Cowboy Song (the authorised biography of Philip Lynott) – Graeme Thomson

Does the world need another book on the rise and fall of The Rocker?  Thirty one years after Lynott’s drug-induced death, Graeme Thomson’s book on Philip Lynott ‘Cowboy Song’ seems to step back a little further than previous efforts and is a worthwhile, if sad, analysis of the rise and fall of a Rock legend.

There’s  a little known song by Phil Lynott that seems to come close as is possible to explaining his drug induced implosion:

“Who do you think you are
Are you a poet a lover a father a rock and roll star
Who do I think I am
Who do I think I am
I love my partner in life – my wife, my children and mam

Who do you think you are
Who do you think you are
Well I messed up, I mucked up oh I should shut up
Who do you think you are
Who do you think you are
Who do I think I am…

So tired, of living out somebody else’s dream”

‘Living out somebody else’s dream’ is the song title and maybe a part of the reason for his untimely death.  Certainly Graeme Thomson’s excellently researched book has glimpses of Lynott’s living the dream, but for the most part it tells the tale of a boy and later a man who spent his life being different from those around them and ever in search of an identity beyond the Rockstar persona he created.


It’s  the tale of a man with many personalities as he struggled to identify his own.  A man who wrote beautifully poetic lyrics, who could be gentle and great fun,  but who could also be scarily threatening.  Who loved his wife and children yet shunned all efforts to clean up his act and get away from the drugs that everyone claims to have seen were ruining his life – himself included.  A man who traveled the world picking his share of girls, yet would phone friends at home to check on his wife’s/girlfriends fidelity.


It’s  not clear if the author even saw Thin Lizzy play live, and perhaps the air of distance, both in physical closeness to Lynott and indeed time itself from the events themselves, is one of the book’s  strengths.  There have been a good number of authors raking over the Rise and Fall of the rocker but usually with a subjective fans, musicians, or indeed familial in Philomena Lynott’s case, eye view.  Alan Byrne’s ‘Renegade of Thin Lizzy’ is one I haven’t read yet but is seemingly highly rated for detail and part of several works by the author on Lizzy and it’s leader.  Of those I have read, Mark Putterford’s 2002 book ‘The Rocker’ was the first to really go deeper than the usual band success story that Thomson expands on.  There are somewhat less bleak tellings of Lynott’s story on offer –  Scott Gorham’s recent attempt ‘The Boys are back in town’ is more of a coffee table history with souvenir pictures, as is Niall Stoke’s beautifully presented collection of quotes and fan memorabilia ‘Still in love with you’.  Stuart Baillie did a fair job with his (also ‘authorized’) biography ‘Ballad of the Thin Man’ but where Thomson wins out is in the Extra mile he goes.  Finding more out about Philip’s father, discovering  a son put up for adoption, threads that weave a more intricate and it must be said, more sombre, picture of Philip Lynott than I expected with anything containing an ‘authorized’ in its title.


Oddly enough, or perhaps a telling indication that the author isn’t  really a die hard fan, he goes awry to my eyes only when talking about the music.  “Black Rose is the last Thin Lizzy album to be truly worthy of the name”?!  To Thomson the discs afterwards were largely duds, with occasional okay songs scattered around them.  My memory of the time is that ‘Chinatown’ had a couple of successful singles on it – the title track and ‘Killer on the Loose’, and ‘Thunder and Lightning‘ was reviewed very positively, with it’s energetic metal approach suggesting they were far from a spent force, the addition of Sykes on guitar being a breath of fresh air (Thompson describes the albums quality as ‘negligible’ and Sykes’ contribution as ‘All flash but little feel’).   Maybe this viewpoint is a good thing though, giving the author more objectivity when writing.


On a research level particularly, this really is an excellent book.   Up until Thomson came along the book on Philip Lynott I would have recommended most was his mother’s ‘My Boy’ which is naturally as subjective as could be given it’s  author but also heartbreakingly  honest at times.  Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about Thomson’s book is that it is so emotionally detached yet at the same time as emotionally heartbreaking as that by Philomena Lynott.


Philip Parris Lynott ended up living out the dream we had of him as a rock star as if, for lack of finding his own identity, he accepted the one we fans created for him.  Much as I loved the man and still love his music I always found it unforgivable that he lived as he finally did after taking on the responsibility of marriage, and having two daughters, which should have been the wake-up call needed to make him clean up his act.   Yet despite the obvious love for his family it wasn’t enough and consequently they lost a husband and father whilst we lost many years of great music.  The Afterword written by Lynott’s wife makes particularly sad reading here.  Interesting reading too as her side of events has not been covered previously (presumably this is the Lynott Estate authorization coming through).


Cowboy Song then is in some ways a tale of Hubris and Nemesis.  A man who regularly went public saying  drugs are dangerous for others, but seemed to privately think ‘I’m okay,  I can kick it if I need too…’  After reading the book the first thing I needed to do was put ‘Live & Dangerous’ on loud and proud.  Fortunately we still have great music to remember Philip Lynott for;   and who could really look at the man in those pictures, hear his thick Dublin accent enquiring with a wink in his eye if ‘any of the ladies want a little more Irish in them’ before launching into the blistering riff of ‘Emerald’ and not wish him well amongst the rockstars in heaven?  Are you out there, Phil?  We need you here, come back wild one will ya!  They don’t  make them like you anymore.

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