but not salacious.

PKM: Isn’t that what that cop said to you when you were trying to cross the border from Canada?

Rickie Lee Jones: “You’re in danger of living a lewd and lascivious life!”

PKM: Right! I love that! I would have taken that as a mark of honor myself.

Rickie Lee Jones: I didn’t really live a lascivious life. But to him, I did! A woman without a bra!

PKM: So it’s a memoir like no other, which is true. And it reads like fiction, which is certainly true.

Rickie Lee Jones: And my reason for writing it was to honor my family. I can hear them saying ‘you have to tell our stories’. The orphanage and the running across the cornfield and the one-legged grandfather on stage. Every one of them deserve to have their stories told.

In a hundred years, I want someone to read what life was like for one woman. An extraordinary life, maybe, but maybe other people have lived lives even more extraordinary. So let’s tell our story and not shine it up, not hide it, here’s what really happened. Here’s how brokenhearted I was. Here’s how triumphant I was. Here’s how egotistical I was. Here’s how humble I was. Here’s who I am, and here’s where I came from. And I cast them into the future, and hope that they grow.

With Bruce Springsteen at Jazz Fest in New Orleans in 2014.

PKM: And you leave us with a lovely epilogue, too. Which was very inspiring. Because one working title for my own memoir is Making It Up As I go Along.

Rickie Lee Jones: That’s good!

PKM: You’ve been very inspiring to me, not only as an artist and a singer. But as a woman and as a writer. It’s not a long book, but it’s a dense book, it’s full of layers. You put us right there, minute by minute. And that’s a different type of gift from your songwriting. Because with songs, you also have the music, which helps. But to do that just with prose, on the page, is extraordinary.

Rickie Lee Jones: It’s a totally different job. Writing the book was so much harder.

PKM: Because you’re just doing it alone. You and a blank sheet of paper, or a blank screen. Did you write this on a computer?

Rickie Lee Jones: Yes. We have other books at home of other versions. Three years or four years ago, I’d written the stories, basically my mother, SNL, the attempted rape, some dark things, some good things. So I fly to New York to meet with the editors. And when I came back, they had moved stories around and they were starting my story with SNL. And I said ‘I’m not gonna publish this. If you start there, there’s nowhere to go!’ They were so angry! They had already put out a press release.

PKM: This was Grove Press?

Rickie Lee Jones: Yeah. They were mad, and we didn’t talk for a while. But I found my way back to the story of my mother, and I started out with the wonders and experiences of my childhood. And now, when you go back to my mother, you’re all right because you already met me as a little kid.

PKM: That’s what makes it so compelling. I am Rickie Lee Jones at age 6, I am Rickie Lee Jones at age 8.

Rickie Lee Jones: In their hands, it would have been just another memoir. People are always trying to make you do what they know how to do. It takes a lot of courage and determination to say no. It takes a lot of guts to say I’m gonna risk it all and do it my way. [sings the chorus of “My Way,” Sinatra style] And in this case, it was a good choice. Now my editor [at Grove] loves me. She sends me little notes, “I’m smiling. This is so good!”

Epilogue: Follow-Up Texts with Rickie Lee Jones

Rickie Lee Jones: Yesterday you asked me about the themes of the book. I think one of them was my Will. The strength of one person’s will not only to overcome but to see magic everywhere.

This Frank Capra life overtaken by Stanley Kubrick might initially seem like Forrest Gump except for the fact that it is real. I actually lived these benchmarks. I lived an idyllic timeless childhood out in the middle of nowhere and I was raised by a loving pack of wolves. I was carried on the shoulders of the big wide world as an itinerant teenager and placed from one on-ramp to the next until I found my way back to King Arthur’s Court.

Rickie Lee Jones with her daughter Charlotte and her mother and grandmother circa 1993.

And when I became a mother, I protected the privacy of my family life and my child until she was grown and I could begin to tell the stories. I have been as devoted to family as I have been to music, and now as I start to enter these older last years I mean to do everything I ever dreamed of doing one more time.

Dreams are my sword and shield. With them there is nothing I can’t… Eventually…. Manifest

PKM: Wow! You’re really on a roll with these magical Big Picture texts!

Rickie Lee Jones: Good. I like thinking that my job is essential and spiritual and that I can be a comedian and be melodramatic. Isn’t that fantastic? I just have to cry mercy, how blessed all that hard stuff that happened was! Like a storm and I was on a boat that simply would not break.


All photos Courtesy of Rickie Lee Jones and Grove Press

Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour

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