Chinaberry Sidewalks

Chinaberry Sidewalks

Book - 2011
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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 expert at reading his father's mercurial moods and gauging exactly when his mother was likely to erupt, and even before he learned to ride a bike, he was often forced to take matters into his own hands. He broke up his parents' raucous New Year's Eve party with gunfire and ended their slugfest at the local drive-in (actual restaurants weren't on the Crowells' menu) by smashing a glass pop bottle over his own head.

Despite the violent undercurrents always threatening to burst to the surface, he fiercely loved his epilepsy-racked mother, who scorned boring preachers and improvised wildly when the bills went unpaid. And he idolized his blustering father, a honky-tonk man who took his boy to see Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash perform live, and bought him a drum set so he could join his band at age eleven.

Shot through with raggedy friends and their neighborhood capers, hilariously awkward adolescent angst, and an indelible depiction of the bloodlines Crowell came from, Chinaberry Sidewalks also vividly re-creates Houston in the fifties: a rough frontier town where icehouses sold beer by the gallon on paydays; teeming with musical venues from standard roadhouses to the Magnolia Gardens, where name-brand stars brought glamour to a place starved for it; filling up with cheap subdivisions where blue-collar day laborers could finally afford a house of their own; a place where apocalyptic hurricanes and pest infestations were nearly routine.

But at its heart this is Crowell's tribute to his parents and an exploration of their troubled yet ultimately redeeming romance. Wry, clear-eyed, and generous, it is, like the very best memoirs, firmly rooted in time and place and station, never dismissive, and truly fulfilling.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
ISBN: 9780307594204
Characteristics: viii, 259 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm.

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DeltaQueen50
Oct 03, 2011

Rodney Crowell’s memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks covers his early years. This is not a book about his rise to fame, but more of a loving tribute to his parents. Rodney was often in the middle of his father’s drunken rages against his mother, who in her turn, was a holy-roller who also had a fondness for beer and whipping Rodney. Yet his words are laced with humor, wryness and a loving fondness and the final pages, when he’s by the bedside at first his father and then his mother’s death there is a tender strength that often shows up in his musical lyrics.

Growing up in the 1950’s and 60‘s, his parents were scrabbling to make a living in East Austin. Rodney both idolized and abhorred his father. Together they had a love of music, and Rodney was taken to see Hank Williams Senior, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis by him. But the dark undercurrent that was brought out by his father’s drinking was never far from Rodney’s thoughts. He also had to keep a close eye on his mother at all times as she was epileptic and Rodney had to be ready at a moments notice to administer to her when she had a seizure.

Rodney Crowell is a master lyricist and this ability shines through the pages of this book. Honest, humble, and humorous, he paints a picture of growing up poor, with these damaged parents, yet also is able to portray the love that his family ultimately shared and the value in this upbringing that shaped the man he is today.

o
okbookgirl
Aug 22, 2011

Crowell evokes his hardscrabble Texas childhood with humour and surprisingly warm remembrances of his parents. It was not a "Father Knows Best" kind of family, and many other people raised there would be bitter and sitting in psychologists' offices forever. But Crowell is generous, kind and forgiving. I have never heard a Crowell song, but if his songwriting is half as good as this memoir - I've been missing out.

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