The Straight Life, published in 1980, was co-written by Pepper himself and his third wife, Laurie Pepper (who recorded his memories and then transcribed them for the book). The novel's twenty-four total chapters are divided into three parts. The memoir is narrated by Pepper himself as well as by others who knew him. Themes include addiction, fame, and relationships. Pepper (himself the child of alcoholic parents) was plagued by addiction to drugs and alcohol (especially heroin). Pepper spent many years in prison (including the high-security San Quentin facility) on several different occasions, owing to his drug use.
His addiction affected his personal relationships deeply. Just as Pepper describes his father beating his mother, he has several relationships fall victim to his drug use. Many of the women in his life have their own chapters (such as "Diane," his second wife, and "Laurie," his third). Ultimately, the book is a reminder of Art's perpetual struggle with drug use, and his abiding love of music that occasionally buoyed him up.