Eric Boss reviews THE RAGIN’ CAJUN

The Ragin’ Cajun by Doug Kershaw
Mercer University Press

Doug Kershaw has experienced just about everything you can think of. Poverty, violence, family tragedy, success and failure on an epic level, addiction, cancer and fame beyond most people’s imagining. His story is fascinating and astonishing. His voice in all its individuality makes this biography float along on alternating currents of humor, amazement, nostalgia, occasional horror and finally a peaceful contentment that satisfies the reader’s need for redemption and closure. By the time the book is completed, one feels that a long talk with an old friend has allayed our fears that he won’t make it to the finish line.

His unique narrative style is folksy and easygoing but also eloquent and literate. His profoundly poor origins and stormy lifestyle have not kept him from being an articulate storyteller who can appeal to the hardcore country music fan and the veteran reader of biographies alike. He is unstinting in his recounting of both soaring successes and punishing personal failures. We see the grave mistakes, the errors in judgement and the missteps juxtaposed with the extraordinary victories and grand achievements of one who can only be regarded as an artist in the classic sense. As with so many painters, writers and composers whose lives have been plagued with anguish of every sort, he has suffered every sort of vicissitude and emerged shining. This sturm and drang keeps the reader on edge, always wondering how it all could have come out happily, which it ultimately does.

Much credit is generously given to those who have supported him: family, friends, professional colleagues and, perhaps most importantly, fans of his music. Built upon the foundation of a loving if manic family and cemented by the faith of friends he has crafted a life like no other. He is quick to acknowledge the importance of his mother, a woman of courage and strength, and one who was herself
a character of the first order. The changing associations with his brothers, uncles, aunts and neighbors flavors much of his experiences in meaningful ways. Multiple marital relationships, both good and bad, are examined in the frank light of his own faults, eventually to be resolved in a long-standing and supportive union that persists to this day, reflecting virtue on his remarkably forgiving wife. It was a long, hard road, but they have reached home at last, with great contentment.

Always maintaining a distinct Cajun flavor, this story is rich with the taste of food, music, strife, joy and sorrow. It is tough to read about Doug’s low times because the reader begins to feel like one of the family, but when he’s on stage playing his heart out to a wildly enthusiastic crowd or finding success in a recording studio the exhilaration transmits itself through the page into the soul.

Shelf Talker: The wild ride of this remarkable musician’s tempestuous life is displayed here, warts and all, with panache and passion. You won’t find a more engaging musical and personal biography.