Book Review: The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts by Billy Bob Thornton & Kinky Friedman

By James Calemine

Billy Bob Thornton started earning money as a drummer before he became a movie star. Published in 2012, The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts serves as an iron-clad reminder of Thornton’s gift for storytelling.

In this streamlined book Thornton traces his Arkansas upbringing, music, his film career and his honest opinion about “Fame & Art”. Thornton’s ex-wife Angelina Jolie wrote the book’s Introduction. Thornton says before Chapter One: “If I ramble and curse a lot it’s because this book wasn’t written, it was recorded and a lot of it isn’t edited.”

Dwight Yoakam, Daniel Lanois, Robert Duvall and Thornton’s screenwriting partner Tom Epperson offer keen insight to Thornton’s story. Robert Duvall said this about Thornton:

“Billy is a triple threat–writing, acting, directing–I don’t know what kind of training he ever had, nor do I care. He has a deep cultural understanding of who he is and what he comes from–language!–and he understands the journey from ink to behavior about as food as anybody.”

Music played an integral role in Thornton’s life before he started scoring acting gigs. He played in a ZZ Top cover band, recorded in Muscle Shoals, started the group Hot ‘Lanta long before he began recording and performing with his current band The Boxmasters. So, Thornton becomes unamused when people say, “Oh, he’s an actor trying to be a musician.”

The book contains a lot of humor. The diverse cast of characters in The Billy Bob Tapes include: John Ritter, Cate Blanchett, Bruce Dern, Billy Wilder, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack, Mick Jagger, J.P. Shellnut, Jim Varney, Warren Zevon, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Elizabeth Taylor, Martin Scorsese, Waylon Jennings, Cormac McCarthy, the Coen Brothers, Bill Paxton, John Hurt and a long list of others.

Thornton tells memorable stories about some of his films such as Sling Blade, Pushing Tin, The Man Who Wasn’t There, True Romance, A Simple Plan, Monster’s Ball, Jayne Mansfield Car, Armageddon, Bandits, The Alamo and All The Pretty Horses. Great photographs from Thornton’s personal collection lace the pages. 

Towards the end Thornton reveals: “I’ve always wished that critics were people who just talked about what they liked so they could present it to the people; it’s like, ‘Hey, you may not have heard this, and I think you should check it out,’ as opposed to writing about stuff they don’t like so they can sound clever and cynical. I don’t even know why you would waste your time.”

It’s a high-octane page turner… 

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