Idol Chatter

betweenwyomingsbookcover.jpgWhat do the Beatles, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Whitney Houston all have in common? Ken Mansfield. A former record executive who raced through the ’60s and ’70s on big expense accounts and marijuana-scented tour buses, Mansfield worked for them all–as manager, friend, record producer and, when it had all gone bust on him, road crew. “Between Wyomings,” Mansfield’s latest book, tells the story of two journeys: one by van across country with his wife in the wake of a cancer diagnosis; the other his ride from Hollywood big shot with a sports car and a trendy guru to being a nobody in Nashville with a budding faith in Jesus.

Since his conversion to Christianity after the drugs, limos and week-long parties disappeared, Mansfield has made a second career of writing and speaking about his life in the music industry. His third memoir, “Between Wyomings,” just published by Thomas Nelson, goes over ground Mansfield has covered before. But by alternating present-day reflections and short, effective sermons about his faith, Mansfield assigns his recollections a power that goes beyond name-dropping.
Not that he can’t name-drop with the best of them. A friend especially of Ringo Starr, who drops in on Mansfield’s Thanksgiving dinner one year just to carve the turkey, and a core player in the Outlaw movement that transformed country music in the 1970s, Mansfield has plenty of dish that old schoolers will lap up. He smokes joints with Bobby Gentry as “Ode to Billie Joe” is running up the charts, is on the roof of Apple Studios when the Beatles play their last concert, and is the first to hear when the IRS busts Willie Nelson on tax charges. He also manages to tell the reader what precisely a record executive and label manager does between lunches at Trader Vic’s and blue-water vacations to earn the big bucks.
The high life, inevitably, is never enough for Mansfield, as it was not for many of his fellow industrial-strength party hounds. As his spiritual allegiance moves from Ayn Rand (thanks to Gentry) to an Indian yogi and finally to Jesus, his honesty and attention to detail bouy us along without fearing preachiness. Instead we share this back-country Idaho’s boy’s surprise at finding himself at the end of his multiple journeys, happy and (Christ-)centered at last.

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