For author Joel Selvin, it wasn’t just an elephant in the room. It was an elephant sitting on the chest of everyone in the room. The life of Jim Gordon- sparkling, then tragically murderous- carried with it forever a preceding, unavoidable note: this was perhaps the most successful, respected drummer in all of rock-and-roll throughout the late 1960s and ‘70s who, in a most gruesome fashion, killed his mother. 

The who, what, where, and when are well-known before the story even begins. What remained, of course, was the most important question of all: the why. Selvin, from the start, commits to a choice of balance that smartly makes this 250-page effort a chilling, gripping, and fascinating reading experience. Just as the title suggests, immediately we meet Gordon as both an unmatched musician- even as he plays, on the downslope of his career, in a Santa Monica bar- and a tormented soul, weeks away from the commission of his horrific crime that would lead to his 40-year imprisonment in a California mental hospital until his death in March of 2023.

This pattern of jockeying between drums and demons unfolds beat by beat towards the inevitable conclusion, excruciating in its crescendo. Every Gordon achievement- celebrated hits and historic albums (including, at his peak, his immortal work on Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs)- is countered with the matching and increasingly invasive presence of his auditory hallucinations manifested by the severest of schizophrenia. The indulgences of drugs and alcohol, awash in the culture of the times, allowed some to suggest, in diagnosing Gordon, that there was possible causality. Selvin, with sober hindsight, is more plainspoken and objective.

The author allows no external excuses for Gordon, but rather builds a stark sense of confession, suggesting that no one knew exactly what this was or what to do about it, especially and most tragically, Gordon, himself. Selvin spends only a brief half-chapter on Gordon’s life following his incarceration- an oddly mild closing anecdote about Gordon’s Grammy win in 1993- that summarizes, in painfully neat fashion, Gordon’s literal and figurative ultimate place.  Once Jim Gordon lost his battle with the voices, the world, for all intents and purposes, lost Jim Gordon.