Friday, June 17, 2011

Jesse James As An American Outlaw

American OutlawI've never given Jesse James much thought. I wouldn't consider myself a fan of his reality shows Monster Garage, Jesse James Is A Dead Man, or The Celebrity Apprentice. Until recently, I didn't even know he owned West Coast Choppers.

What I do know about James is that he was married to Sandra Bullock. He also did something behind her back. And for that reason alone, I don't like Jesse James as a person. It's one of the reasons that I picked up his autobiography, interested in finding some redeeming qualities.

American Outlaw is filled with drinking, theft, betrayal, and regret.

James grew up in Long Beach, Calif. He never writes much about his mother; he lived with his dad and a string of horrible stepmothers. His father wasn't much better. It's clear he was abusive.

At minimum, James' father had no qualms about keeping his son out of school so he could help unload trucks at swap meets; laughing at and mocking his son over a broken arm; and accusing his son of setting the family home aflame (even though Jesse James did not). It was a final straw.

His early life framed up what James would later consider his two talents: stealing and playing football. Even today, his autobiography hints that James possesses pride over how many robberies he and his friend got away with, from cars to money to merchandise.

It was this penchant for stealing that eventually derails what could have been a promising football career. His eventual arrest and incarceration, ironically for the one robbery he didn’t commit (he merely stashed the goods), shut the door. And then a serious knee injury bars it shut forever.

James does attempt to trade up from a life of crime.

Fortunately, James decides to replace stealing with a more respectable career. He becomes a welder, a skill he unexpectedly finds measures up to his past talents. He is good enough that his work helps finance the opening of West Coast Choppers, which James quickly turns into a successful business.

He marries Karla, his first wife, and has two children. But he prefers to put more into his easy successes than those he might have to work at. They divorce, and James discovers a talent for drinking.

The fast track to instant celebrity on reality television.

Monster Garage propels James to instant success with reality star status. He banks on this visibility, marrying porn star Janine Lindemulder. They have a daughter, but eventually split. James describes her as so unstable that he is afraid of her.

For anyone who didn't know James after Monster Garage, they know he married Sandra Bullock next. Although most people consider the couple a mismatch, they settle into a comfortable and mostly normal family life with his kids. It might have been the moment James turned the corner, but eventually he gets bored and sleeps with someone (just one, he says in his book, contradicting interviews) at West Coast Choppers.

Today, he says that he realizes he made a serious mistake. But it will be too late. After the other woman comes forward to capitalize on James’ money and fame, he is forced to admit his misdeeds to a devastated Bullock.

His actions, screwing over one of the nicest people in Hollywood, will never bode well for any future likability. Even another trip to rehab seems unlikely to change that fact. After losing Bullock for good, leaving his children distraught, and becoming one of the most despised men in America, his book alone is the only thing redeeming, assuming it can be believed.

Jesse James: American Outlaw Steals A 2.3 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale

Jesse James is not really an American outlaw, one that can be feared and admired like his namesake. In fact, some reviewers have even called his book American Ass. Still, I will give him credit where credit is due. The book is an interesting read, mostly candid, and occasionally self-serving. Chalk up most negative reviews to people who make up their minds before page one.

Equal credit belongs to co-writer Sam Benjamin (a sometime independent filmmaker and author). It seems obvious that Benjamin is the person who puts the pieces together, capturing James' recollections nicely. Enough so that even if you don't care for the man (or maybe you do), it becomes a revealing read about someone who could have been cool if he wasn't his own worst enemy.

You can find American Outlaw on Amazon or download the book from iBooks. American Outlaw by Jesse James is also available at Barnes & Noble. It was published by Gallery.
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