The Strange and Mysterious Death of Mrs. Jerry Lee Lewis
In his classic 1984 essay, Richard Ben Cramer wonders if Jerry Lee Lewis got away with his wife's murder.
Richard Ben Cramer died one year ago this week and he is still sorely missed. His career began at the Baltimore Sun during the Watergate Era, blossomed at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he won a Pulitzer for his reportage in the Middle East, and broadened in the 1980s when he conquered the long magazine profile with his enduring Esquire piece on Ted Williams. Cramer then dove headfirst into publishing with an exhaustive account of the 1988 presidential election in What It Takes, and followed that with a bestselling biography of Joe DiMaggio. At every turn, Cramer was a masterful storyteller.
“I’m the guy on the barstool, telling them the story,” Cramer told Robert Boynton in The New New Journalism. “And they’re in the armchair listening. As long as I can keep them from remembering that they’ve got to go home tonight, we’re good.”
I got to know Cramer over the last six-and-a-half years of his life. Met him on the D train going to Yankee Stadium one day and spent that afternoon watching a ballgame with him in the press box. He made me feel like a peer, like I belonged—no small gesture. He was charming and generous, as he was to so many others, and I was in good company in calling him a friend. Not an intimate friend, not mishpocheh, exactly, but a friend.
Cramer was hard to get on the phone but when you did get him, he was yours. He told jokes and was quick to laugh. We talked about food, marriage, baseball, and writing. One time, I asked him if a writer needs to believe that they are great in order to get anything done.
“You don’t worry about greatness,” he said. “You worry about the contract between you and the reader and anything that comes in between has got to be flattened. Because that is the only thing that really counts. Writing is hard. It never gets easier. Nobody is going to help you. Not that they are against you or don’t like you necessarily, but nobody is going to help you get it done. It’s all on you. It’s about you and the reader.”
Here’s a quick sampling of Cramer’s work available online:
Here is “The Strange and Mysterious Death of Mrs. Jerry Lee Lewis” which first appeared in the March 1, 1984, issue of Rolling Stone and is reprinted here with permission. It is preceded by a foreword Cramer later wrote about the genesis of piece.
How was I out to lunch? Let me count the ways. I was new to magazines, never having written for a national publication, much less for ROLLING STONE. I was a newspaperman, just returned from the Middle East—a bit unsteady, still, in America. The provenance of rock & roll I had traced as far back as the record store. Past that lay a great sea of unknowing.
All of a sudden, I was in Hernando, Mississippi, where no restaurant order was complete until the waitress asked, "You wan' gravy?" Where the leading candidate for sheriff was known as Big Dog Riley. Where Jerry Lee Lewis was a legend and a power, not to mention the spendingest man in the county, which spending had bought for almost a decade the quiet cooperation of local authorities who would perform all kinds of "community service," like towing the Killer's car out of a ditch without checking his blood for alcohol, or bargaining his drug charge down to a simple hoe, or shipping off the bruised body of his dead fifth bride for a private autopsy, with no coroner's jury and little public inquiry into the cause of her death.
And I was proposing to penetrate this long-closed world, to find out how that girl died?
Truly, I was out to lunch.
for the entire article http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/11/the-strange-and-mysterious-death-of-mrs-jerry-lee-lewis.html