Twentieth Century Drifter
Diane Diekman
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Buy *Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins (Music in American Life)* by Diane Diekman online

Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins (Music in American Life)
Diane Diekman
University of Illinois Press
320 pages
February 2012
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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If you were adding up all the elements that make a “macho man,” Marty Robbins would come up just about 100%: race car driver, country music star, loving husband, and self-styled drifter who grew up rough and rose to stardom against the odds.

Marty was born in 1925 in a shack in the Arizona desert just before the deprivations of the Great Depression and the ravages of his father’s alcoholism hit his already impoverished family hard. His father, Jack, a smooth talking jackleg carpenter/farmer, drank up every dime the family made, leaving his wife and children destitute. Marty recalls getting the same toy truck year after year for Christmas--each time stolen away before the big day and painted a different color.

Diane Diekman, whose earlier books include a bio of country star Faron Young, has put her heart and head into this saga of a gutsy man whose life was bigger than most, even among his peers, and who deserved every bit of his legend. Diekman draws together the many threads of Robbins’s life to show us a man who didn’t shrink from any challenge, including grand apologies (he once took off his signature leather jacket and gave it to someone he’d insulted).

There was never much doubt that Marty would pursue a singing career; his first (and indeed lifetime) greatest hit was “Singing the Blues” written by crippled Melvin Endsley, whose work Robbins promoted. One week in 1956, the song beat out Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and Elvis Presley’s “Don’t be Cruel” on the charts and jukebox and record sales. By that time Robbins, who played in clubs and on local radio, was known as "Mr. Teardrop" for the emotional pull in his voice. Robbins penned many songs of his own, beginning with “White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)” and most famous, the song with which he is most identified, “El Paso.” Robbins garnered Grammys, gold records, and many awards both in the pop realm and as a country-Western performer (he had a secret yen to be a cowboy singer like his childhood hero Gene Autry). In 1970, after a heart attack that put the brakes on many of his activities for a while, he composed a tender song for his wife Marizona--“My Woman, My Woman, My Wife”--permanently enshrining his image among female fans.

Marty’s NASCAR career was no less remarkable than his musical one. He had six top finishes in 35 starts and was considered a phenomenon among his fellow drivers who know how physically demanding the sport is, as they observed that Robbins could race and perform during the same week and never ran out of energy for his admiring public. Marty is credited with saving at least one life by crashing into the wall instead of into a fellow racer in a monumental pile-up.

A huge star who always had time for his fans, a surprisingly well-organized manager of his own success, a family man and animal lover with a mystical side, Marty Robbins embraced the toughness of every barrier he faced and kept on ticking after every licking, until he was finally felled by a major heart attack in 1982. As Diekman says so well, “the drifter had finally made it home.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2012

buy *Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins (Music in American Life)* online
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