Released just a few years after Jerry Lee miraculously recovered after years of addiction to pills and alcohol, I AM WHAT I AM so far stands as the best visual source into his wild life. Running approximately sixty minutes, the story of The Killer is narrated somewhat skimpy; all the well known facts are covered (namely his religious background, his rise to fame which was almost immediately ruined after publicly announcing that he had married his under-aged cousin, and his struggles with drugs), but anyone seeking a detailed account of his life should go for Nick Tosche's biography HELLFIRE (although admittedly, that book is somewhat mixed).
Nevertheless, I AM WHAT I AM deserves a comfortable position in any collection of a Jerry Lee-fan, as it includes by far the best samplings of Killer-concerts I've come across in my life. With his raw style and breath-taking energy, he performs "Whole Lotta Shaking' Going' On" and "Great Balls of Fire" in front of wild teenagers at The Ed Sullivan Show, and excerpts from later performances prove that his talent only increased as the years passed by; long after most performers of his generation were dead or retired, The Killer never disappointed neither his audiences nor, even more significantly, his own limits, if he ever had any. The documentary also includes lots of interviews with fellow-performers Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry and Kris Kristofferson, as well as Sam Phillips and The Killer himself. His friends describe Jerry Lee with understanding and admiration, and Old Lewis himself appears very pleasant, loaded with lots of humor and self-irony. When talking about his rocky years, he laughs, "I thought I was doing great at that time ... apparently, I wasn't." Even so, being a stubborn fighter, Jerry Lee managed to overcome his addictions, a fact which is all too often ignored but which this documentary reveals. Another pleasant part of the interviews was that these people actually had some insight into Jerry Lee's cultural background; unbeknownst or even indifferent to many, it was actually quite common at the time for a young teenager to marry an older man in certain parts of America.
A long and detailed documentary on the life of Jerry Lee Lewis has yet to come, but in the meantime, I AM WHAT I AM is certainly a "must-have" for fans of The Killer and rock'n'roll in general.
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