Cowboy Song: The Authorized Biography of Thin Lizzy's Philip Lynott

Graeme Thomson
Philip Lynott

You know, I've read three or four bios on Lynott and Lizzy before this one, and this will be the last one I read. The problem with all of them is a somewhat obvious one -- they never end well. They are depressing. No matter how well the book is written, it's never an enjoyable read because of how Phil's story and life ended. So what can be said about the first authorized bio of Lynott?  If you've read any of the unauthorized bios, there's very little new here. It's the same story, largely conveyed via interviews with the usual suspects: Jim Fitzpatrick, Brush Shiels, Downey, Eric Bell, Gorham, Gary Moore, Robbo, Geldof, Lynott's Managers and minders. The only new people tapped here -- because it's authorized, that we hadn't heard from before, is one of Phil's early girlfriends, and Phil's ex-wife, Caroline, mother of his two daughters. Caroline provides an intersting perspective in the few sections she appears. 

So what's good here? This isn't The Thin Lizzy Story, it's definitely about Phil, and while the topics are obviously intertwined, Thomson does a good job of staying on track and keeping it about Phil. The book does seem to provide a good deal more depth and background into Phil's early, pre-Lizzy years than past bios. We learn that Phil had a son when he was very young, that was given up for adoption. They never met. We learn more about Phil's father, Cecil Parris -- the myth and the reality. They did meet. We learn more about his development as a musician and as a writer/lyricist than past bios cover.  The author spends time looking at Phil's lyrical content, though not so much to be oppressive.  One of the books biggest revelations -- to me, anyway, was that Jimmy Bain played a pretty nefarious role in keeping Phil hooked on heroin. While Lynott and all addicts have to take the lion's share of responsibility themselves, this book suggests that there were times Lynott was trying to get clean, and Bain would show up with smack because he didn't like to shoot up alone. So while Bain may not have been directly responsible for Lynott's addiction, he certainly wasn't helping. He was actively enabling. He comes off badly. Junkies. Sigh.

What's not good here? The author gives the same old slag to any post-Gorham-Robbo version Thin Lizzy that all the other past biographers have. He calls Black Rose the last decent Lizzy album, shits on Chinatown and Renegade the way all the other biographers have, and -- like all of them have -- big-time shits on, and largely glosses over the Sykes era, mostly for being too metal. This, of course, is a prevailing opinion among biographers and music critics. And of course, it differs widely from the Lizzy fans' opinions, including those at this site, where the prevailing opinions tends to be: 1. Black Rose was awesome. 2. There's maybe one album's worth of good songs spread across Chinatown and Renegade, and 3. John Sykes breathed new life into a dying band, and Thunder and Lightning is highly rated. 

So there you have it.  If you want to read a Lynott bio, this one is probably the most in-depth one we're gonna get, but it's not radically different from the ones that preceded it. Spoiler alert: There's a sad ending.  

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