Tom's Reviews > Chinaberry Sidewalks

Chinaberry Sidewalks by Rodney Crowell
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's review
Jan 21, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: biography, non-fiction
Read from January 03 to 21, 2012

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 parents. His father, J.W. Crowell, was headstrong, and fantasized about headlining at The Grand Ol Opry. His mother Cauzette was prone to seizures, and fueled J.W.'s fiery temper.

Young Rodney grew up in a less-than-conventional home. During his early teens, JW finally put together a combo, and Rodney ended up playing drums with his dad in east Texas honkytonks. Rodney talks about his early musical life, and years on his own as a less-than-good college student--girls, music, and weed outweighed his academic interests. He moves on to describe how he made peace with his parents as they grew old. He recounts in detail their deaths, and how their exits mimicked their respective lives.

What amazed me about Rodney Crowell's story is that he pulls no punches. When his father, whom he idolized, was drunk or out of hand, he tells the story. When his mother picks a fight with a rival for J.W.'s affection, Rodney tells the story. Most of all, when Rodney Crowell shows human failings, he doesn't bury the memory: he dutifully reports his actions.

Another observation: for somebody who was an indifferent student, Rodney Crowell has a beautiful command of prose. His images are beautifully drawn, and his writing rings elegantly, although he manages to work in some Texasisms as well ("____ didn't know whether to shit or go blind" is a favorite of mine)

The result is an eminently readable memoir of a hardscrabble Texas boyhood. When Crowell mentions Emmylou Harris, or other career milestones, he does so only to frame his relationship with his parents. His main theme is that he couldn't really make peace with his parents, until he became a father himself.

If you're looking for name-dropping, and tales of life in the spotlight, you'll be left wanting. (Hopefully, there will be another book with music adventures) But for anyone who grew up in a Southern family with some "characters," this book rewards. Crowell's early years had their tumultuous moments, but he has found a place--as a father and husband--where he is comfortable with himself. Beautiful book.

(for one of Rodney Crowell's best songs, check this out: )


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