I Got a Name: Jim Croce's Story In a Bottle

Categories: Get Lit

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I Got A Name: The Jim Croce Story
by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock
Da Capo Press, 336 pp., $25

That it's taken nearly four decades since his 1973 plane crash death at the young age of 30 for a biography of singer-songwriter Jim Croce to come out is a shame. However, while I Got A Name is an insightful look at the denim-jacketed/handlebar-mustachioed man and his music, there's still a better book out there waiting to be written.

Croce's widow and her current husband wrote the majority of the manuscript in the early '90s, making it more of a marriage memoir than biography. And the book is two-thirds complete before Croce records the first of his three major-label records, which spawned a slew of hits including "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" (who, it turns out, was a based on a real person), "You Don't Mess Around with Jim," "Operator," "Time In a Bottle" and "I Got a Name."

The book does shed light on Croce's near decade of struggling in the music business (in which Ingrid had influence as singing/writing partner), as well as the series of blue collar jobs he took. While they offered little in money, they were rich with characters and circumstances that Croce would later use in many story songs like "Leroy Brown," "Roller Derby Queen," "Speedball Tucker" and "Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy."

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We also get reprints of Jim's love letters, and insight into the shady contracts he happily signed while ignoring Ingrid's reservations. Readers also learn about the birth of their son, Adrian James (today a performer/music exec himself who goes by A.J.) as well as a second boy who was stillborn.

But I Got a Name has a huge flaw in my eyes, because the bulk of the narrative is presented in dialogue format within quotation marks. Never mind that it would be impossible for Ingrid to vividly recall conversations and words from many years before (and often with usage that just screams stage-y dialogue), but she also includes as fact conversations and incidents that she has no firsthand knowledge of, was not present for, and would have no idea of what was actually said.

And while fans embrace the easygoing troubadour side of Croce, Ingrid also details incidents of drug intake, mental and physical abuse, and his appetite for groupies. The narrative is not always pretty. And I'm not just talking about when a raised-Italian Catholic adult Jim gets a ceremonial cut in his penis during his conversion to Ingrid's Jewish religion!

In the years since his death, Ingrid Croce has been a strong force in promoting her late husband's music, be it fighting for royalties, issuing new CDs and DVDs, penning cookbooks --including the ingeniusely-named Thyme in a Bottle --and operating Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar in San Diego.

And -- like Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and Kurt Cobain --the tantalizing question of what Jim Croce would have done with his music if he had lived longer is only up for speculation.

I Got a Name does suffer from dramatic subjectivity and unverifiable instances/exchanges to be taken as a biography, but any book length look at Jim Croce is welcome and long overdue, and few would argue that anyone knew him better than this tome's co-author.

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Phil Kurnit
Phil Kurnit

Bob Ruggiero has it right when he cautions, as a good journalist and reviewer, that the book "suffers from dramatic subjectivity and unverifiable instances/exchanges" so that it cannot be taken as a biography. I am Phil Kurnit.  Jim Croce wrote and recorded for my business partners and myself,  He was our good friend and my partners were his confidants.  I knew only certain aspects of his personal life, but most of the aspects of his professional life. Ingrid Croce’s fantasy that she and Jim were living on $200. a week when he had hit records and was performing all over the country may very well be believed by her, since she has been telling that same falsehood for so long.  Jim and Ingrid were receiving $150. per week, if I recall, when they were living in New York and recording their album for Capitol Records in 1968.  It was enough to pay for their rent in a one bedroom apartment in New York and food and a little more --- not a munificent weekly sum, but in 1968 adequate for a husband and wife, without kids, in order to be working on starting a career in music.  That amount was advanced to them by our production/publishing companies, before they were earning any money.  Then they toured for months and kept their fees from the tour, but the album sold almost nothing.  Almost 3 years later Jim began recording again, but now as a solo artist, for the same production/publishing companies, and he was an instant hit.   He was managed by the best management company in America, had a first-rate agency and agent, a first-rate financial manager, and when he began touring in support of the first album they bought a house in San Diego, in a prime neighborhood. Their bills and mortgage were paid for by the financial management company from Jim’s earnings; the financial manager determined from Jim and Ingrid how much they needed each week from his earnings, and in accordance with the budget they set for themselves, that’s what they received from his earnings, and the rest was invested.   Jim earned and received substantial sums from his records and songs, and, of course, she received millions more after his death in 1973 (he recorded his third and last album weeks before he died).  Ingrid Croce brought an action against the production company, publishing company, and their owners and Jim’s producers personally, trying to rescind the contracts, claiming fraud, so that she could own and control the masters and songs.   She lost that action and the contracts were upheld as valid and reasonable and absent of fraud.  Her legal bills for that action exceeded $1,000,000, which she contested and settled for a lesser, substantial amount.  And, by the way, Ingrid contested Jim’s estate passing to both Ingrid and their son, A.J., so that she would be the sole heir under California law, and she succeeded in cutting A.J. out as an heir of Jim’s estate (Jim died before he signed a will).     The book seems to be concocted to be the basis of a movie script, and it could be, if illusion prevails.  If it’s based on this book, it will be a fairy tale. . 

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