Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chinaberry Sidewalks

To enjoy most celebrity memoirs, you must first be a fan of said celebrity. Oftentimes, that doesn’t even help. But in the case of country music singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell’s Chinaberry Sidewalks, all that’s required is a love of a really exceptional story.
Raised in Houston in the 1950s and 60s, Crowell’s early years are a crazy mix of hilarious and harrowing, his introductory chapter a remembering of pointing a loaded rifle at his father in order to break up a party when Crowell was only 5 years old. His was a childhood rife with dysfunction, so that even the lighter moments are imbued with a certain degree of tension. By the same token, his was a family filled with humor, so that even the darkest moments have a certain hum. To put it a different way, if Rodney Crowell’s family hadn’t existed, Flannery O’Connor would have had to make them up… and then Johnny Cash would have had to sing about it.
Instead, Johnny Cash’s former son-in-law sings his own songs and writes his own story, and it is as solid a story as you may read this year. I’d also recommend having Crowell’s album “The Houston Kid” along as a sort of soundtrack. This is a story of love and remembrance, of struggle and survival, of family and forgiveness. Both wild and winsome, Chinaberry Sidewalks is a must read.

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