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Rickie Lee Jones Debuts Memoir Named After One Of Her Best-Known Songs

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LAST CHANCE TEXACO")

RICKIE LEE JONES: (Singing) A long stretch of headlights bends into I-9. Tiptoe into truck stops.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Rickie Lee Jones has had the kind of life that might lead to great songs but may not be so easy to live. She's often been left feeling unwanted or locked up. Then she breaks out, runs away, always running on the road, the road, the road. Her new memoir shares a title with one of her best-known songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LAST CHANCE TEXACO")

JONES: (Singing) You've found the last-chance Texaco.

SIMON: Her memoir - "Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles Of An American Troubadour." And Rickie Lee Jones, the Grammy-winning, gold record-selling artist who's considered one of the leading musical talents of her times, joins us now from New Orleans. Thanks so much for being with us.

JONES: I'm so happy to be here. Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: So your book, which is so remarkably beautifully written, showing your signature as a songwriter, too - it occasioned a family conversation with our daughters because I'm told the phrase isn't used anymore, but you said growing up, you always felt like you had the cooties.

JONES: Oh, yeah. I didn't feel like I had cooties. People treated me like I had cooties.

SIMON: Yeah.

JONES: They drew lines around their lunch tray at the cafeteria and just in general let me know I was unwelcome and unwanted.

SIMON: Why? Do you have any idea?

JONES: I don't. You know, I wasn't particularly ugly or smelly. I was kind of pretty and friendly. But I guess I was different somehow. And children can tell if you're different. I never understood why my little middle-class braids, without any teeth, barefoot self itself was excluded, you know?

SIMON: Well, I bet they only brag about knowing you now.

JONES: You're right (laughter).

SIMON: Is it fair to say that your mother had a hard childhood and didn't always know how to give you a better one?

JONES: Yes, I think so. She might not like me to say those words because she always felt that she was doing her best and doing right by us. But there were gaps.

SIMON: Yeah. In fact, you write at one point you were jealous of those homes with happy, well-adjusted people.

JONES: I can remember a time I went to a nice - this girl, when I was a runaway, we went to her house in Marin County. Her father was a psychologist. And she had a really pretty house, and they were giving her these freedoms. I felt this wave of hatred. I know I was thinking, why couldn't my father have had this? Why do you get this, and my dad - and I want to say that I thought at that time I might've later understood why some kids from challenge backgrounds become especially angry and violent and act out that way because they'd like to have a better life.

SIMON: You mention being a runaway. July 4, 1970...

JONES: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...You open a chapter, you wake up in a jail in Detroit.

JONES: That summer, I was 15. I had hitchhiked across the nation from Big Sur to Detroit to have a hippie meeting somewhere in Canada. And the next day or two, I came back to America with this guy who wore a beret. And to cross the border, he loaned me his white beret (laughter). And I didn't have a bra on, which attracted the attention of everybody. They sent that guy back to Canada. They brought me into the office and arrested me for being in danger of leading - what does it say? - a lewd and...

SIMON: Lascivious, I think.

JONES: Yeah, a lewd and lascivious life. And the FBI arrested me. I'm pretty sure that that crime is reserved only for women or young girls who don't have bras on. So that's how I came to be in jail on the Fourth of July.

SIMON: And the saddest words in the book, in many ways, is when you ask a social worker, who tells you that, you know, they found your father. You asked, you couldn't find my mother? What did she say?

JONES: She said, your mother doesn't want you back.

SIMON: Oh. That - I can't imagine what that must have felt like.

JONES: I think I just had already learned to - kind of like a flower, a big flower made of steel. Oh, yeah - "Steel Magnolias." I think I probably just made another level of protection that I could recede behind. But I just - the way I am, kind of optimistic, I went, well, at least my dad wants me (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah. And music was a kind of guardian angel for you?

JONES: Yeah. Yes, it was. I think music is a living spirit. I don't think we have the words to describe all the ways it functions for us. But it was there, watching me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHUCK E.'S IN LOVE")

JONES: (Singing) How come he don't come and PIP with me?

SIMON: Most of this book is, you know, before the world got to know Rickie Lee Jones. But, boy, I was struck by something you wrote - quote, "I can tell you that fame brings no solace, no love and no warmth. I can also tell you that money isolates."

JONES: Well, people hear or feel that if they're not famous, they're not as good as because, gosh, if you got everything you wanted overnight, just like you wanted - fame and money and respect - what is the problem? But we really do think that these things are going to bring us that treasure that eludes us, that thing we need inside of us. And it's a slap in the face to find out, I feel just as bad as I did, but I can buy more ice cream cones, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYING")

JONES: (Singing) Don't let the sun catch you crying.

SIMON: You know, your work has moved and touched and is shared around the world by so many people. I've got to think that's, wow, what a great life.

JONES: This is the gift of aging. And it's also the gift of aging in my business. The real gift comes from that letter - you know, Mother died last year, but she and I used to listen to your record when I was 8 - and whatever the story is, and realize and accept with so much painful, loving actions (ph) that you've been woven into people's lives. And that is wonderful. That was worth the ride.

SIMON: Rickie Lee Jones - her memoir, "Last Chance Texaco" - it's been so good to talk to you. Thank you so much.

JONES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYING")

JONES: (Singing) Don't let the sun catch you crying - oh, no. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.