“Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times” by Ralph Stanley and Eddie Dean (Gotham Books; 476 pages)
Over 65 years of playing music, Ralph Stanley has risen through the ranks of old time music and now, quite deservedly, serves as its eldest statesman with a Biblical Authority attributed to him by his many fans and admirers.
He was always well known in the old time and bluegrass community, where he had already been conferred first name status and was simply referred to as “Ralph” – others who achieved this exaulted status were “Earl” (Earl Scruggs) and “Bill” (Bill Monroe). The unexpected success of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” featuring his a cappella rendition of the traditional “O Death,” finally exposed him to a world wide audience at the age of 75.
This book, written with music journalist Eddie Dean, is Ralph’s narration of his life presented in his “plain old words” rather than “correct and proper English.” This conceit seems artificial at first, but as the pages go by the reader gets used to it. And in most cases, it fits the story being told. It’s the whole story, from his immediate ancestors up to the present time with lots of great details, stories and people. And what a great story it is.