Splendor in the Short Grass: The Grover Lewis Reader
Blevens, Frederick R., Journalism History
Reid, Jan and W.K. Stratton, eds. Splendor in the Short Grass: The Grover Lewis Reader. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005. 277 pp. $24.95.
The author of this collection of magazine pieces, poetry, and self-defining book chapters had been dead for nearly a decade, but his impact was still being felt the day in April that Roy Blount Jr.'s review appeared in The New York Times. Soon thereafter, the paper published a spirited letter from Butch Truck, the AUman Brothers Band drummer, who was one of the subjects of a 1971 Ro//ing Stone piece that helped define Grover Lewis' development of the on-site immersion reporting experience.
Capitalizing on the period's quaint and permissive attitude toward access to celebrities, Lewis' week-long Allman Brothers ride was the latest in a string of remarkable exhibitions of Gonzo Journalism, extracted almost exclusively from tapes and notebooks full of observations about rock musicians and roadies, movie actors and extras, even the starry-eyed locals who gathered to watch the exquisite and ugly of pop performance art.
In his letter, Truck challenged Lewis' account of two seemingly innocuous conversations and chided Railing Stone's audacity to publish the story only weeks after Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. To be fair, Lewis submitted his manuscript two days before the accident, and it was founder and editor Jann Wenner's decision to proceed with publication. Truck also tried to justify the band's harsh and rude treatment of photographer Annie Leibovite, but he did not challenge (or even mention) the efficacy or accuracy of Lewis' firsthand observations of around-the-clock drug use and debauchery, which was more the point of a story about a city-to-city rock roller coaster.
The Allman Brothers story was the most controversial of Lewis' career, but it hardly was his best or most significant work. His immersion in on-scene reportage to describe the filming of "The Last Picture Show" (written by college pal Larry McMurtry) included a bit part in the movie. The book's editors, Jan Reid and W.K. Stratton, saw that story-titled "Splendor in the Short Grass" (polling Stone 1971)-as the definitive title piece. They handle his works with the duty and diligence that his friendship demanded. They package his pieces in the three categories of movies, music, and loss. The first grouping includes scene reporting on "Fat City," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "The Getaway," and "The Friends of Eddie Coyle"-and, of course, keen observations of Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Mitchum, Sam Peckinpaugh, Jack Nicholson, and a dozen others in the movie industry's elite class. …