Dege Legg’s fourth book, "Cablog: Diary of a Cabdriver," takes a deep dive into the undercarriage of a midsized Southern city, detailing the five crazy years Legg drove a taxicab in Lafayette.
Being a rookie cabbie, Legg got the nightshift.
“It’s a zoo,” Legg said of that grinding 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift. “It’s a rite of passage because there’s so much craziness. But I liked it. I’m a night owl.”
In addition to being an award-winning writer, Legg composes cinematic acoustic-country-blues music in the guise of Brother Dege. In this unusual year, however, "Cablog" is his major creative endeavor. The memoir recounts his cab passengers in entries running a few paragraphs to a few pages.
Legg’s brief but memorable cab encounters include the grieving parents of a serial-killer victim; a gang of ex-Holiness Apostolic Pentecostals; James Taylor’s band; and a parade of prostitutes, people who used drugs and knuckleheads.
"Cablog" arrives next week via the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. Although Legg’s options for publicizing the book are limited in the COVID-19 era, the Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans will host a virtual book release party at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12. Registration at gardendistrictbookshop.com is required to view the author’s Zoom conversation with a fellow Lafayette writer, R. Reese Fuller.
Legg based "Cablog" on the fare logs he kept for City Cab Company from 2003 to 2008. He blogged contemporaneously about the experience, amassing 800 pages of source material. Using that as a first draft, Legg revised the book dozens of times, condensing voluminous writings into a quasi-memoir that’s much less about him than the characters he met driving a cab.
Legg took the cabdriver job following the troubled tour that broke the back of his bad luck-plagued rock band, Santeria. He’d later recast himself in music as Brother Dege, but in 2003, he simply needed a job.
From ignition, Legg knew he’d write about the experience. He writes about everything.
“I debated with myself about putting it in a more narrative format, with more about my personal life,” he said. “But when I contrasted my life to the kookiness of the passengers, I just got in the way.”
Legg anticipated that he’d learn a lot about people. He also learned about himself.
“I love people, and I want to feel connected to them,” he said. “But that’s not always possible. It’s a lot easier to be a Buddha on the mountain than a saint in the streets.”
Burned out by 2008, Legg left cabdriving. In 2009, he began recording songs for his first Brother Dege album, “Folk Songs of the American Longhair.” A month after the album’s release in 2010, the producers of the reality TV series “Deadliest Catch” licensed one of its tracks, “Hard Row to Hoe,” to be the theme song for their spin-off series, “After the Catch.”
Legg caught another break while he was working full-time in a men’s homeless shelter in Lafayette. Oscar-winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino placed “American Longhair” song “Too Old to Die Young” in the neo-spaghetti-western “Django Unchained.” The movie’s soundtrack album earned a Grammy nomination, making Legg a Grammy nominee.
“Frankly,” Tarantino said of the “Folk Songs of the American Longhair” album, “every track could have been in the movie. … Almost every song could be a theme song.”
Until the coronavirus pandemic, Brother Dege and the Brethren toured the United States and Europe. This year wasn’t going to be normal anyway, however, because Legg booked just a handful of festival dates in March and April.
“I got lucky because I blocked off the spring and summer of 2020 to make a new album and finish the book,” he said. “To be honest, I needed a break because the creative life in the deep South is a hustle. When people ask me what I do, it’s almost like I’m telling them I’m a cosmonaut. It’s a cute hobby to them, rather than a serious endeavor. But until you’ve got skin in the game and blood on the line, you don’t understand. I treat this like a job. I’m dedicated to it.”
Dege Legg Zoom book event
6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12