Review of Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles from Nowhere
If you take your country music seriously, you need to put Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles from Nowhere, at the top of your To-Be-Read stack. Music critic Don McLeese has written the definitive and, surprisingly, the first book about the country music phenom who has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide including 12 gold albums, 9 platinum or multi-platinum, and the triple platinum “This Time.”
McLeese has left no stone unturned when it comes to researching Yoakam’s musical oeuvre, and each chapter is filled with the kind of minutia that clearly took years of research. It’s not a biography, so you won’t find much about his inner demons or who he’s dated, but McLeese does touch on Yoakam’s formative years spent in Columbus, Ohio. Apparently, Yoakam was quite a fan of the Monkees, believe it or not, and McLeese explains why this makes perfect sense. He also digs deep to explain why the Los Angeles’ punk-music scene was important to Yoakam’s early success. Throughout the book, he rebukes critics who question Yoakam’s authentic country artist status citing, among other reasons, his slick performances and skin-tight jeans.
The book is full of insider info gleaned through hours and hours of interviewing Yoakam and his compatriots. One of the more surprising things I learned is that, although Yoakam sings about hitting the bottle, he has never let a drop of alcohol pass over his lips. Nor drugs. His religious upbringing instilled in him his teetotaling ways and also informed his music writing. Yoakam says, “My family read the Bible constantly, and it gave me the ear for rhyming schemes.”
You’ll really enjoy McLeese’s particular bent on the music scene, such as when he describes blues purists as “self-appointed Caucasian arbiters of what qualifies as authentic black expression.” Talk about hitting the nail on the head and not mincing words! His breadth of music knowledge is across the board and especially evident in his observations of various Yoakam songs such as when he says, “…the melody suggests something out of the Lovin’ Spoonful. And the Chet Atkins-style picking of “These Arms” recalls that goodtime band’s Nashville Cats,” which of course was homage to an era of country classicism…The opening steel run of “Same Fool” evokes the “Rainy Day Woman” of Waylon Jennings, the following “The Curse” proceeds at a Johnny Cash lope.” And on and on. McLeese is a music devotee and it shows over and over again across the pages of this exhaustive compendium of a book.
If, per chance, you haven’t experimented with country music yet, this book might convince you to at least give a listen to Yoakam whose music has been described as a combination of many musical genres including rock and roll, rockabilly, jazz, and grassroots. According to McLeese, his concerts have always attracted fans who “never listened to contemporary country radio and rarely went to other country concerts.” Everyone from indie-rockers to hardcore country lovers, agree that Dwight Yoakam is The Man and after reading McLeese’s book, you’ll understand why.
Although McLeese is obviously a fan of Yoakam’s, this book, which he refers to as a “labor of love,” is a serious piece of musical criticism. You will come away with a clear understanding of Yoakam’s “artistry, impact, aura, and legacy.”
Don McLeese was formerly the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Austin American-Stateman, as well as country music columnist and frequent contributor to Rolling Stone and a senior editor for No Depression. He lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, and currently teaches journalism at the University of Iowa.
DISCLOSURE: My musical education began more than 40 years ago under the tutelage of Don and Richard McLeese to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. Together we attended and enjoyed more concerts than I can count or remember, for that matter. It began what has turned into a life-long love of music that has enhanced my life more than words can express.