When the right words and music meet, they take us places we never want to leave. And we won’t, because we then carry the songs within us. Writing books, Rodney Crowell will agree, is different. This Friday, June 29, 5pm, he reads from his memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks at Waterloo Records in advance of his Paramount Theatre appearance Saturday.
I remember chinaberries, waxy (and poisonous) fruit that dripped off the spreading trees overhead when I was growing up in Houston and New Orleans. Chinaberries are not to be confused with “china balls,” those hard, nubby, green berries that could raise a knot on someone's forehead with a good aim. No, chinaberries made the sidewalks gooey and slippery, dangerous turf when you’re a kid.
Crowell’s 2011 memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, is set in Fifties Houston, a no-man’s land of East Texas when most of the state’s population lived in the country. Crowell’s sidewalks take him from neighborhood ice houses and a Bible-thumping mother to nightclubs with his alcoholic father, seeing Hank Williams and Johnny Cash play. It’s less nostalgia than portrait, one free of celebrity glitz and full of the hardscrabble world Crowell’s always inhabited.
That world has allowed him to create gorgeous, memorable songs not only for himself but for the likes of Willie Nelson and Van Morrison, both of whom were swept away by Crowell’s exquisite “Until I Gain Control Again.” Absorb these verses for the moment:
Just like the sun shining over the mountain top
You know I'll always come again
You know I love to spend my morning time
Watchin' sunlight dancing on your skin
I've never gone so wrong for telling lies to you
What you see is what I've been
There is nothing that I can hide from you
You see me better than I ever can
Crowell also has a new album out on Vanguard Records, Kin, composed with writer Mary Karr. Her 1995 bestseller The Liar’s Club told its own uncompromising tales of East Texas life and revived the memoir genre, but writing songs wasn’t in her plans until the Grammy Award-winning Crowell became a fan. Joining Crowell and Karr on the disc are Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, and Emmylou Harris.
Crowell will be performing songs from Kin at his Waterloo in-store in addition to reading from Chinaberry Sidewalks.
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