By Otto Pippenger
“Grover Lewis: The Uncommon Insight and Grace of an Ordinary Man” is the title of a biographical memoir of the late Grover Lewis who was a poet and writer for Rolling Stone magazine. The book is recollected over the course of a nearly 50 year friendship with City College’s own Roger Scott the representative of Transitional Studies on the Executive Board of AFT Local 2121.
Scott claims that one of his foremost intentions in authoring the book was to reintroduce Grover Lewis’ work to younger Americans, both as a poet and one of the voices that helped transform the culture of mid-century America.
As one of the “new journalists” who championed first person journalism, Lewis used the new writing style to cover the thinkers, actors and artists that exemplify the era.
“Rolling Stone did him an immense disservice by sweeping him under the rug after their professional relationship ended” Scott said, also stating that “he was doing most of the same things Hunter (S.) Thompson had been doing independently and at the same time.”
In keeping with Lewis’ nature and literary affiliation the work concentrates fairly little on his career and life events. Instead Lewis is revealed through drifting, wistful re-livings of shared road trips and personal triumphs. Lewis’ graduate thesis, a screenplay adaptation of “The Scarlet Letter,” is given more attention in the text than “Splendor In the Short Grass,” the article that would be chosen as the title for the Texas University Press’ posthumous collection of his work.
“…we pass the M-B corral, a notorious hillbilly dive where, fourteen or fifteen years ago, Larry Mcmurtry and I stood among a circle of spectators in the parking lot one drizzly winter night and watched a nameless oilfield roughneck batter and kick Elvis Presley half to death…” reads the excerpt Scott provides from that Lewis essay, one of the few verbatim reproductions of his work.
Scott instead gives us a personal account of a man he admired, perhaps more than any other in his life. We glean details of Lewis’s aesthetic and moral convictions through recollections.
For example, early in the book Scott recounts the time he brought Lewis home with him on a university break, writing “Grover liked my mother’s descriptions of a girl or woman as ‘pretty as a speckled pup’ or ‘ugly as a mud fence.’”
The volume is a slim 150 pages beginning with an account by Lewis’ widow Rae Lewis, about the day Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt was shot outside his obscenity trial — an incident Lewis saw firsthand while covering the trial for Rolling Stone, before jumping back to 1960 where the author met and befriended his subject at Texas Technological College.
It covers both their youthful friendship and Lewis’ career as a journalist, dedicating a lengthy chapter to the shooting of Larry Flynt and the execution of his killer. Scott wrote several famous interviews, covering luminaries such as Lee Marvin and Kell Robertson
The work is largely characterized by Scott’s sympathy for and intellectual admiration of Lewis. Scott expresses repeated wonderment that Lewis had survived his early childhood, having been orphaned at eight when his father tracked his fleeing mother to a Texas hotel and murdered her before being killed himself by another guest.
Lewis comes across throughout as a kind man sometimes forced against his nature to use his literary gifts to write invective against falsehood and cruelty. In one instance, his college newspaper campaigned against the radio and later television evangelist Billy James Hargis.
Scott connects Lewis’s career crusading for his own version of freedom from charlatans and bullies of conventionality- with his upbringing after his parent’s deaths by an uncle who despised Lewis’s love of reading.
“Grover understood that truth does make us free because it separates fear from reason and helps us to confront the inevitable with grace…In a world of pain, misery, and absurdity” reads the final page.
The memoir elicits a desire to read Lewis’ works, and see the films and bands he covered. The work is primarily a tribute to Scott’s friendship with Lewis. It reads as though Scott is trying to repay a lifetime of kindness by Lewis through sharing that with the reader. It succeeds more at this than at comprehensively addressing Lewis’ work but it will leave you with the desire to find that work for yourself.
The work is available on Amazon.com and at aspermontpress.com.