Chinaberry Sidewalks
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Chinaberry Sidewalks

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  399 ratings  ·  91 reviews
From the acclaimed musician comes a tender, surprising, and often uproarious memoir about his dirt-poor southeast Texas boyhood.

The only child of a hard-drinking father and a Holy Roller mother, Rodney Crowell was no stranger to bombast from an early age, whether knock-down-drag-outs at a local dive bar or fire-and-brimstone sermons at Pentecostal tent revivals. He was an...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 18th 2011 by Knopf (first published December 23rd 2010)
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Ed
Memoirs are not my usual cup of tea. I might read a sports figure every now and then. This one came recommended to me, so I gave it a shot. The results were good for me. Rodney Crowell, a talented Nashville musician and songwriter who was married for many years to Rosanne Cash, has a compelling life story to tell of his growing up in hardscrabble Texas during the 1950s and 1960s. His folks were salt-of- the-earth types with their flaws and virtues. There's lots of flinty wisdom, wry humor, and t...more
Caitlin
I have long admired Rodney Crowell. A country traditionalist (country shouldn't sound like pop music), he was heavily influenced by Townes Van Zandt (much like Steve Earle was). His sound has roots in Hank Williams, Johnny Cash (whose daughter he was married to for awhile), Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins - all people I grew up listening to along with a lot of blues, rock and roll, and jazz. My family has always had eclectic musical tastes.

Crowell's memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks reads as if you...more
Amy
Apr 30, 2014 Amy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: houstonians, especially multi-generational houstonians & fans of texas music
The moment he started to rant against the insanity that is trying to use an attic fan to cool a house in Southeast Texas, I was certain that Crowell and I are of the same people.

For years I've wish for a story about growing up in Harris County, Texas. As this is really the only one I've read, I can safely say it's the best of the best.

Oh yeah, a word of warning, Rodney Crowell is a country music guy. He likes metaphors. He's from Texas. He really likes similes. If figures of speech make you vi...more
Rick
Excellent memoir by Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell. The focus of this book is not really him; it's his parents and his growing up with them in Houston in the late 50's and early 60's. In many ways it was what we might call a "dysfunctional family" today. There was wife-beating, drinking, and other kinds of things that should have made for a pretty miserable childhood for Rodney. He doesn't see it that way though. While very candid about his parents' shortcomings (ad his ow...more
Mary Lou
Chinaberry Sidewalks is Rodney Crowell’s tribute to his parents, who despite their violence and abuse during his childhood elicited his love and appreciation. While the book is fairly well-written with frequent cultural allusions and lyrical wording, Crowell does overwrite, i.e. "facing an eternity of roasting like a marshmallow in the bonfires of hell," congregation members "stew in the juices of our own demise" and hope the preacher will "hurl a Hail Mary" that "saves our bacon."
Initially, as...more
Lora
I wanted to like this book. I normally enjoy non fiction books and memoirs. I tried to like this book all the way through it until I finally just gave up and didn't finish it. There were parts of it that were easy to read but for the most part it was so difficult to get through his writing. It was way too lengthy in descriptions using all of one's attention sometimes to get through long run on sentences that could have been better said in a simple 10 word or less sentence. I found it was not in...more
Julia
What a surprise this memoir was for me. Too many memoirs out there of little import from people who have barely lived or experienced anything of interest. But Crowell's book is rare in that there isn't a trace of feeling sorry for himself and his introspection is in no way self-aggrandizing or preachy. Also, in large part he deals with his adolescence and his relationshp with his parents. This is not a glossy country music tell-all. Hard to read at times because of the abuse that went on in his...more
Nancy
It should be expected that one of the world's greatest songwriters would also have a way with prose, and Rodney doesn't disappoint. He tells the story of his childhood and the lovingly toxic relationship of his overwhelmed-by-life parents with the same straightforward poetry of his songs. That he can make you understand the love he has for two people who so often didn't deserve it is a testament to his skill as well as his faith in the importance of family. I would have loved to see more old pic...more
Mary couch
I love Rodney Crowell so this was an interesting read for me, but I was disappointed in it. I really felt this book was written as therapy for himself concerning the way his childhood was and especially the relationship between his parents, and his relationship with them. No doubt he came up rough and has done well for himself. I would have enjoyed information in the book concerning his rising to fame, and his adult life, but obviously that wasn't why this book was written. Still all in all I'm...more
Nan
I've only heard of Crowell's name, and know that he's been a critically acclaimed songwriter and performer for many years. He can tell rollicking stories on the page, though he meanders in spots. Crowell grew up impoverished and was raised by hardened parents who loved him like crazy... really, really crazy at times. Some might call what he endured child abuse, but I'm not sure if he would. This autobiography is mostly a look back at his upbringing and coming of age in Texas, with glimpses of hi...more
Grace
May 13, 2013 Grace rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
I can't really overstate how much I loved this book. Rodney Crowell pretty much wrote the perfect memoir with this one. It's sad, it's horrifying, it's hilariously funny, and I was almost unable to turn it off (I listened the audiobook, which he narrates himself). This is one I'll be buying for people/recommending to people for years. Absolutely loved it.
Cheryl
I don't remember when I first became aware of Rodney Crowell as a singer songwriter, but from the first time I heard his songs I was struck by the powerful lyrics. He was also married to Roseanne Cash, another great singer songwriter, so when I saw that he had written a memoir I was interested. This book is about growing up in East Houston/Jacinto City, Texas, but is also the story of his parent and the hardships they endured in their youth and in their marraige. I laughed, cried and was just pl...more
Nate
It is amazing what some people overcome to make something of themselves. It's also interesting how we view our childhoods. After reading this memoir, I would consider Rodney Crowell's childhood awful, yet in an interview he said he thinks it was "perfect". Rodney's Dad got raging drunk, beat the tar out of his mom, and slept around. His Mom rarely stood up for herself, instead she beat the tar out of Rodney, and tried to lose herself in Jax beer and holy-roller pentacolstalism. Their shotgun sha...more
Richard
The title of this book/memoir put me off for some time but I came around and decided to read it. After catching Crowell’s final performance in Seattle recently I was compelled to learn more about him. I’ve never been particularly attracted to his lyrics being just a little too much over the “country” threshold” to put me off but it was that he was accompanied by none other than Mary Karr author of the triptych memoir that began with the brilliant and highly acclaimed memoir “Liar’s Club” on this...more
Ethan Russell")
Full disclosure. I know and am a fan of both Rodney and his work. But — to pull a moment from Stanley Booth's book on The Rolling Stones: Mick asks Stanley what his book is going to be about. Stanley demurs, counters: "What will be in your next song?" Mick ducks, "I don't know. It's much easier to write a song than a book." To which — how can one improve on this? — Stanley replies: "I'm fucking cognizant, Bucky."

So five stars here because it is a first book and extraordinary. Reading it I though...more
Chuck
Apr 25, 2012 Chuck rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chuck by: Ed Lynsky
I really enjoyed this book and felt that I had a kinship with his growing up which was much more intense than I would have expected. I am not a "memoir" fan, but I have always had a country music genre that was entirely made up by me which includes the likes of Steve Goodman, John Prine, John Hiatt, Doc Watson and, of course, Sir Rodney, etc. So off I went to find out about Rodney Crowell. Rodney surprised me, however, and spent most of his time talking about his father, his mother and his upbri...more
Tom
Rodney Crowell has had an amazing career as a singer, songwriter, producer, and guitarist. He was a member of Emmylou Harris' band, and was married to Rosanne Cash. His father-in-law was Johnny Cash, and his daughter, Chelsea, makes some of the most interesting Indie Country coming out of Nashville today.

Rodney Crowell's memoir, "Chinaberry Sidewalks," mentions very little of this.

It is a fascinating read, nonetheless.

"Chinaberry Sidewalks" is, in essence, a love letter from Rodney to his par...more
Jennifer
I thought this book was amazing. If you're looking for a book about Rodney Crowell's professional career, this isn't it. However, it does provide an incredible amount of insight into his music.
This book is about his childhood and his journey into adulthood, and ultimately ends with the death of his parents. He had a horrific upbringing, but it's obvious how much he loves his parents. Even if you're not familiar with Rodney or his musical career, this memoir is worth reading/listening to. He pai...more
Joanne
I knew that Rodney Crowell could write good songs, but I didn't know he could write such a good book. The writing in this book is extremely good and evokes the images of a time and place better than the memoirs of many well established authors. This memoir concentrates on his scrappy life growing up in Houston, Texas in the 1950s and 60s in a very poor home that was constantly threatening to burst into violence. His father was a hard drinking blustering man who was also a frustrated musician alw...more
Curtis Butler
Even if you are not a country music fan, I highly recommend Mr. Crowell's tale. There is very little about his success in Nashville and a whole lot of down n' dirty Houston in the fifties through the eyes of a little boy who did not always understand what was going on but used the experience to find a voice. Rarely have I read such an honest depiction of the struggle to find joy in an unholy, ragged, poor family who had little to offer but scars and pain. The writer sometimes gets a little carri...more
Sylvester
2.5* Not being a fan of country music on the whole, and weary of the hardscrabble upbringing genre - I had no right to download this to my ipod, really. This book is simply not my kind of thing - however! - after all the nasty stuff at the beginning, the last part of the book where Crowell nurses his father, and then his mother, through their dying days was moving and beautiful, and wouldn't have been so if it hadn't been for the ugliness beforehand. So the last bits won me over, yes. Memoirs ar...more
Michael Morris
This memoir of life with two parents, who were dysfunctional long before the term was used to describe just about everyone's family, is funny, sad, and tender without of a trace of cheap sentiment. Mr. Crowell tells of growing up poor and out place with parents who loved each other deeply when they weren't trying to kill each other. I was intrigued and interested every step of the way. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, would have been an "I had it rough, and now I'm a big shot." with nothing...more
Katherine
If I've ever heard a Rodney Crowley song, I didn't know it was him. I bought this book, because I love memoirs. Now, I love Rodney Crowley and this book. It is a funny and very honest look at growing up in a poor and poorly educated family around Houston, Texas. While love can't patch the roof or cure the hangovers, it does hold this family together to the very end. This is a beautifully written memoir right up there with The Glass Castle! Next, I'll check out his music.
Ken
This is one of the best memoirs that I have ever read. You don't have to have the slightest interest in country music to appreciate and enjoy Rodney Crowell's tale about life in the Houston suburb of Jacinto City in the late 50's and early 1960's. Each character is multifaceted, and nobody is either 'all good' or 'all bad'. Rodney's father is a rather violent alcoholic, yet capable of deep passions, and his mother is a borderline neurotic who loves her family in the best way that she can.

Like t...more
Christine
Resilience is the word to describe Rodney Crowell whose childhood growing up in Texas was severely burdened due to a mother with epilepsy and an alcoholic father. Many of the chapters are like short stories about his neighborhood friends and their crazy stunts. It helps to balance painful life of beatings and incompetent parenting that he lived through. Alcoholism, poor housing, lack of good medical care, elementary school education and frustration are the oppressive barriers in his childhood. E...more
Nancy
I would give this a book a 3.5 if I could. This was not all what I expected from a biography of a musician. This was a story of Crowell's early childhood and mostly a love letter to his parents. Hilarious at times and relatable to anyone with a pre-electronic childhood, it's a great read from a sentimental and sensitive artist.
Jay
Jul 25, 2013 Jay rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jay by: Goodreads recommendation for Music
Shelves: audiobook, music
I was thinking this would be a musicians biography, but it only tread lightly on music, not at all in the first half. What this felt like is more a Rick Bragg book - a story about family and anecdotes about growing up. The Crowell family was a bit rougher (at least in language) than the Bragg family, but the stories of growing up in the South were similar. While I enjoyed some of the stories, there was a sadness in the background of a lot of the book that isn't dispelled at the end. And, again,...more
Susan
If you like roots country, if you love imagery, then Rodney Crowell's memoir of growing up in Houston will interest you and be worth your while. If you grew up in a blue collar family during the '50s and '60s in the Houston area, Rodney's memories will likely feel familiar. Chasing the mosquito fogger, fishing in the Brazos, eating at Prince's Drive-in ... it's all there.

He manages relay the most difficult circumstances with humor, compassion, and grit. I'm not surprised that he and fellow Texan...more
whodean
I really enjoyed this, Rodney is a recent obsession (I'm listening to his music a LOT, he is a first rate song writer (injecting personal experiences into his songs quite frequently), so it is no surprise he his prose here is similarly top notch.

The book is about Rodney's time with his parents growing up in a rough and tumble Texas neighborhood, with a few chapters at the end covering his adult life and how he reconciled his feelings about his father and mother near the ends of their lives.

I who...more
Diana
I really didn't think I was going to enjoy this book at first, but the further I read the more interested I became. If you are a country music fan, most particularly a Rodney Crowell fan, you won't be disappointed. With this book, he proves that he didn't "get above his raisin'" It is an acknowledgement of his roots. He calls it like it is/was with no less love for his family. After all, truth be known (and it often isn't), all families have issues. It's how you cope with them that frames your p...more
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“To be well loved is to be free of the evil lurking around the next darkened corner. Every child should know that feeling.” 1 likes
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