Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ham: Slices of a Life by Sam Harris

Sam Harris is among the lucky ones…one of the lucky ones who survived high school in Oklahoma as a young gay man in the pre-acceptance days and got away…got away to Nashville, Broadway and finally to Hollywood where he survived his own early success as a belt-‘em-out white man singing songs made famous by black women. Now, as a proud father himself and looking back, he shares the highs and lows and the realities of a show business life.

It is a joy to read of someone who finds and nourishes within themselves a great talent. Despite the expected barriers to success, Harris managed to hopscotch his way to major milestones and to patch together something we call a successful career. Every life can be fascinating, but a meteoric rise is breathtaking…like the time he opened for his idol, Aretha Franklin, on a cold winter weekend in Cleveland.

For Sam Harris fans, this book is a necessity. Harris takes us through moments of great affirmation (the swelling applause of adoring crowds including a Carnegie Hall performance at 23 years old), shares moments of great intimacy (the birthing of his boy, Cooper), and uncovers moments of great pain and sorrow (his high school suicide attempt and later, the recognition of his alcoholism). He is one to whom the sound of people clapping is a magic balm making all the trials and tribulations of a life spent in the limelight go away.

And now my admission: I had never heard of Sam Harris. I had to look him up and play a couple Youtube freebies to get an idea of his range. But it doesn’t matter if you know him and his music or not. His memoir was instructive to me for the poignancy in the stories of his high school years when he recognized and agonized over the discovery that he was different. The stories revealing the truth behind the high profile openings, the adulation, and the famous friends are likewise instructive. I’m just glad he got to do what he loved, to be with someone he loves, and to experience the joy and pain of raising a child. These things offer the real applause in a life.

The writing gives us a sense of the man. He is able to laugh at himself and the circumstances in which he finds himself, which is probably why he survived the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ And he is funny, whether singing, writing, or living. (“Do you mean funny….or funny?”) But I wouldn’t compare him to Sedaris and Rakoff--his skills would not be shown to advantage in this triptych. Rather, I would simply say he is a funny white gay man with a big voice who survived his talent. He is worth reading for these successes alone.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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