By James Calemine
Published in 2017, Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green pulls no punches. Writer Jimmy McDonough is known for his close-to-the-bone style where he does not put his subject on a pedestal. If you’ve read his previous books Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, Tragic Country Queen: The Tammy Wynette biography, Big Bosoms: The Biography of Russ Meyer or The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan you’re aware McDonough does not romanticize his talented subjects.
McDonough, I hear, is working on a new book about the late Gary Stewart. McDonough wrote definitive essays about Link Wray, the Ormond family, Jimmy Scott and Hubert Selby. McDonough grants few interviews. He also serves editor for the byNWR.com website.
Soul Survivor carries a dark undertone. McDonough provides a thorough examination of Al Green’s childhood in Arkansas, a religious upbringing, an alcoholic father, musical influences, his move to Memphis, meeting Willie Mitchell, Hi Records and eventual womanizing and sex icon fame.
McDonough hones in on one of Green’s most pivotal life-moments when one of his lovers, Mary Woodson, barged into his bathroom poured Memphis napalm (boiling grits) on his back and then committed suicide in another room of his house. The book contains Xerox copies of police reports and legal documents revolving around some of Green’s legal tribulations as well as definitive photographs.
Green experienced a change and became a preacher at his Memphis church–where he still preaches–the Full Gospel Tabernacle. McDonough writes in the book’s introduction: “This is probably not the Al Green you’re expecting. You want the Love and Happiness man, that happy guy tossing roses to the ladies. For all his ‘I’m just a regular guy’ jive, I do believe Al Green is a tormented soul. Has Al Green found any love and happiness in his life, with or without the Lord? I wonder. As will you.”
Soul Survivor is not a hit-piece on Green–his talent certainly is the main theme–but it is a dark and gritty tale at times. Another great book by Mr. McDonough…