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A Four-Minute Life



Near the end of Jesse McRae’s book My Four-Minute Life: The Journey of a Very Human Songwriter, the author and musician notes that he changed his address more than 100 times in 40 years without ever once gaining the ability to escape himself.


By the time readers have gotten to this point of the memoir, this epiphany is an understandable one. In the span of years covered by the 73-year-old songwriter, he recounts a troubled childhood, decades of drug and alcohol abuse, the dissolution of four marriages and countless toxic love affairs, numerous health problems and a self-loathing so deep it once had him contemplating suicide.


If the aforementioned travails make you think the details of McRae’s life could be incorporated into a soundtrack to a sad country song, you’d be half right. While the book focuses on how making music was his one constant even in the years he was working hard and partying harder everywhere from the Pacific Northwest to Nashville and far beyond, the songs he has written and performed over the years—many of which are included in the book, and can and should be heard on McRae’s website for further reference—are in fact what likely saved his life.


“I finished my first complete song in 1965, and by then I had discovered that writing calmed me and relieved the pressure of whatever was percolating beneath the surface,” he writes. “I had no clue as to what that might be. I had simply never learned to identify, acknowledge or process emotions. In fact, I had become a master at suppressing them. Achieving even a minimal understanding of that was still years in my future, but I was at least aware that writing songs was an outlet of some sort.”


One thing readers will notice throughout the course of My Four-Minute Life—the title refers to the length of time that encompasses most commercial songs, meaning there’s a limited window to get the story across to the listening public—is that McRae doesn’t shy away from the mistakes he’s made in his life. And when he shares details like being a 60-something falling back off the wagon after 20 years, it proves that, just like the rest of us, he’s an fallible human being.


Of course, stories of redemption need to balance the good with the bad. To that end, McRae’s journey of self-discovery also includes the news that he’s once again sober, is a dedicated father and grandfather and has finally discovered his “real self.”

Although the current state of his health will keep the Bellingham resident from performing his songs at the next Chuckanut Radio Hour taking place Thurs., July 28 at Whatcom Community College, attendees will see McRae take the stage as the featured author, with musician Steve Webb assisting by performing songs from My Four-Minute Life.


It’s possible McRae will choose excerpts from both the beginning and the ending of the book in order to show the progress he’s made in his storied life. If so, perhaps he’ll read the following passage: “More and more these days, I feel like a part of the sea itself, like the wake left behind by one of those behemoth super-freighters,” he writes. “A deep undulation that rolls and rolls until it fragments on some distant shore and becomes an altered version of itself before setting out once again on its ceaseless search for serenity.”


-Amy Kepferle, Cascadia Weekly







Jesse McRae’s “My Four-Minute Life” is a book that had to be written.


“My Four-Minute Life” is the book Jesse McRae had to write.


It is his history of a lifelong identity crisis that ends with the 70-plus-year-old songwriter finally at peace with himself, at least for now.


If the public doesn’t know the songwriter Jesse F McRae, McRae admits he’s never had a hit that would have made his name household. There’ve been covers, yes, and he performs the songs himself, but no Brad Paisley, Keith Urban nor Kenny Chesney has come knocking.


In this, McRae might have been a victim of how the Nashville industry works.


Although the city is known for its musicianship — altogether, sing the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Nashville Cats — its success is based on publishing. It attracts thousands of songwriters hoping to interest a publisher in selling a song or songs to an established country act.


Thus, Nashville has its pick of songs and can control the career of an aspiring singer, who doesn’t write his/her own material, as is expected in the rock world, or has the record company forcing him/her to record something of promise recommended by the publisher.


Presumably, McRae, who had several publishers on his side, never got to the top drawer. If he had, his story would be different. That, in part, is why the book is unique. He never made it. He’ll be regarded as an also-ran.


Too bad. There is much to recommend his writing. It’s literate, thoughtful and strives for the balance of the personal and universal. Although a third of his book, which takes its title from the ideal song length, deals with his four marriages, addiction to booze and drugs, raising a son, self-esteem to self-realization, a good third of it is devoted to his lyrics, with the final third commenting on structure, inspiration, reception and what he has learned from the writing.


No doubt, the reader will find points of recognition possibly to the point they might want to shake McRae by the lapels, if only to assuage their own guilt.


It is the songwriting that is compelling. McRae is dedicated to it, learning from it while he is trying to communicate what he already has learned — usually from experience.


That’s the funny thing about songwriting. In my own past, I’ve sat, often with a hangover, trying to distil feelings or thoughts into a four-minute piece of music. It’s a private pursuit that will become public. That personal-to-universal thing.

Sometimes, it requires guts to make that transition. Will the audience understand? Will it relate? Will the song hit a nerve and be recognized?


That’s why Jesse F McRae had to write “My Four-Minute Life.”


-Tom Harrison, The Province, and





Jesse McRae has released his first book, "My Four Minute Life: The Journey of a Very Human Songwriter.” Jesse has written with some of the finest songwriters in Nashville; played more wrong side of the tracks dives and bars than just about anyone I know; suffered more serious health issues than anyone I know; dealt with more personal demons than anyone I know, and in the middle of it all, at age 48, rescued his 4 year old son from a very dangerous situation and raised him as a single father. Or, if you read the book, you will find that his son raised him. He is an excellent songwriter. That he never had any major cuts has as much to do with the fickleness of the music business as anything else.


Jesse got into the business in the mid 70's and worked as hard as anyone I know at becoming a good guitar player, a good singer and a good entertainer as well as a very fine songwriter. But his book is not a book about how to write songs, it is a book about the struggle of overcoming a childhood knocked off the tracks, of surviving in a dysfunctional home and how that early trauma leads to bad decisions and life choices that end up affecting every path you try to take and everyone you come in contact with.


After almost 15 years in Nashville and with failing health, he left and settled in Bellingham Washington where he wrote this book. His is a story of triumph in the face of every kind of adversity you can imagine. Like me, he played and stayed in hotels where you nailed your room door shut when it was time to hit the sack, if you weren't too wasted to remember.

What an incredible journey this man has been on. Do yourself a great favor and pick up a copy, you will enjoy it and it will touch you to your deepest core. I can't say enough about this book.


Check it out at


-Cameron Molloy





It would seem crazy that I would deeply enjoy a book written by a songwriter. I am not gifted in any way musically. If you heard me (attempt to) sing you would understand completely.


I don’t know what ….bridge…..tempo…….4/4 even means. Does it matter? Nope! I was drawn right in. I felt Jesse’s struggles and his triumphs. I loved his brutal honesty even when he was trying to kid himself.


-Helene Pawlikowski



Well, after reading Jesse's book, it's only appropriate I respond out of truth and honesty. So I must begin by saying the first reason I wanted the book was because he included a small part of it about our brief but beneficial encounters, and that's the very first pages I read! Self-centered songwriter me!! It's a hard habit to break! But boy, thankfully I knew I was going to read it cover to cover, and now that I have, I've got to say I had no idea what a captivating recap of Jesse's personal journey I was in for. A true story of survival at its core. An ongoing inner struggle with demons created, absorbed, and cared for, always looking for a way free. I can't believe how many times this book made me look at my own actions and consequences through a different perspective. The list would be too long to try to cite all the reasons you should check this book out. But one would be, if you're a participant in the human race with a heart and soul, you're going to benefit from, and be more fully enriched from considering the perils and victories of another sincere participant struggling to keep a balanced foot in view of the obstacles he and a lot of us throw in our own paths. This is as real as it gets folks. It speaks to and from the heart. Do yourself a big favor and spend some time with an honest writer as he shares a lifetime with you. Could anything be better than that?


-Lyman Ellerman





My dear friend and co-writer Jesse McRae has written “My Four-Minute Life,” a truly remarkable book about his life. I promise there's something in this for everyone. It's a brave look at one’s life told by someone who I already knew was a great songwriter and taught me a lot about writing in Nashville, but now I know he's a very talented author. Read it.


-Michael Gresham





A shout out to Jesse McRae and his gutsy book “My Four-Minute Life,” the story of a life and his willingness to change for the sake of his sons. It's inspiring, offering a thoughtful, soul-baring view of beating addictions, of becoming aware of what framed his personality, and then resolving to be the parent he wanted to be. This book is different from a lot of others because Jesse has been a songwriter for 50 years, and he uses his songs to punctuate the many points of change. The lyrics are on right-hand pages, with the left side telling of how the song was created in terms of lyric and melody. A terrific read. Thank you, my friend.


-Mary Penttinen-King





There aren't the words in the English language to convey the hold this book had on me when I started reading it. This is a must read for any songwriter or anyone that just loves a great story. Tragic, honest, and happy all at the same time. The author takes us on an amazing adventure reliving his amazing life. Buy this book, recommend it, and enjoy it.


-Kirk Bewer





My good friend and co-writer Jesse McRae has a new book out, and it is an unflinching, no-holds-barred look at his seven-plus decades of life on this planet, at least five decades of those as a musician. Well worth reading! Throughout his trials and triumphs, highs and lows, Jesse's honesty and humanity shine through, and he also offers significant insights into his sources of inspiration and his songwriting process. I am proud of him. If you are a friend or fan of Jesse, you will be proud of him, too. If you don't know him, you will after reading "My Four-Minute Life."


-Jeff Walter





This is an amazing and refreshingly honest look at a man who ate, slept and dreamt country music. He charts a mesmerizing tune of happy and sad, miserable and glad and compels the reader to sing along through all the lows and highs of his quest. And, just like every great song, when his story ends, we feel fulfilled yet left wanting more.


-Jennifer Sparling





Really enjoying your book - great stories, fantastic writing! “Lefty” brought me to tears!


-Steve Webb






This book reflects a raw, honest account of a life set to music. Jesse's telling of a very human story, albeit his story, is one that mirrors so many a soul, it's difficult not to "sing along" in spirit. You will not be disappointed.


-TH Loth





Great book! I began reading it and couldn't put it down... all the while singing or humming the songs/poetry that Jesse intersperses throughout the book of his life's journey. I met Mr. McRae many moons ago in Ocean Beach. His story touches my heart, reads with an easy richness of color and calamity/clarity and speaks volumes of a passionate and real music man. It does take more than four minutes to read, however.


-Ken Keegan