I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve EarleI'll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive

bySteve Earle

Paperback | May 22, 2012

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'Steve Earle brings to his prose the same authenticity, poetic spirit, and cinematic energy he projects in his music. I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is like a dream you can't shake, offering beauty and remorse, redemption in spades.' -Patti Smith'Shot through with humor and insight and . . . enough action and intriguing characters in it to keep readers turning pages.' - Boston Globe Doc Ebersole lives with the ghost of Hank Williams. Literally.In 1963, ten years after he may have given Hank the morphine shot that killed him, Doc has lost his license. Living in the red-light district of San Antonio, he performs abortions and patches up the odd knife wound to feed his addiction. But when Graciela, a young Mexican immigrant, appears in the neighborhood in search of Doc's services, miraculous things begin to happen. Everyone she meets is transformed for the better, except, maybe, for Hank's angry ghost-who isn't at all pleased to seeDoc doing well.
STEVE EARLE is a singer-songwriter, actor, activist, and the author of a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year, the story collection Doghouse Roses. He has released more than a dozen critically acclaimed albums, including the Grammy winners The Revolution Starts Now, Washington Square Serenade, and Townes. He has appeared on film and tele...
Title:I'll Never Get Out of This World AliveFormat:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 0.6 inPublished:May 22, 2012Publisher:Houghton Mifflin HarcourtLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0547754434

ISBN - 13:9780547754437

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Read from the Book

  One Doc woke up sick, every cell in his body screaming for morphine— head pounding — eyes, nose, and throat burning. Hisback and legs ached deep down inside and when he tried to sit uphe immediately doubled over, racked with abdominal cramps. Hebarely managed to make it to the toilet down the hall before hisguts turned inside out. Just like every day. Day in, day out. No pardon, no parole. Untilhe got a shot of dope in him, it wasn’t going to get any better.Doc knew well that the physical withdrawal symptoms werenothing compared with the deeper demons, the mind-numbingfear and heart-crushing despair that awaited him if he didn’t gethis ass moving and out on the street. The worst part was thatthree quarters of a mile of semi-molten asphalt and humiliationlay between him and his first fix, and every inch would be an insistentreminder of just how far he had fallen in the last ten years. In the old days, back in Bossier City, all Doc had to do was situp and swing his needle-ravaged legs over the edge of the bedand his wake-up shot was always right there on the nightstand,loaded up and ready to go. Well, almost always. Sometimes he would wake in the middleof the night swearing that someone was calling his name.When morning came he was never sure that it wasn’t a dreamuntil he reached for his rig and found it was empty. Even then, hehad only to make his way to the medication cabinet in his officedownstairs to get what he needed — pure, sterile morphine sulfatemeasured out in precise doses in row after tidy row of little glassbottles. And he was a physician, after all, and there was alwaysmore where that came from. “But that was then,” sighed Doc. The sad truth was that, thesedays, he had to hustle like any other hophead on the street, tradinghis services for milk-sugar– and quinine-contaminated herointhat may very well have made its way across the border upsomebody’s ass. San Antonio, Texas, was less than a day’s drive from New Orleansbut Doc had come there via the long, hard route, slippingand sliding downhill every inch of the way. Consequences of hisown lack of discretion and intemperance had driven him from hisrightful place in Crescent City society before his thirtieth birthday.In one desperate attempt after another to escape his not-sodistantpast he had completed a circuit of the Gulf Coast in a littleover a decade, taking in the seamier sides of Mobile, Gulfport,and Baton Rouge. But when he landed in Bossier City, Shreveport’sblack-sheep sister across the Red River, he reckoned thathe had finally hit bottom. But he was wrong. The South Presa Strip on the south side of San Antonio wasa shadow world, even in broad daylight. Squares drove up anddown it every day, never noticing this transaction taking place inthat doorway or even wondering what the girls down on the cornerwere up to. The pimps and the pushers were just as invisibleto the solid citizens of San Antonio as the undercover cops whoparked in the side streets and alleyways and watched it all comedown more or less the same way, day after day, were. Doc stepped out into the street. The block and a half betweenthe Yellow Rose Guest Home and the nearest shot of dope wasan obstacle course, and every step was excruciating; nothing butpaper-thin shoe leather separating broken pavement and rawnerve. The sun seemed to focus on the point on the back of hisneck that was unprotected by the narrow brim of his Panama hatand burn through his brain to the roof of his mouth. He spat everyfew feet but could not expel the taste of decay as he ran thegauntlet of junkies and working girls out early or up all night andevery bit as sick as he was. There was a rumor on the street that Doc had a quantity ofgood pharmaceutical dope secreted away somewhere in the dilapidatedboarding house. The other residents had torn the placeapart several times, even prying up the floorboards, and foundnothing. Of course, that didn’t stop some of the more gullibleamong the girls from trying to charm the location out of himfrom time to time. Doc never emphatically denied the stories, especially when hewas lonely. He turned leftat the liquor store, slipping around to the parkinglot in back where Big Manny the Dope Man lounged againstthe fender of his car every morning serving the wake-up trade. “Manny, my friend, can you carry me until about lunchtime?Just a taste so I can get straight.” Big Manny was his handle, but in fact, big was simply toosmall a word to do the six-foot-five, two-hundred-and-eighty-odd-pound Mexican justice. Gargantuan would have been moreaccurate if anybody on South Presa besides Doc could have pronouncedit, but everyone just called Manny Castro Big Manny.Doc shivered in the pusher’s immense shadow but Manny wasshaking his head before Doc got the first word out. “I don’ know, Doc. You still ain’t paid me for yesterday. ¡Melleva la chingada! Fuckin’ Hugo!” He snatched a small paper sackfrom beneath the bumper of his car and lateraled it to a rangyyouth loitering nearby. “¡Vamanos!” Manny coughed, and the kidtook off like a shot across the parking lot and vanished over thefence. The portly plainclothes cop never broke his stride, barely acknowledgingthe runner and producing no ID or warrant as hecrossed the lot in a more or less direct line to where Manny, Doc,and a handful of loiterers were already turning around and placingtheir hands on the hood of Manny’s car. Detective Hugo Ackerman rarely hurried even when attemptingto catch a fleeing offender. He had worked narcotics for over adecade, and in his experience neither the junkies nor the pusherswere going far. He caught up with everybody eventually.“That’s right, gentlemen, you know how the dance goes. Handsflat, legs spread. Anybody got any needles or knives, best you tellme now!” He started with Manny, haphazardly frisking him from justbelow his knees up, about as far as Hugo could comfortably bendover. His three-hundred-pound mass was all the authority heneeded to hold even a big man like Manny in place, leaving hischubby hands free to roam at will. “How’s business, Manny. You know, I just come from JuniorTrevino’s spot. He looked like he was doing pretty good to me.” “Junior!” Manny snorted. “¡Pendejo! That shit he sells wouldn’tget a fly high, he steps on it so hard! Anybody that gets their dopefrom Junior’s either a baboso or they owe me money. Hey! Yousee Bobby Menchaca down there? I want to talk to that maricón.”When Hugo shoved his hand down the back of Manny’s slacks,the big man winced. “Chingada madre, Hugo! Careful down there. My pistol’s inthe glove box if that’s what you’re lookin’ for. Your envelope’swhere it always is.” “That’s Detective Ackerman to you, asshole!” Hugo continuedto grope around, emptying Manny’s pockets onto the hood of theFord and intentionally saving the inside of his sport coat for lastand then pocketing the envelope he found there. “Ain’t you heard? Bobby’s in the county. Been there since lastSaturday. Fell through the roof of an auto-parts store he wasbreakin’ into over on the east side. I guess the doors were in bettershape than the roof was ’cause he was still inside jackin’ withthe latch when the radio car rolled up.” He patted the envelopehe’d put into the breast pocket of his own sport coat. “It all here?” “Every fuckin’ dime.” Doc was next. “How about you, Doc? Got anything for me?”Doc half grinned. “As a matter of fact, Detective Ackerman,I regret that you catch me temporarily financially embarrassed.You usually don’t come around to see me until Sunday so I reckonedI had a day or two. Fact is I’m flat broke. Hell, I haven’t evenhad my wake-up yet.” “He ain’t lyin’, Detective.” Manny intervened. “I was just gettingready to send his broke ass down to Bobby.” “Relax, relax, Doc. Just thought I’d ask while I had you, so tospeak. I’ll see you Sunday, but damn, Manny! That’s cold! I reckonedDoc’s credit was better than that around here!” He pattedDoc on the buttand turned and ambled back toward the street.“All right, then.” Halfway there, he turned around. “Was that the Reyes kid? The one that took off with the pack?” Manny shrugged. “Maybe.” “Well, I’d count it twice when it comes back. He was showin’tracks the last time I rousted him.” “Yeah, right,” Manny muttered, but he made a mental note tocheck the kid’s arms when he got back. He and the others replacedtheir effects in their pockets, and as soon as Hugo was outof sight Manny stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudenough that there could be no doubt that the runner would hearhim. “Pinche Hugo! ¡Cabrón!” Manny grumbled. “He leaves mealone ’cause I pay him but then he sits across the street in anunmarked car and picks off half my customers when they leavethe spot. That shit’s bad for business!” He spat on the ground andthrew in an extra ¡cabrón! for good measure. “Yeah,” Doc agreed. “The fat son of a bitch takes a fair bite outof my ass every week as well, not to mention the odd course ofpenicillin on the cuff. Then again, I guess he needs to make itlook good . . . Hey, speakin’ of on the cuff, Manny, I know I oweyou but . . .” At that moment the kid rounded the corner, huffing and puff-ing, and handed off the pack. Manny didn’t even look insidebefore grabbing the kid by the wrist and peeling his shirtsleeveback, up above his elbow, to reveal that Hugo hadn’t been lying.“¡Maricón!” he snarled as he backhanded the kid across the facewith such ferocity that blood spurted instantly from both his noseand his mouth and he tumbled backward in an awkward somersault.He skidded on the seat of his pants but he hadn’t even cometo a full stop before he was up and gone. “Don’t come back, Ramón!” Manny shouted after him. “AndI’m gonna tell your mama!” He turned back to Doc, shaking hishead. “I told you, Doc. I can’t carry every junkie on the south sidethat comes up short . . .” “Oh, ferchrissake, Manny. Tell me, have I ever let you down?When did I ever fail to pay a debt, to you or anybody you know!I can’t work in this condition. Besides, amigo, I wasn’t worryin’about money when I was diggin’ that twenty-two slug out of yourass last year, now was I?” “Oh, so that’s how it is, huh, Doc? All right, then. See how youdo . . .” The bickering continued until the ritual was completed withan unintelligible grunt and a secret handshake, Manny pressingthe little red balloon into the palm of Doc’s hand. Manny hadknown he was good for it all along. All the hemming and hawingwas just for show, an oft-repeated performance for the benefit ofany deadbeats standing within earshot. A businessman had hisreputation to consider, after all. The hardest part of the whole ordeal was the long haul back upthe block, retracing the same steps on even heavier, shakier legs.He never carried his wake-up shot back to the boarding house inhis pocket or his hatband anymore. Instead, he cupped the dopein the hollow of a clenched fist as if it were some magical wingedcreature that would vanish into thin air if allowed to escape. Hecould feel the balloon against his sweaty palm and sometimes heswore that he could taste the dope inside. By the time he got backto his room and cooked it up he had to fight back a wave of nausea,a Pavlovian response to the smell of sulfur and heated morphine.Tie the tourniquet, find the vein, pull the trigger . . . Burnt sugar on the back of the tongue, tingling scalp, aches andpains evaporate, leaving only a whisper behind: “Say, hey there, Doc, my old back’s actin’ up somethin’ awful . . .” “Not now, Hank,” Doc said out loud and the sound of his ownvoice was all that was needed to weigh him back down to earthand the business at hand. Oh, well. It was only a taste to get him straight enough to work.The beer joint was dark, if not cool, inside, and this time of dayit was quiet because only the most hard-core alcoholics came inthis early and they never wasted their money on the jukebox orthe pool table in the back. Doc ordered a draft, and Teresa, thebarmaid, dutifully drew it and took his money, though they bothknew good and well he couldn’t choke it down on a bet, at leastnot until he got a little more dope in his system. The two bits wasmore like a rental fee on the little table in the back of the jointwhere everybody on South Presa knew Doc could be found everyday between eleven and five. Business had been slow lately and there were days that Doc resortedto petty theft and short-change scams to support his habit,vocations that he considered beneath him and that he was neververy good at. By noon that day he was beginning to get more thana little discouraged. No one had so much as looked in his directionall morning long and it was only Tuesday; the week ahead loomedlike a long, dark tunnel. Then the screen door creaked open, announcinga new arrival, a stranger, and things started looking up. The tough-looking pachuco clicked and clacked noisily acrossthe room, the metal taps on his brilliantly polished tangerineshoes announcing that he was a big man in his barrio and notafraid of anyone in this one. A sad-eyed young girl followed a fewtentative steps behind. He ordered a bottle of Falstaff, and whenTeresa reached for the dollar bill he laid on the bar, he covered itwith a cross-tattooed hand and leaned over to whisper in her ear.She nodded in Doc’s direction, and the youth clattered across theroom to stand threateningly over Doc, a dark little cloud ringedin fluorescent light. The girl waited by the bar. “This girl” — the boy motioned behind him with a cock of hishead — “is in trouble.”Up close the chico didn’t look so tough. All the hair grease andattitude couldn’t hide the fact that he was just a kid, at most nineteenor twenty. Doc gripped the edge of the table to steady himselfand leaned sideways to peer around him at the girl, who waseven younger. “You the daddy?” The boy only stared coldly back. “Well, Slick, where I come from a gentleman never leaves alady who’s in the family way standing around on a hard concretefloor.” Doc waved at the girl. “Honey, why don’t you come on overhere and take a load off your feet?” The kid’s fierce features instantly darkened but he still saidnothing, and the girl didn’t move. “Okay, Slick, it’s up to you. But if you want me to help you,then I need to ask your gal some questions, or maybe you can tellme what I need to know. When did she have her last menstrualperiod?” That did it. The boy motioned the girl over to the table. Docpulled out a chair for her and began talking directly to the girl inlow, reassuring tones, though he knew she couldn’t understanda word. He eyeballed the boy, who grudgingly interpreted thegirl’s obvious terror into impatient, condescending English. A bigtear that suddenly escaped her eye, trailing down one cheek, confirmedDoc’s suspicions that his bedside manner was being lost inthe translation. Doc stood up, and the boy suddenly shrank beside him as Docthrew a surprisingly strong arm around him and escorted himtoward the door…

Editorial Reviews

A deft, big-spirited novel about sin, faith, redemption, and the family of man ? You keep reading and you keep believing."- Entertainment Weekly 'Steve Earle brings to his prose the same authenticity, poetic spirit, and cinematic energy he projects in his music. I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is like a dream you can't shake, offering beauty and remorse, redemption in spades.'-Patti Smith'Shot through with humor and insight and ? enough action and intriguing characters in it to keep readers turning pages.'- Boston Globe 'Earle's writing never lacks heart.'- New York Times Book Review 'As he does in his songs, Earle finds the tenuous points of emotional connection between characters who are living not only on the edges of their own ability to cope, but often on the very margins of society itself.'- Rolling Stone "This subtle and dramatic book is the work of a brilliant songwriter who has moved from song to orchestral ballad with astonishing ease."-Michael Ondaatje"Earle has delivered plenty of potent messages during his turbulent career, but he has never pricked the public's conscience in as many different ways ? The renegade troubadour-turned-renaissance man ? challenge[s] audiences to think about mortality, redemption, addiction, artistic commitment and other soul-searing questions."- USA Today "Raw, honest and unafraid, this novel veers in and out of the lives of its many memorable characters with flawless pitch. Steve Earle has given us dozens of remarkable songs, he has given us a dazzling collection of short stories, and now here's his first novel, a doozy from a great American storyteller."-Tom Franklin"Earle is pointing out that in fiction reality can merge with myth in the service of a larger truthaÇÇ.aÇÇ.aÇÇ. [ I'll Never Get out of This World Alive ] aspires to a certain gritty transcendence . . . [and] comes with a mythic underpinning, a touch of the mysteries."- Los Angeles Times "Iconic country-rocker Earle's imaginative first novel follows the troubled life of Doc Ebersole, who may have supplied the shot of morphine that killed country legend Hank Williams . . . Earle draws on the rough-and-tumble tenderness in his music to create a witty, heartfelt story of hope, forgiveness, and redemption."- Booklist "This is an impressive debut novel. The characters are unforgettable, and the plot moves like a fast train. A fantastic mixture of hard reality and dark imagination."-Thomas Cobb"Earle has created a potent blend of realism and mysticism in this compelling, morally complex story of troubled souls striving for a last chance at redemption. Musician, actor, and now novelist-is there another artist in America with such wide-ranging talent?"-Ron Rash"In this spruce debut novel . . . hard-core troubadour Earle ponders miracles, morphine, and mortality . . .With its Charles Portis vibe and the author's immense cred as a musician and actor, this should have no problem finding the wide audience it deserves."- Publishers Weekly "This richly imagined novel not only takes its title from a Hank Williams classic, it audaciously employs Hank's ghost as a combination of morphine demon and guardian angel . . . Already well-respected for both his music and his acting, Earle can now add novelist to an impressive resume."- Kirkus, starred review"What a delight to read this novel and find so many elements I've admired in Steve Earle's songwriting for nearly twenty-five years. It is a rich, raw mix of American myth and hard social reality, of faith and doubt, always firmly rooted in a strong sense of character."-Charles Frazier"Steve Earle writes like a shimmering neon angel."-Kinky Friedman"Earle's first novel provides a haunting and haunted bookend to Irving's Cider House Rules . The ghost of Hank Williams walks through this abortionist's tale that has much to do with grace and aging and death-and the power of the feminine. Gritty and transcendent, Earle has successfully created his own potion of Texas, twang, and dope-tinged magic-realism."-Alice Randall"Everyone knows that Steve Earle ranks among the very best, and most authentic, songwriters in the history of America. With his first novel, Earle has established himself as one of our most knowledgeable and sympathetic writers period. He is a natural-born storyteller. If Jesus were to return tomorrow to 21st-century America, and do some street preaching on the gritty South Presa Strip of San Antonio, he'd love Earle's magnificently human, big-hearted drifters. Only the man who wrote "Copperhead Road" could have authored I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive ."-Howard Frank Mosher"A poignant story of madness and redemption woven into a tapestry of real world desperation and old world magic. It's colorful, cool, and downright gripping."-Robert Earl Keen"The best book I've read since The Road . With the lure of Hank Williams' ghost, a touch of the Kennedy assassination, a little Castaneda and a few miracles, he takes on the underworld and organized religion, and reality as it's generally supposed, with great certainty and research and style."-R. B. Morris"Steve Earle astonishes us yet again. Country Rock's outlaw legend brings the ghost of Hank Williams to life in a gloriously gritty first novel that soars like a song. And echoes in the heart."-Terry Bisson" I'll Never Get out of This World Alive reads like the best of Steve Earle's story songs, which means real good. The tale of a more charmingly haunted, trying-to-do-the-right-thing dope fiend you won't easily find."-Mark Jacobson"Outsider artists like Steve Earle bring a breath of fresh air to the literary world. I just wish they'd come around more often. Richly imagined and handily crafted-a mighty fine piece of storytelling."-Madison Smartt Bell"Perhaps only another great country singer would have the courage to cast [country singer Hank] Williams in the guise of a malignant hillbilly harpy, whose presence inevitably heralds imminent doom .aÇÇ.aÇÇ. And though the novel comes no closer to establishing the facts of Hank Williams's death, it certainly reveals a good deal of the truth behind it."- Guardian (UK)"