Book Review: Rock & Roll Books
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Dec. 5, 2008
Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Musicby Dana Jennings
Faber and Faber, 257 pp., $24
"Country profoundly understands what it's like to be trapped in a culture of alienation: by poverty, by a shit job, by lust, by booze, by class," writes Dana Jennings. As an editor for The New York Times living in the high-end New Jersey suburbs, Jennings feels that alienation to his core in reflecting back on the roots of his being raised in the "poverty stricken hollers of New Hampshire" with country music as his Proustian foil. There's a conscious paradox that runs throughout Jennings' book, the kind of hard-times nostalgia only possible in having escaped it, but like a classic country song, his mix of willful romanticism with hard reality strikes a poignant chord. Equal parts memoir and music criticism, Jennings upholds the country music of 1950 through 1970 as a reflection of an overlooked America where the Great Depression lingered well beyond World War II and values were a complex interplay of pride and survival. His readings of familiar songs are unique and often personal, and he regrounds the music to the lives of those for whom it spoke. Jennings' only misstep is in finally equating the genre's soulless contemporary polish with the diminishment of blue-collar poverty; his homestead may be memory, but the realities that the music embodied aren't.