The autobiography itself is not so much straight narrative as scattered reminiscence -- a collection of old memories, told in the first person and assembled by the unofficial biographer of soul, David Ritz. The patchwork format -- which can jump from brother to brother twice in the same story, twice on the same page -- is distracting at first, but in time the book hits its stride, and when it does, it becomes a sensational ride. In addition to the obligatory discussions of musical influences, band rosters, and record deals, The Brothers Neville explores the murkier side of the brothers' lives.
Those tales -- a blacker, harder version of the wine, women, and song of yore -- are told with honesty, intelligence, and grit, and they are the heart of The Brothers Neville. Even the index is telling. After proper nouns, the four longest entries are for drugs, crime, racism, and funk -- about as good a four-word summary of the Neville story as you're likely to get. To wit: Drugs : All four brothers were addicted to hard drugs at one time or another, and those drugs wreaked predictable hell on their collective lives.
While acid, cocaine, and morphine make guest appearances, the dependably destructive villain here is heroin, and plenty of it. The highs were high, the lows low, and the years unforgiving. Charles spent 29 years addicted to heroin; Aaron and Cyril slightly less; Art chose coke. All saw depression and despair, although only Charles stood on his back porch with a loaded shotgun in his mouth, ready to end the addiction once and for all.
Crime : The brothers were either victims, perps, or witnesses to a startling array of crimes from murder to mayhem to general thuggery. They dabbled in burglary, assault, fraud, dope dealing, bail jumping, and O. Charles summarizes Louisiana's infamous Angola State Penitentiary as a place of "mistrust and murder, where fear runs rampant and hatred among men But sooner or later we all have to try.
All You Ever. Everything you ever tried to be was just a fantasy. All you ever needed was someone to tell you you were right. And all you ever wanted was to put off some of your own light. There you are, singing Desperado in the car at night. There you are, with everybody looking up at you. Me Oh My.
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I had a baby but the good lord took her. She was an angel but her wings were crooked. I guess he figured he could love her better than me. Some girls marry and some girls wait. Some do better without that ball and chain…singing… Oh me, Oh my tell me it gets easier with time.
With the way you drink and the brows you raise. You can bet they wonder how the bills get paid, when you dance all night and you sleep all day. Girl when you gonna settle down, and make your mama proud? Oh no, not now. They say the good times go too fast. Edge of the Frame. And you make a scene, you get your picture in a magazine.
Why you make a beggar out of your best friend.
Take Me to the River
Oh heaven knows, you love to dress me up in ribbons and bows. I go to get myself a coffee and everybody stares at me. They know you treat me awful mean. When the mailman brings the letters he tries to talk some sense to me. I tell myself over and over I should be getting out of here. So listen Honey and believe me, cause this is all I got to say… Anyone would have to be a fool to love you like I do. Hearts of Men. He was forty-six with the wife and the kids and the job with the suit and the tie.
Oh but I, I wanna be your child again. I wanna remember when everything was new. And damn this pride that lives inside the hearts of men. I wanna be whole again. Oh and I. I passed a truck filled with old street signs, it seemed like one of them was mine, a long long time ago, before I knew you Caroline. Now the bus is leaving, wish I could stay. Oh Carolina, oh Carolina. You know I love you in my way. We sat out on the front steps and shared a cigarette.
We watched the neighbors go to bed. They fed the dog and shut the lights, and we were on our own again. But as the sun began to rise. We were running out of shadows to hide ourselves behind. Would you love me one more time, before we raise the blinds and make the bed? My little train wreck. Your eyes are smiling but your cheeks are wet. We fell asleep just like we used to, legs all tangled in the sheets.
I know you dreamed that bus to Houston, heard you talking in your sleep. I would have held you all day long. But when I opened up my eyes you were already gone.
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Little Bird. The time has come to bring it home. Little bird with a broken wing. So what do you say? I watch the dust dance across the floor. It used to be so easy to ignore the sun has set, but the sun will rise. What can I do? It was all for you, it was all for you. Not That Simple. Another one has already wrung all of the tear drops from your eyes. Still every time you smile I think that everything is gonna be just fine. I know, I got no fight. Never gonna be simple. Wedding Song. When you found me I was broken clear in two. My heart was split wide open, tired of hoping, tired of playing the fool.
But you did what I thought nobody could do. Now you ask for nothing more than to be by my side. And when you say it like you say it, Love, your smile makes it easy to oblige. All the hurting and the flirting that I thought would never end. If you were holding my hand. Oh Brother can we please go back? I miss the river and the railroad track. I gotta know if it all still means what I thought it did when I was seventeen.
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Was born a winner now I live to lose. And every day is up and down, like the price of gasoline. And go limping home to Caroline, where the rain will fall and the sun will shine. Nobody else can tell you what it takes. You put your heart on a shelf or you let it break. The rain came down with the thunder and the lightning.
I do believe that we will pay for our mistakes. But the songs we sing together are the ones that bring me home. A Life for You.
So give me a kiss, give me a smile, guess this is it before the final bullets sing. I wanna see you spread your wings.
This is a game I never learned to play. So give me a kiss, give me a smile. Before the final bullets fly, take to the sky. Somewhere Between. Getting Good At Waiting. When Bitter Met Sweet.