Art Pepper’s Straight Life is one of the seminal jazz autobiographies, essential for its portrait of the postwar West Coast scene and its pitiless portrayal of the addict’s lifestyle. The book was a collaboration between Art and his wife, Laurie, who shaped and structured hours of taped conversations while preserving Art’s singular perspective. Indeed, from their first meeting at the Synanon rehab facility in Santa Monica, Calif., Art and Laurie’s entire lives were a collaboration. In addition to supporting him through the long dark nights of his soul, Laurie was instrumental to the flush latter years of his career, assisting in the selection of playlists and sidemen, battling record companies for earnings and recording live gigs for posterity (a number of these poll-placing recordings have since been released on Laurie’s boutique Widow’s Taste label). Straight Life often paints Laurie as a gift from the gods who rescued Art from himself. But as she plainly states in the introduction to her own new memoir, ART: Why I Stuck With a Junkie Jazzman (APMCorp), “I was no angel, and we rescued each other.”
In 1968, Laurie was a “casual” drug user, estranged from her young daughter and fresh off a failed suicide attempt. She checked into Synanon for therapy and found Art, the alto saxophonist legendary for his refreshingly un-Bird-like interpretive skills … and for his frequent heroin-fueled bouts with the law. After a carefully Synanon-structured courtship, Laurie and Art left the facility to embark on a union that endured until Art’s death in 1982.